Aspergillosis in parrots | Causes & what to do

Aspergillosis in parrots can be dangerous and is not uncommon. So, let’s take a closer look at this avian disease: prevention is better than cure, so it’s important to know what causes it, as well as recognize the symptoms if they do pop up.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about aspergillosis in parrots!

PLEASE NOTE: If your parrot is ill right now, ring your avian vet immediately to make an appointment. Once you’ve done that, you can continue reading. Not sure where to find a vet who specializes in birds? We have a list of avian vets in the UK for you to consult.

Infographic with information about aspergillosis in parrots.

What is aspergillosis?

In short, aspergillosis is a fungal disease caused by spores of the very common genus Aspergillus. It’s non-contagious but a significant cause of death for captive birds like parrots (as well as other species, notably ducks and raptors). Some parrots, like African greys, are considered more susceptible (Jones & Orosz, 2000).

Although aspergillosis mostly affects birds’ respiratory systems, it can have negative effects on many parts of the body. Additionally, there are both acute (when a large amount of spores are ingested or inhaled at once) and chronic forms (usually associated with a compromised immune system; Beernaert, Pasmans, Van Waeyenberghe, Haesebrouck & Martel, 2010).

If your bird breathes in Aspergillus spores and the immune response isn’t enough to wipe them out, this can cause plaque build-up and necrosis in the respiratory system and beyond, which is why it’s so damaging.

Did you know? Aspergillosis can occur in humans, but you don’t have to worry about your bird infecting you. Additionally, the disease is relatively rare and mostly affects those with existing lung conditions and the immunocompromised.

African grey parrot | All about aspergillosis in parrots
African grey parrots have been found to be particularly susceptible to aspergillosis.

Aspergillosis in parrots | What causes it?

Your parrot can catch aspergillosis both from airborne fungal spores and those it ingests through its food. Unsurprisingly, birds with an already compromised immune system from health issues or stress are extra vulnerable.

A common cause of aspergillosis is a dirty, warm and badly ventilated bird room. We probably don’t have to tell you how important it is to keep your parrot’s environment clean. Aspergillosis isn’t the only disease they can catch from unhygienic conditions, and you’re also endangering your own health if you let the situation get out of control.

Another big one is poor food storage. Always keep food dry to avoid giving mould a chance. If you buy in bulk, you could consider freezing the majority, only taking out whatever you need. Remove uneaten food after a few hours.

Aspergillus and peanuts

When it comes to food, we’d like to specifically take a moment to discuss peanuts. These nuts are often considered a huge no-no for parrots due to the risk of aflatoxins, which are released by Aspergillus spores and can be very dangerous to your bird’s health. However, as with other foods, whether or not Aspergillus gets a chance depends on quality and storage.

Human-grade, properly stored peanuts should be safe for your parrot! That being said, they should only make up a very minimal part of parrot diet, as they’re much too fatty to be fed on a regular basis.

Symptoms of aspergillosis in parrots

As mentioned above, aspergillosis can affect pretty much any part of the body. This means symptoms can be very vague. Another reason you should always stay vigilant of any change in your parrot!

Symptoms of aspergillosis include:

  • A wide range of respiratory issues like wheezing, difficulty breathing and altered vocalizations.
  • Nasal issues like discharge or even deformation.
  • Eye issues like cloudiness, discharge, swelling and more.
  • Neurological issues like impaired reactions, lack of muscle control (ataxia) and seizures.
  • Stomach issues like vomiting.
  • Vague symptoms like loss of appetite, drooping wings, inactivity, weight loss.
Budgie parakeet hanging upside down.
A healthy parrot will be bright-eyed, active and noisy.

Aspergillosis in parrots | What should you do?

We can’t stress it enough: if your parrot is showing one or multiple of the symptoms listed above, you should ring your avian vet. Describe what’s going on so that they’ll be able to tell you whether you should come in with your bird or not.

It’s difficult for a veterinarian to diagnose aspergillosis, which is why your vet might do a range of tests including a physical examination, x-ray, bloodwork and more. If the conclusion is that your parrot does indeed suffer from aspergillosis, antifungal medication will likely be prescribed. Additionally, you will likely receive instructions on how to fight the symptoms. For example, you might have to supply head pads, feed special food and so on.

Be sure to follow your vet’s advice and attend follow-up appointments, even if your parrot seems to be doing better.

Conclusion

Aspergillosis is a dangerous disease that can be difficult to diagnose and treat in parrots. You should always be watchful of changes in your bird’s appearance and behaviour in order to catch issues early!

Sources

Beernaert, L. A., Pasmans, F., Van Waeyenberghe, L., Haesebrouck, F., & Martel, A. (2010). Aspergillus infections in birds: a review. Avian Pathology39(5), 325-331.

Jones, M. P., & Orosz, S. E. (2000, April). The diagnosis of aspergillosis in birds. In Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine (Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 52-58). WB Saunders.

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