Psittacosis in parrots: be careful, contagious!

Psittacosis in parrots is highly contagious and, as a so-called zoonosis, can also be transmitted to humans. The sooner you go to the vet with suspected parrot disease, the better. Then it can be easily controlled with antibiotics and hygiene measures.

At the slightest suspicion of psittacosis, you should take your parrot to the vet – Shutterstock/Lucky Business

At the slightest suspicion of psittacosis, you should take your parrot to the vet – Shutterstock/Lucky Business

Unfortunately, psittacosis in parrots and humans only manifests itself through general symptoms. They can easily be mistaken for the signs of a cold or flu. If one of your birds seems ill, it is best to take it to the vet right away. He can determine whether it really is the parrot disease. If the result is positive, the veterinarian must report the case to the veterinary and health authorities.

What is psittacosis in parrots?

Psittacosis in parrots, also known as parrot disease, is a bacterial infection. Other birds can also carry the pathogens and pass them on, for example pigeons, seagulls or budgerigars. The disease is therefore also called ornithosis, which can be translated as “bird disease”. At the same time, psittacosis is one of the zoonoses – these are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

The causative agents of the parrot disease are chlamydia, more precisely: Chlamydophila psittaci. Other chlamydia, for example, can cause a sexually transmitted disease in humans. A form of the notorious cat cold is also caused by a species of chlamydia. In dogs, chlamydia causes, for example, inflammation of the conjunctiva (conjunctivitis), inflammation of the lungs (pneumonia) and inflammation of the meninges (meningitis).

This is how the parrot disease is transmitted

Birds and humans can become infected with psittacosis through the faeces, nasal or eye secretions of infected animals. Transmission is most common through infected droppings in bird sand. If this is stirred up and inhaled, the pathogen enters the respiratory tract of humans or animals. Most often, infection occurs when a new bird moves into your home or lives with you temporarily in foster care. Birds can also be infected by sick conspecifics at exhibitions.

The problem is that not all diseased birds show symptoms. They are then healthy, but still excrete the pathogen. This is how seemingly healthy animals can transmit psittacosis.

Tip: If a new bird comes to you, quarantine it first. If you have the slightest suspicion of psittacosis, take him to the vet and have him checked out.

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Symptoms of psittacosis in parrots and humans

The symptoms of parrot disease are very non-specific in humans and animals. Your bird may show the following signs:

● General weakness
● Loss of appetite and reluctance to eat
● apathy
● weight loss
● Ruffled plumage
● diarrhea (sometimes bloody)
● tremors
● convulsions
● Signs of paralysis on the wings and legs
● respiratory problems
● sniffles
● Conjunctivitis

In humans, psittacosis is easily mistaken for the flu. Possible symptoms are:

● Headaches and body aches
● cough
● Shortness of breath
● fever
● chills
● Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
● sore throat

If you have birds as pets or have close contact with pigeons, corvids, seagulls and other feather carriers for professional reasons, you should be suspicious of these signs. To be on the safe side, it is best to go to the doctor immediately and tell him about your suspicion of psittacosis. He can then test whether it is actually the parrot disease or just normal flu – and treat you accordingly. You should not delay any of the diseases. Otherwise, complications such as pneumonia can occur.

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This is how the vet diagnoses parrot disease

Symptoms alone are not enough to diagnose parrot disease. However, in combination with the history of the sick bird, they provide important clues. The analysis of the medical history is called anamnesis. With specific questions about the origin of the bird, its living conditions and the context when the first signs of illness appear, the veterinarian determines whether the suspicion of psittacosis seems justified. A fecal and blood test can further confirm the diagnosis.

Caution! Fecal and blood tests can be negative, although the bird carries chlamydia and can transmit psittacosis. Therefore, even if the test results are negative, the vet may recommend treatment for the parrot disease.

Treating psittacosis: antibiotics, hygiene and control

Since Chlamydia is a bacteria, it can be easily treated with antibiotics. This applies to the treatment of psittacosis in birds as well as in humans. It is very likely that other animals in your household will also need antibiotics. Because the parrot disease is so contagious, transmission can never be ruled out with certainty.

You must also wear protective clothing when entering your birds’ aviary and thoroughly clean your pets’ living quarters with specific cleaning and disinfecting measures. The veterinarian will check your sick bird and its roommates regularly after the actual antibiotic treatment to check whether they are still shedding pathogens. Unfortunately, birds that have survived psittacosis are not immune to the disease. So it may be that one day it will erupt again.

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