Internal Parasites – Prevention is Better than Cure

Pet birds that were healthy when bought from a reputable breeder and are kept caged or indoors, are likely to remain healthy if provided with an appropriate diet and suitable housing that is cleaned regularly. It is a good idea though, for bird owners to be aware of various ailments that birds are susceptible to, as the earlier a problem is spotted, the more successfully it can be dealt with. As is the case with mammals and reptiles, birds can be adversely affected by parasites, both internal and external. While the adverse effects of external parasites may be visibly evident, internal parasites can do quite a bit of harm before it becomes apparent that the bird is unwell.

Nematodes, also referred to as roundworms, are most commonly found in the intestinal tract. The bird becomes infected by ingesting the eggs, which may be found in contaminated food or water, as well as on toys or soil. The eggs hatch in the bird, and the larvae develop into adults which go on to produce more eggs, which in turn are passed in the feces, thereby contaminating the environment. The bird, or its companions, may then ingest the eggs, starting the cycle all over again. Infested birds typically appear to be in ill health, have stunted growth and suffer from diarrhea. Worms may be seen in the feces, but an examination of fecal matter under a microscope is the best option for an accurate diagnosis. There are a number of medications used to treat nematodes, and an avian veterinarian must be consulted in this regard.

Caged pet birds are unlikely to become infected with trematodes (flukes) and cestodes (tapeworms) as these parasites have an indirect life cycle which requires a third party such as an earthworm or a snail to act as intermediate host. The bird becomes infested when it eats the intermediate host which has previously eaten the parasite egg.

The diverse group of protozoan parasites includes coccidian and Giardia which cause diarrhea and blood-tinged feces. To make an accurate diagnosis the avian veterinarian will need to examine a fresh fecal sample. Another protozoan parasite is Cryptosporidia, which attacks the cells of the intestinal and respiratory tracts. Symptoms include severe diarrhea, coughing and nasal discharge. As yet, an effective treatment for Cryptosporidia is not available.

Measures that should be taken to prevent any illness in your pet bird include cleaning cages daily, and washing all items that have fecal matter on them, including food and water dishes, toys and perches. In the wild, a bird can move away from its fecal matter, but when a bird is in a cage it is the owner’s responsibility to move its fecal matter away from the bird. Become familiar with your bird’s behavior and eating habits, as any change could indicate a health problem. Remember, prevention really is better than cure.