Psittacosis Information about Parrot Fever

Psittacosis is not just a hard word to say, it's a disease that is highly contagious among birds and can even be transmitted to humans.


When buying a bird from a pet store you may notice that some pet stores guarantee that the bird does not have psittacosis.  This is a disease that involves the digestive tract of birds and is communicable to humans and occasionally has fatal effects.

Psittacosis is a disease that is often called parrot fever or chlamydiosis.  It is a disease that is a relatively common and highly contagious disease among pet birds.  It is most common in birds illegally smuggled into the United States.   Stress caused by crowding, drafts, and shipping will lower resistance to disease.  This is why newly acquired birds are at a higher risk of developing the disease.  The name of this disease comes from the word Psittacidae, which is the name of a family of birds in which parrots come from.   It is not a bacteria or a virus, instead, it is a parasitic microorganism that takes over the white blood cells.  The disease does not destroy the white blood cell but it prolongs the cell’s life.  Many birds that are affected by this disease will appear healthy

There are many ways this disease can be transmitted. Some of the most common ways include contact with sick birds, respiratory discharge, droppings, and contaminated food and water supplies.  Birds can also transmit this disease to their young while feeding. Birds can be carriers, meaning they are not sick but they spread the disease to healthy birds.   If human contract psittacosis, symptoms could appear in severe respiratory illness.   Humans that have contacted this disease could also display flulike symptoms which include fever and headache.  The disease is most easily transmitted to people that have a weak resistance such as the elderly and children. When handling a sick bird you should take the necessary precautions such as wearing protective gloves and respiratory masks.  It is extremely important to wash your hands after handling the bird or touching any portion of the cage and after coming in contact with bird droppings.

This disease has no distinct characteristics.  You should suspect that a bird may have psittacosis if the bird’s urine is watery and yellow or lime green.  In addition, some general symptoms include a lack of appetite, listlessness, sneezing or nasal discharge, and sudden unexplainable death. If you suspect that a bird has psittacosis you should immediately take the animal to an avian veterinarian.  There are specific tests that can be performed for a proper diagnosis.

Whenever psittacosis is suspected treatment will begin immediately.  Tetracycline is the only drug to treat this disease.  It can be administered orally or through injection. Treatment will consist of at least forty-five days.  If you have other birds in the house that you think may have been exposed you will probably treat those animals as well.

There are some simple methods that you should practice to prevent infection among your pet bird.  If the bird is sick you should destroy all food dishes.  Many germs can linger in a bird’s food dish.  When a bird has fallen ill you should wash the cage thoroughly with a mild detergent like soap.  You should keep the circulation of feathers and dust to a minimum.  To prevent psittacosis itself, you should have all newly acquired birds examined by a veterinarian and tested for the disease.  You should buy birds only from reputable breeders.  It is important to find out where the bird that you are buying comes from.  Most larger birds will have a closed leg band indicating that they are born and raised in the United States.

  If the band is not closed the bird may be illegally imported from a foreign country so beware.  Any reputable breeder or pet store should be able to share the information of the bird’s hatching without a qualm.  Some pet stores even provide certifications of hatching and with this have documented that the birds were screened against psittacosis.  You should isolate all new birds from previously owned
birds for thirty days.  When buying a bird you should also ask the quarantine procedure of the place from which you are buying.  Reputable pet stores will often quarantine the animals for several days if not weeks before they will sell the bird.  It doesn’t hurt to ask.

You should consider having your bird tested for psittacosis periodically especially if they come in contact with other birds.  Birds can be expensive so it is important not to take any unnecessary risks.  There is no vaccine available for this disease. As with any bird illness, common sense comes into play.  If you suspect that your bird has fallen ill it is important to get them to a veterinarian immediately. Since birds have an extremely high metabolism a day of not eating can severely harm the animal. For more information on psittacosis or other bird, diseases contact your local veterinarian or the USDA.