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Dr. B.
Dr. B., Bird Veterinarian
Category: Bird Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 16154
Experience:  As a veterinary surgeon, I have spent a lot of time with bird cases and I'm happy to help you.
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Our 15 year old cockatiel is having a serious wheezing problem

Customer Question

Our 15 year old cockatiel is having a serious wheezing problem with her breathing. She has had problems with seeds getting stuck around her beak from a mucous-like problem.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Bird Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. B. replied 1 year ago.
Hello & welcome, I am Dr. B, a licensed veterinarian and I would like to help you with your wee one today. I do apologize that your question was not answered before. Different experts come online at various times; I just came online, read about your wee one’s situation, and wanted to help.
I must say I am quite concerned about Tiki, especially if she is showing signs of wheezing and breathing issues. These signs tell us that she may not be able to exchange oxygen as well as she normally has been able to do. So, as her breathing is abnormal, it is prudent to have her seen as soon as possible. Because if she is struggling to breath, then this is a red flag of urgency and she may need her vet to put her on oxygen to stabilize while addressing what is causing her respiratory disease.
The problem I am sure you will appreciate with birds to that they do a very good job of covering up when they are sick. This is because as a prey species, attention to your illness will make you a target for predation. So, if we are even seeing her like this then we need to pay attention and address this aggressively before it can become an even more serious issue. Too often we are the last to know when our birds are sick. And too often we only see signs of struggling when their condition is just too advanced for them to hide any longer. Therefore, bird instinct puts us human owners at a disadvantage for catching things early, and makes addressing the signs we are seeing now even more important.
Now I am sure you can appreciate just like people, birds can show respiratory signs like this for a variety reasons. Specifically, a respiratory infection in this species can be caused by bacteria, fungus, parasitic, nutritional, and viral agents.
You will not be able to rule out most of these at home (a good vet physical examination +/- fecal or blood testing are the best measures to do so), but I do just briefly want to mention one differentials that does require you to assess your management of Tiki. Specifically, we can see respiratory disease secondarily to nutritional issues. Birds are prone to vitamin A deficiency when they diet is unbalanced or if they are selectively grazing and filling up in the wrong foods (ie. sunflower seeds). And I am very concerned this could be at least playing a partial role for her since you noted mucus and her being on seeds. So, if she is on an imbalanced or all seed/millet diet, then you might consider supplementing her diet with vitamin A or try to tempt her to eat some veggies or fruit. You can try leafy dark greens and vegetables (i.e. kale, squash, celery, carrots, corn), as well as fruits (i.e., bananas, grapes, apples, grapes, pears, etc). They can also have seeding grass, and dandelion (flowers, roots and leaves). The reason Vitamin A is so important is because birds with vitamin A deficiency issues can show respiratory signs and can often have wheezing, sneezing, nasal discharge, crusted or plugged nostrils, lethargy, depression, diarrhea, tail-bobbing, respiratory distress, thinness, poor feather color, swollen eyes, ocular discharge, anorexia, gagging, halitosis and a "slimy mouth". Therefore, in Tiki's case, this is a major concern and while we need to rule out infectious agents, we must also consider a nutritional differential and/or component for her too.
So, diet is something to keep in mind. But further to this, and critically important if she has started to have abnormal breathing sounds is to get her vet involved to rule out those other differentials and initiate appropriate treatment. You want your vet to examine your bird, have a listen of her chest and determine if there is a respiratory infection (and if so, to what extent). Depending on the vet’s exam findings, they will be able to advise you on which causative agent might be present, and guide you on diagnostics and treatment steps to get her well.
Overall, Tiki's signs are a serious concern here that we don't want to leave to linger. If she is struggling at all, then we do have to consider having her seen by her vet as soon as possible to get her help and address this respiratory disease. This will give you the best chance of helping address this and getting her back to breathing comfortably.
While you are sorting out veterinary care for her , if she looks chilled and fluffed up, then do make sure you are keeping her warm. You can cover three sides of the cage to keep heat in or consider moving her to a little hospital cage (one level with a soft substrate floor). You can use a heat lamp, or a heating pad under half her pen (do not put it in the cage) but do monitor closely. Alternatively, you can make a safe warmer for the bird from a clean sock filled 2/3rd full with uncooked white rice. Tie it closed and microwave (approx 1-1.5 min). Make sure to shake it before adding it to the cage, to allow the heat to distribute. Make sure its not too hot (as we don’t want to burn the bird. If it cools, you can re-warm as required). Whichever technique you use, do monitor the temperature closely, since we don’t want to overheat her (and we cannot be confident she would move her self if she grew too warm).
Just in case you do need an avian vet and do not have one already, you can check where you can find one at near you at:
AAV (http://www.aav.org/search/),
Avian web (http://www.beautyofbirds.com/recommendedvets.htm),
Lafeber database (http://lafeber.com/pet-birds/find-an-avian-vet/) or Birdsnway (http://www.birdsnways.com/birds/vets.htm).
Please take care,
Dr. B.

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