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Parrot Health Concerns – Pacheco’s Disease

Conure FamilyAlthough it often takes a “back seat” to better-known avian diseases, Pacheco’s Disease (PD) is a serious concern that should be borne in mind by responsible parrot owners.

General Information

First identified in the 1930’s, Pacheco’s Disease is highly contagious and nearly always fatal unless treated early on.  Unfortunately, it advances rapidly, and afflicted birds often show no symptoms until it is too late.  Shortly before death, birds stricken with PD may produce bright yellow urates and will pass very little fecal material; victims often expire in good weight. 

Conures, Amazons, Monk Parrots and Macaws are the most common PD carriers, but any Psittacine may contract the disease.  PD is less commonly encountered, but not unknown, in Old World species.

The Stress Connection

Pacheco’s Disease is caused by a Herpes Virus.  The virus itself may be carried by birds for years without causing any symptoms…several species of conure are believed to be natural hosts in the wild.

Outbreaks are nearly always associated with stress, a fact which highlights the importance of good husbandry.  Stress that causes carriers to shed the virus (thereby infecting other birds) includes, among other things, rough handling, shipment, other illnesses, a poor diet, and an environment that is too noisy, cold, hot or damp.  The virus may be spread via direct contact, air (carried by airborne water droplets), or by fecal contamination of food and water.


Macaws at Wildwood BeachAcyclovir is the drug of choice, but early diagnosis is the key to successful treatment.  Unfortunately, the process of catching and medicating sick birds dramatically increases their stress level, and hastens the disease’s progress.  A vaccine is available but is not in regular use outside of high-risk situations such as zoological park collections and import/export facilities.

Reducing stress by providing a proper environment and diet is critical in preventing PD and, indeed, all avian diseases. 


Further Reading

This informative article details the progression of a PD outbreak in a parrot aviary.

Macaws at Wildwood image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by LancerEvolution

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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