A quick check list

By Dr. BSc, BVSc, MRCVS, MACVSc (Avian health)

The following is a short list of some of the common problems seen in canaries and finches. It should always be remembered that management or environment flaws weaken the birds, predisposing them to disease. The provision of a clean, dry, draught-free aviary, together with good nutrition, will do much to decrease the incidence of disease.

Disease Further signs
that suggest
this problem
What the vet
will need to
reach a diagniosis
Nesting problem
1. Inside of nests stained with yellow diarrhoea of nestling, youngster stunted, increased death rate first few days of life E. coli diarrhoea Droppings, microscopic examination ,staining and/or culture Antibiotics. Neomycin. Sulfa AVS in water and soft foods (egg and biscuit, canary starter)
2. Pale, weak youngsters, hen can be found dead in nest Blood-sucking mites Crusty pinpoint feeding sites visible, particularly under the wings Recently dead or unwell nestlings Moxidectin. Spray cages with Permethrin prior to breeding
3. Nestlings dying, 10 – 20 days of age, many youngsters affected and dying Circo virus Black spot visible in abdomen, which is an enlarged gall bladder Sick or recently dead youngster for autopsy, tissue collection and histology Management – break in breeding, thorough clean of aviary, identify carrier birds
4. Nestlings dehydrated, weak with yellow diarrhoea Cochlosoma, a flagellate that lives in the digestive tract. Fresh birds infected through dropping contamination of food and water In finches fostered under Bengalese, which act as asymptomatic carriers. Problem most severe in chicks aged 10 days to 6 weeks Fresh droppings for microscopic examination Ronidazole (Turbosole), 400 mg/kg of soft food and 400 mg/1 litre of water for 10 days. Organism does not survive in the environment
less than
1 year of age
1. Generally unwell and dying birds Atoxoplasma,( a type of coccidian) Birds usually 2 – 9 months, high mortality (up to 80%), blue spot (swollen liver) visible through abdomen wall A sick or recently dead bird for autopsy. Parasite eggs occasionally found in droppings Sulphonamide antibiotics, eg ‘Tribrissen’, interrupt the infective life cycle but does not affect the intracellular stages. It therefore reduces but does not eliminate egg shedding. Given for 5 days per week until the birds are well
2. Lethargy, weight loss, yellow (= amylum or undigested seed) dry droppings often containing undigested seed. High mortality rate in nestlings Camphylobacter, a bacterium spread by dropping contamination of food and water, carried by wild birds Bengalese often act as asymptomatic carriers, Gouldian finches particularly vulnerable Appearance of bacteria (often curved rods) in droppings under the microscope suggestive, culture of droppings or autopsy Antibiotics, e.g. Erythromycin, Baytril
3. Generally unwell with some deaths Polyoma virus Debility and death in birds of all ages, including adults and nestlings but particularly juveniles. Surviving adults sometimes develop elongated beaks Fresh bird for autopsy and pathology. PCR (DNA) test on blood or droppings No medication available. Controlled through altered breeding strategy and blood testing. A break in breeding enables many (approx. 85%) birds to develop a protective immunity in the absence of vulnerable juveniles. Cabinet breeding or blood testing identifies persistent carriers
4. Shortness of breath, coughing, diarrhoea Cryptosporidia, a coccidian Diamond Firetails may be particularly susceptible, exhibiting diarrhoea and death Autopsy Medication (paromomycin) is available overseas but not in Australia. Wild birds can be source of infection. Infective eggs passed in droppings, therefore ongoing hygiene will decrease exposure
5. Diarrhoea and some deaths Giardia, a flagellate Usually young immunosuppressed birds Microscopic examination of fresh droppings Ronidazole (Turbosole), 3 g (1 tsp)/2 litres of water
Any age
Main symptom respiratory distress Avian Pox Crusty wart-like lesions on non-feathered parts of body and/or yellow plaques inside mouth. Difficulty in breathing, high mortality rate. Appearance often diagnostic. Autopsy and histology (looking for bollinger bodies) Management. Separate birds, control insects, treat secondary diseases
Mycoplasma Red watery eyes, nasal discharge, shortness of breath, matting of feathers around eyes Appearance suggestive. Laboratory diagnosis can be difficult Tylan or doxycycline either separately or together
Blood-sucking mites Pale and lethargic Crusty pinpoint feeding sites visible, particularly under the wings Examination of an unwell bird, or a recently dead bird Moxidectin. Spray cages with permethrin
Air sac mites (Sternostoma or Cytodites) Loss of condition, cough, sneeze, nasal discharge, unable to sing, response to treatment. Particularly common in Gouldians Dead bird for autopsy, droppings, unwell live bird Moxidectin orally or spot on
Trichomoniasis (canker), a flagellate Weight loss, regurgitation, dried saliva around beak Crop flush from live bird Ronidasole in drinking water, ‘Flagyl’ syrup trickled into throat in acute cases
Bacterial infection, e.g. Enterococcus faecalis Red watery eyes, nasal discharge Live bird for bacterial culture from trachea Antibiotics, antibiotic choice preferably based on the result of a culture and sensitivity, review hygiene
Aspergillus, a fungus Weight loss, shortness of breath. Usually low infection rate but virtually all unwell birds die. Often a history of stress +/- exposure to damp unhygienic conditions Diagnosis sometimes possible in live birds through microscopic examination of droppings or a throat or sinus swab. Diagnosis usually made at autopsy Medication (usually itraconazole) available for individual birds of value. Identification and removal of source of fungus. Identify and correct any management or environment flaws
Egg binding Horiizontal posture, hen in nest, egg overdue. Egg palpable in abdomen Clinical examination, x-ray Heat (brooder approx. 30?0C) plus oral calcium initially. Veterinary intervention if no response. Ongoing provision of palatable calcium supplements before and during breeding will decrease likelihood of problem, as will delaying pairing until warm weather
Toxoplasma, a protozoan that infects cats. It is likely that infective eggs excreted in cats’ droppings get into the through the provision of seeding grasses collected outside the aviary More so in canaries. Shortness of breath initially, with some surviving birds becoming blind several weeks later Autopsy and pathology Trimethoprim/sulphadiazine may be effective
Cytomegalo virus Conjunctivitis. Principally in Gouldians Autopsy and pathology Separation of unwell birds, hygiene, quarantine
Main symptom diarrhoea and weight loss Acuaria or gizzard worm, a parasitic worm Enlarged gizzard often palpable in abdomen. Undigsted seed in droppings Microscopic examination of droppings reveals the parasite’s eggs. At autopsy, the fine white worms are just visible below the koilin lining of the gizzard Insects act as intermediate host, therefore more of a problem in finches that are particularly insectivorous, e.g. Crimson Finch. Moxidectin is an effective wormer. Ongoing hygiene leads to decreased parasite exposure
Coccidiosis Huddled, fluffed and lethargic. Diarrhoea sometimes with blood Droppings collected from sick bird in late afternoon. Autopsy Baycox (3ml/1L for 48 hours), protein supplements (sprouted seed, seeding grasses, soft foods)
Megabacteria (avian gastric yeast) Fluffed and underweight. Often continually eat Droppings, Autopsy of recently dead bird if available Acids (citric acid 1tsp/6L) or probiotic to in-contact birds, thorough clean of aviary, Amphoteracin B to sick birds. Identify genetically susceptible birds.
Salmonella (a bacteria) More prevalent in wet times of year, outside aviary, low hygiene, exposure to mice or wild bird droppings. Autopsy and culture. Pooled dropping samples, checked 3 – 6 weeks after therapy to check success. Canaries do not become carriers of Salmonella (common in other birds) Antibiotics, usually Baytril. Provision of chopped greens and soft foods will help prevent dehydration, multivitamins in water, hygiene
Yersinia (a bacteria) As above Autopsy and culture As above
Other bacteria, e.g. E. coli Some birds may have an infection elsewhere, e.g. in eyes or sinus As above As above
(formerly Chlamyida)
Often also have conjunctivitis and nasal discharge, low mortality. (less than 10%) Some birds develop into asymptomatic carriers. Periodic flare-ups of disease can occur following stress Throat swab (preferred) or cloacal swab. Autopsy. Blood (Immunocomb) test Doxycycline (Doxyvet 1tsp/2L), Baytril (1drop twice daily per 100g/bw or 10ml/1L of drinking water)
Tapeworms Weight loss, visible ribbons of egg packets (called proglottids) in droppings. More likely to occur in species that eat a lot of live food, eg: Crimsons Examination of droppings for proglottids or discovery of adults in bowel at autopsy Insects act as intermediate hosts. Medication of choice is praziquantel but must be used with care in finches. Moxidectin Plus (which contains Moxidectin and praziquantel) appears effective and safe at 5 ml/1 litre or 1 drop/100 g body weight.
Mycobacterium, avian tuberculosis Principally weight loss accompanied by either diarrhoea or shortness of breath. Usually Gouldians affected Microscopic examination of droppings following special staining may be suggestive of problem. Biopsy of suspect lesion Autopsy, pathology Medication available for individual birds of value. Infected birds often euthanised. Long-term quarantine
Round and hairworms Increased vulnerability to other disease Microscopic examination of droppings. Autopsy Usually Moxidectin, 2 mg/ml, 5 ml to 1 litre water for 1 – 3 days or 1 drop/100 g body weight
Candida, a yeast Delayed crop emptying and failure to thrive in nestlings. Related to unbalanced diet, poor hygiene, overcrowding, stress or the uncontrolled use of antibiotics Microscopic examination of droppings or throat swab Probiotics (e.g. Probac) or acids (e.g. apple cider vinegar, 5 ml/litre). For individual birds, Nilstat, 1 ml/300 g body weight. Correction of predisposing factors
Sudden death Toxic exposure May have salivation, diarrhoea, difficulty breathing Detailed history Identification and aviodance of toxin
Starvation Blood in droppings, too ill to eat, getting wrong food or no food at all, someone else looking after the birds Recently dead bird for autopsy
Plasmodium, a form of avian malaria spread by mosquitoes Weight loss, lethargy, shortness of breath. Blue-faced Parrot Finches particularly susceptible. Wild reservoir in sparrows Blood sample for microscopic examination or autopsy Chloroquin or Pyrimethamine. Can be prevented with weekly doses
Hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver) Particularly Zebra, Parrot and Star Finches. Associated with inadequate exercise and high energy diet, such as soft foods and meal worms Autopsy and pathology Dietary correction. Increased protein in diet and ensure adequate levels of choline and methionine. Supplementation with some herbs (dandelion and milk thistle) may help
Miscellaneous Scaly face. Knemicoptes mite infection Crusty lesions on face and legs Appearance often diagnostic. Microscopic examination of crusts Moxidectin (2mg/ml , 1drop to effected birds twice at a 3 week interval)