Does Your Bird Have Bad Breath?

Halitosis in your feathered companion can spoil an otherwise enjoyable relationship. Although bad breath in birds is uncommon, it could indicate underlying health issues and should not be ignored. The most likely cause of bad breath is a bacterial infection and an avian veterinarian would, through a series of tests, be able to determine the cause and prescribe treatment.

A lack of vitamin A in a bird’s diet could increase its chances of developing certain infections, including infections that are caused by yeast or bacteria, which in turn could cause halitosis. If the diet is well-balanced and other possible dietary causes, such as feeding rancid seed, have been ruled out as a possible cause of bad breath, more serious causes should be investigated, as birds with bad breath could suffer from some sort of abnormality in the respiratory tract, oropharynx or gastrointestinal tract.

Birds may become infected with bacteria that are normally found in the gastrointestinal tract of mammals, known as coliform bacteria. This bacterium is recognized by its distinctive smell of human feces. If the bacterium has colonized in the mouth, crop or proventriculus of the bird, its breath will smell of feces. If the bacterium has invaded the lower gastrointestinal tract of the bird, then its droppings will have this offensive smell. One may wonder how a bird could become infected with bacteria found in a mammal’s gastrointestinal tract. Manure is often used as a fertilizer when growing fruits and vegetables, and this can be a very potent source of bacteria. If fruit and vegetables are not washed thoroughly before offering them to the bird, these bacteria may still be present and will be ingested. It goes without saying that everyone should wash their hands after using the bathroom, but it is also a good idea to wash hands before handling your pet bird.

Another organism which could be responsible for causing bad breath in a bird is Avian Gastric Yeast (AGY) which is found in the junction of the bird’s proventriculus and ventriculus, but may also be found in the gastrointentinal tract of a bird that has been affected. Other gastrointestinal problems that could affect birds include Proventricular Dilatation Disease (PDD) and an organism called spirochete, which is still a subject of research with regard to disease processes in birds. Benign or malignant tumors in the gastrointestinal tract, which can be detected by means of a combination of blood tests, x-rays and ultrasound, may also cause bad breath.

The bottom line is that if your pet bird has persistent bad breath, it needs to be checked out by an avian veterinarian. Once the cause of bad breath has been established and appropriate treatment given, your bird can enjoy a better quality of life and you will enjoy its company.