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Parrot Illness In Winter

Blizzard, N. Dakota

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Saperaud

Wintertime always brings a spike in posts and calls concerning sick parrots. I often tap avian veterinarian friends for assistance, and most also report seeing more ill birds at this time of year. Respiratory ailments seem to dominate, and many owners attribute this to drafts and low temperatures (as we’ll see, this is not actually the case). While otherwise-healthy people tend to shrug off “winter colds” as an annoyance, the dangers that respiratory illnesses pose to parrots, finches, doves and other pet birds are extremely severe. Left untreated, these infections will always worsen over time – usually quite quickly – and will often prove fatal. Also, as it is impossible to distinguish, via symptoms, common respiratory concerns from psittacosis and other diseases that may be transmittable to humans, a prompt call to your veterinarian is always in order.


Are Drafts and Cold Temperatures a Concern?

Drafts and rapid changes in temperature do not specifically cause birds to suffer respiratory distress. However, they can stress the immune system. The same may be said of birds that are kept, long-term, at lower-than-optimal temperatures. Tolerance for such conditions varies by species.


Blue & Gold Macaws

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Olaf Oliviero Riemer

If the immune system is over-worked or otherwise compromised, bacteria, parasites and fungi, which are ever-present in the environment, can take hold and sicken your pet. Minor underlying health problems, which may have been suppressed by the immune system when all was well, may also become severe. So, while drafts and such may not actually cause illness, they do “set your pet up” to become sick. Please see the article linked below for further information on heating your bird’s cage or bird room.


Acclimation to colder-than-recommended temperatures is often possible, at least with some species, but this must be done properly; please post below for further information.



Most bird owners quickly know when all is not well with their pet. While respiratory ailments can be caused by a wide variety of pathogens, the symptoms are similar. Puffed feathers, wheezing, nasal discharge, sneezing, coughing, appetite loss and/or general lethargy are the most common warning signs. Tumors, smoky environments, and even allergies and less-common problems may also be involved.


Heron with Chlamydiosis

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Joelmills

What to Do?

Your first step should be to speak with an experienced avian veterinarian. A specialist is preferable, as the causative agents of respiratory diseases can be difficult to identify, and some illnesses are more commonly seen in certain bird species or families than others (please see photo of heron afflicted with chlamydiosis). Please post below if you need assistance in locating a local avian veterinarian.


Do not take any steps to treat your bird before speaking with your vet (other than eliminating drafts, etc.). You may be instructed to clean your bird’s nares (nostrils) or raise the temperature a bit, but do so only after consultation. Common avian bacteria can cause serious problems if, for example, they become established in one’s eyes, and the risk of a zoonotic disease (one that can be transmitted to people) must be considered. Your vet can advise you as to appropriate precautions if any type of home treatment is recommended. Of course, an appointment with the veterinarian should also be scheduled.




Further Reading


Heating Your Bird Cage or Bird Room


Why is My Parrot Sneezing?

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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