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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Bird Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 23828
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 44 years of experience
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Is this an active chat window? (Had to check that) Okay,

Customer Question

Is this an active chat window?
JA: I'll do all I can to help. What is the matter with the bird?
Customer: (Had to check that) Okay, I'll try to be frief...
JA: Where does the bird seem to hurt?
Customer: brief , and try to type better as well
JA: Can you see anything that looks wrong or different?
Customer: Our cockatiel is a whistler... but a few days ago, he just seemed to get quiet...
JA: Is the bird eating normally?
Customer: yes he seems to be okay. I thought he might have caught a draught or something, but he seems to be okay. When he tries to whistle, he can't seem to get it out
JA: OK. No appetite problems. Is the bird having trouble peeing or pooing?
Customer: he was a little "runny" for a day, but that seems to have cleared
JA: How is the bird behaving differently?
Customer: he's not being as sociable, and he's sleeping a lot
JA: Could be a lot of things that cause lethargy. The Veterinarian will know how to help the bird. What is the bird's name and age?
Customer: Pooki is about 8 years old
JA: Is there anything else the Veterinarian should be aware of about Pooki?
Customer: he was still and quiet for a day or so, but now he's a bit more active, but appears to have some reason he's having trouble making sounds
Submitted: 2 months ago.
Category: Bird Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 months ago.

I'm sorry to hear of this with Pooki. It's important to note that once a cockatiel acts ill it's already quite ill and in need of the attention of an avian-oriented vet (please see here: This is a protective mechanism because sick birds are attacked by other birds in the wild. Pooki's symptoms of voice change and somnolence (sleepiness) are important symptoms but they're not pathognomonic (specifically indicative) of any one particular disorder. I would be most concerned about respiratory infection and vitamin A deficiency (which can alter the mucous membranes in his respiratory tract).

An avian-oriented vet might first treat symptomatically and supportively by providing supplemental fluids and electrolytes by needle and tube feeding a "recovery" food. Blood tests and cultures of Pooki's choana - the slit between his oral cavity and nose - and cloaca (vent) may be taken. Whole body X-rays can be quite helpful as well.

Until Pooki can be attended to, please heat up his environment to 85F by means of a 100W bulb shined into his partially covered cage (not at night when he needs to rest) or by taping a heating pad set on its lowest setting to the sides of his cage. If he appears weakened remove his perches and put his food and water on the bottom of the cage along with him. Add a water soluble avian vitamin such as Oasis brand to his water at half of the recommended dose so as not to make his water distasteful. Add a calcium supplement such as Calcivet or Calciboost to his water. These supplements are available in pet/feed stores. Avoid over the counter antibiotics designed to be placed in his water. They won't be effective if only because an ill bird won't drink enough to medicate itself properly.

Nutritional imbalances are a common cause of illness in our pet birds. What has his diet consisted of, please? Seeds should compose less than 20% of his diet. A diet of mainly seed and nuts has excessive fat, carbohydrates, and phosphorus; marginal protein; adequate vitamin E, and are deficient in amino acids, calcium, available phosphorus, sodium, manganese, zinc, iron, vitamins A, D3 (necessary for efficient absorption of calcium), K, and B12, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, choline, and available niacin. Ideally, a balanced pelleted diet such as can be found here: or here: should be fed as well as hard boiled egg yolk, pancakes and cornbread, the tops of fresh greens, dairy products such as yogurt and cheese, fresh fruits such as apples, pears, melon, kiwi, and berries, vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, beets, asparagus, cabbage, sweet potato, and squash, and even tiny pieces of meat.

Please respond with the additional information and further questions or concerns if you wish.

Customer: replied 2 months ago.
I'm thinking the chat window I started this from was too quick to go into "registration mode", and didn't allow my initial conversation to complete properly. Let me clarify...My cockatiel seems "okay" - he's alert, eating, playing at the mirror, and the droppings are looking normal. He just appears to be unable to produce much noise. He tries, but it seems to be either uncomfortable or painful to do so. Strikes me like when we get laryngitis or similar from a cold and talking becomes "counter-productive".I'm wondering if he just got a piece of seed or something caught in his syrinx, or if something is affecting the syrinx. I wish I had a way of figuring out if this was the case. (Is there?)
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 months ago.

Thank you for the additional information. Syringitis (birds don't have a larynx) does occur in birds due to both infection and vitamin A deficiency. Birds who suffer from an upper airway obstruction are in persistent distress with unabating symptoms of cough and abnormal head movements. Barring anesthesia and scoping of Pooki's windpipe or ultrasound of his airways, detecting a foreign body would be impossible but because he's not distressed to the point of considering an obstruction, I would presumptively treat him with an oral broad spectrum antibiotic given directly into his mouth and inject him with vitamin A while also providing a balanced diet and vitamin supplementation in his water. Please continue our conversation if you wish.

Customer: replied 2 months ago.
The Syringitis theory seems to be the workable one. And, I can see that the obstruction theory doesn't fit, now that you've supplied the logic (I should have seen how obvious that would have been!) Three days ago, this bird was singing and having a ball in the morning, then went suddenly quiet that afternoon, and stayed quiet to this point. It's as if he strained himself.Q1. Could this just be a result of overtaxing the syrinx, similar to how we sometimes strain our vocal cords?Q2. Would it be reasonable to wait another day or so to see if the problem self-corrects, similar to how we wait out laryngitis?I'm assuming the treatments you describe need to be administered by a vet.
Unfortunately, money is a real problem for me right now. Don't get me wrong, Pooki's more important. I just need to weigh options on everything before spending a buck.Q3. Are these treatments necessary, or are they just helpful in speeding up recovery, or... (fill in your take)?
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 months ago.

1. We haven't recognized such a scenario in birds but it's not outside the realm of possibility.

2. I'm willing to compromise at "watchful waiting" for another 24 hours but remember that birds will hide their illnesses until they're too ill to do so. Yes, an avian vet is necessary. Other than supplements such as Oasis brand vitamins for his water, there's nothing of value over the counter for him.

3. We hope that any prescribed therapy will be curative but we understand that patients may recover unaided. Tongue in cheek, we often say that some patients improve in spite of us!

Customer: replied 2 months ago.
I'm going to pick up the supplements for his water today, and see how he performs tomorrow (to see if he's more able to make any sounds.) I may give it another day, depending on what I see. If he continues to be quiet, I'll have to take him in (big gulp!).I'm in Toronto, and I don't know if Oasis is a brand up here, and what specific product you may be talking about. Just to be clear, what specific type of supplement should I be looking for?
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 months ago.

An avian vitamin containing (at least) vitamins A, B12, D3, and K. If Pooki's diet has been mainly seed, I'd like a calcium supplement such as Calciboost or Calcivet added to his water as well. I'll halve the recommended dose on the label of the vitamin product so as not to make my patient's water distasteful.

Customer: replied 2 months ago.
I'll grab those 2 products, then.
He's always rejected everything fruit-based (including every real fruit imaginable), and only seems to like seeds, honey sticks, millet, fresh bread and ground pistachio. (Always wondered if the pistachio was a good thing to let him have, though, but he really loves it.)I want to thank you so much for all the quick replies, and the valuable details!
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 2 months ago.

Stick with breads and see what else on that list I provided he'll go for. There's too much seed in his current diet and that's going to limit his lifespan. A pistachio every once in a while is OK but afterall, it's just more seed. You're quite welcome. I can't set a follow-up in this venue so please return to our conversation - even after rating - with an update at your convenience. You can bookmark this page for ease of return.