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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Bird
Satisfied Customers: 29749
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 45 years of experience
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I'm a new bird owner. I've had a little canary bird for a

Customer Question

Hi, I'm a new bird owner. I've had a little canary bird for a couple of months now. It dawned on me yesterday that he has been a lot quitter lately, no singing. And he is sitting around puffed up a lot. But not normal puffed up, more puffed up like he is sitting on a nest. And he is sitting like that on the floor of his cage. Not all of the time but... His eye look bright. So after a little research I found out about molting. I didn't no about that. So I went to the store and bought molting food and some B vitamin water drops. Also, some gravel in case it is his tummy. He seems to be eating fine and I have seen him drink wither he is drinking less I don't know. His cage sits in a TV hole above a fireplace that is not in use. So I placed a lamp, minus the shade, up there yesterday for warmth. With all of this he seems to be a little more active as far as eating but still no singing and he isn't hopping around the cage. He is no longer sitting on the floor now he sits puffed up up by the light bulb. He just eat, afterwards scratched his beak on scratch paper sat in his swing for a few seconds and is now back up by the light bulb. How can I tell if this is molting, respiratory or what? I never paid attention to his breathing before so I can't tell if he is breathing heavy, fast or normal.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Bird
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

I'm sorry to hear of this with your canary. It's important to note that once a canary 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. His symptoms of malaise and being puffed up ("fluffed") are important symptoms but they're not pathognomonic (specifically indicative) of any one particular disorder.

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 your canary'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.

I'm pleased to hear that you've heated up his environment. Placing him in an area heated 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 is smart. If he appears weakened remove his perches and put his food and water on the bottom of the cage along with him. I'm also pleased to hear that you began administering a water soluble avian vitamin supplement. Oasis brand is a good choice and should be added 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 as well. 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. Molting is a particularly stressful time because of its nutritional demands. What has his diet consisted of, please? Seeds should compose less than 20% of his diet. Molting foods are mostly just a different mixture of seeds. 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.

Molting is evidenced by finding feathers in his cage and areas on him in which new feathers ("pin" feathers) have appeared. Respiratory infections are evidenced by an increased respiratory rate (greater than 60-80 breaths/minute), open-mouthed breathing, marked tail bobbing, or a marked respiratory effort, and abnormal sounds - squeaks, e.g. - while breathing.

Please respond with further questions or concerns if you wish.

Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

I regret that my state board of veterinary examiners doesn't allow me to speak to customers by phone in this venue but other experts in this category may be able to assist you in this regard. Please let me know if you'd like another expert to do so and I'll opt out of this conversation. Please stay in the conversation if you wish.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Dr. Salkin I appreciate being able to ask some questions and after reading your reply to my first question I realize how very little I know. I was never planning on being a bird owner I rescued this little guy from someone that was tired of taking care of a bird and was just going to "set" him free. He's been a very happy little guy singing up a storm. I had no idea that such a tiny thing could be so loud. I noticed yesterday, and I should have noticed sooner, that he has stopped singing and seems lethargic. After looking some stuff up yesterday I found out about molting and the symptoms seem to fit. So as I said I went to the store and picked up molting food and some B vitamins to put in his water as well as some gravel and charcoal. And a different kind of bird food that has fruit and vegetables in it. I had no idea until reading your reply how important that was. But now I'm not so sure it is molting. I only saw 3 feathers and after reading your reply I now know I have not been feeding him very well. Just bird seed. So I think that could be part of the problem if not the problem. I would like to take him to the vet but cannot afford the $100 emergency visit. So at this point I'm torn with what to do. From what I have been reading if he has been really sick for a couple of days he should be gone by now so the fact that he is still with me makes me think I can still help him fight what is going on. He is still lethargic but he is eating. He nibbles at the cage a lot too. When he does eat it is just a couple of bites and then he'll hop up to a perch, scratch his beak on it, stretch his wings and legs and then go back to his upper corner perch and stay there. In fact as I write this he has just gone thru the routine I just described only instead of just fluffing back up he his grooming. So maybe he is starting to feel better. What should I be on the look out for and what should I do over the next couple of days to help him keep improving? Sorry if this is all over the place just trying to give you as much information as I can.
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

You're quite welcome. Please note that birds used to eating seed will eschew the fruits and vegetables in a mix and so we need to get them to eat a better balanced diet from which they can't pick out the seed to their detriment. Here's one idea how that might be done:

Progressive weakening would be worrisome. You're constrained to keeping him warm which reduces the energy he needs to expend maintaining his body temperature and doing what you can to entice him to eat better. An avian vet is likely to prescribe a broad spectrum antibiotic you would give directly into your canary's beak. Bacterial infections are common secondary to debilitation due to malnutrition and other stressors. I wish I had more magic for these birds but as you can imagine there's only so much one can do for a little canary. Please continue our conversation if you wish.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
over the next few days I need to keep him warm and try to get him to eat more? Not just eat more but eat better? This morning when I gave him the seed that I've been feeding him he ate a couple of bites and went to his perch. He did this a couple of times. This evening when I gave him the new pellet food with the fruit and vegetables he seemed OK with it. He actually seems to be perking up. He is down from his perch, grooming and one nice chirp.
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

Correct. I'm pleased to hear that he's feeling better. The vitamin supplement may be kicking in as well. I never argue with success.

Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.

I'm just following up on our conversation about your pet. How is everything going?