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Aspergillosis Infection in Birds

Aspergillosis in birds

Aspergillosis is a non-contagious fungal infection that causes respiratory disease in birds. The organism Aspergillus is a fungus that can cause both upper respiratory disease (affecting the nose, eyes, trachea, and sinuses) and lower respiratory disease (affecting both the lungs and the air sacs, a specialized part of the bird respiratory tract). Continue reading to learn more.

Is my bird at risk for Aspergillosis?

The fungus is considered ubiquitous in the environment; therefore, outside birds are thought to be at greater risk, but most birds should be considered exposed. Infection usually occurs when a stressed or immune-compromised bird encounters the fungal spores carrying the disease.

Aspergillus can affect any species of bird, regardless of age or sex. Several parrot species are more predisposed to infection, and these include African Greys, amazons, and macaws. Other more susceptible species include swans, turkeys, mynahs, and a variety of birds of prey.

Risk factors for Aspergillosis in Birds

  • Stress
  • Inappropriate or poor husbandry
  • Suboptimal environmental conditions
  • Suboptimal or poor nutrition
  • Immunosuppression
  • Long term steroid or antibiotic administration
  • Exposure to a toxic substance
  • Underlying or pre-existing disease
  • Genetic predisposition

Common Symptoms of Aspergillosis in Birds

Clinical signs are often vague and non-specific in the early stages, progressing with the disease and can include:

  • Lethargy or listlessness
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Tail bobbing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Perching on the bottom of the cage
  • Fluffed feathers
  • Decreased flying
  • Changes or increases in vocalizations
  • Increased drinking and urination
  • Respiratory difficulties, including increased breathing rate and open beak breathing

How Aspergillosis is Diagnosed in Pet Birds

Diagnosis of this condition requires a trip to a veterinarian that is familiar with or specializes in birds. The vet will take a complete history that can include weight, diet, and husbandry, and they will perform a thorough physical exam.

There are a variety of tests that can be utilized to diagnose this disease. Common diagnostics include a complete blood count (CBC) that will look for an elevation in the white blood cells, x-rays or a CT scan to evaluate for potential visible changes caused by the disease such as a thickening of the air sacs or pneumonia, DNA test for aspergillus, fungal culture, tracheal wash to look for the organism in the trachea or lungs, or collection of tissues by endoscopy. Your vet will select the tests appropriate for your pet depending on the results of the physical exam and the severity of the infection.

Treatment Options for Birds with Aspergillosis

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the most important aspect of treating the avian patient for Aspergillosis initially is to stabilize the patient through supportive care and reduction of stress. The level of supportive care will depend on the clinical condition of the patient and ranges from supplemental oxygen and heat to force-feeding and hospitalization.

Aspergillosis is a difficult disease to treat. Treatment is often long-term and can last for many months. Typically, it consists of administration of antifungal medication through one or more routes such as oral (pills or liquid), nebulization (inhalation of medicated mist), parenteral (intramuscular, intravenous, or subcutaneous through the skin), or topical (on the skin). In very severe cases, surgery may be required to remove fungal plaques (large congregations of the fungus) from the respiratory system.

In each case, the prognosis will depend on the severity of the disease. The most important thing to remember is to take your bird to the vet if any clinical abnormalities are noted. Unlike dogs, cats, and other pets, birds will often hide clinical signs. In many cases, once noted, they have been present for some time. The earlier a diagnosis is made, the sooner treatment can be initiated, increasing the chances for a positive outcome.

Read more:

How can I tell if my bird is sick?

How to Provide an Enriched Environment for Your Bird

Feather Picking and Self-Mutilating Behaviors

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