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Dr.  Hanson
Dr. Hanson, Veterinarian
Category: Pet
Satisfied Customers: 935
Experience:  D.V.M. for more than 30 years. I have experience treating all varieties of animals.
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why is my cockatiel breathing heavily

Customer Question

She lays eggs on a regular basis. her male friend is fine. My dad had been taking care of them. His place can be low humidity. evenings may get cool. He has added a new dog to his already enough dogs. She doesn't seem to be stressed by her envirnoment but possible.
Submitted: 10 years ago.
Category: Pet
Expert:  Dr. Hanson replied 10 years ago.

There are several reasons why your female cockatiel could be breathing heavily. She could have dystocia which means that she could be having a difficult time passing an egg or she could have an upper respiratory tract infestation or infection which will require antibiotics administered by an avian vet. As far as humidity is concerned, she will breathe heavily if the air is too humid except if she is having trouble laying an egg, then the humidity can be up to 60% and be sure to keep her warm (at least 85 degrees F). Tiels are a species that has adapted to the very warm and dry conditions of Australia so that it is important when she is not laying an egg that you don't keep her where the humidity is too high, approximately 40% humidity is good. When a bird is too warm, it will hold its wings out away from its body. If a bird is too cold it will fluff-up its feathers for insulation against the cold environment.

Provide her with a constant supply of fresh seeds, green leafy veggies, and a high-quality charcoal and oyster shell grit. Charcoal and oyster shell grit is important for cockatiels because they eat seeds which are digested in their ventriculous using insoluble particles of mineral grit. The charcoal in the grit is used by a cockatiel to "adsorb" toxins in the bird's gut. We grind up hard cooked egg shells and mix the ground-up shells with the hard-cooked eggs and give them to our birds. This is an excellent source of protein and calcium for your tiel. Pace a cuttlebone and a calcium block in her cage.

Make sure she has a fresh supply of drinking water.

Feel her keelbone (the bone in the center of her chest). If it feels like a knife blade, then this means she hasn't been eating enough. Observe her to be sure she eats her seeds and drinks water throughout the day. Birds eat frequently throughout the daytime. Make sure she is actually eating and not just going through the motions of eating. Birds are prey animals so they will instinctively act like they are healthy and strong even if they are very sick because if they show they are weak or sick, they will become prey for stronger healthier animals including sometimes even attacked by other birds in their flock (survival of the fittest).

Keep her with her mate. Birds mate for a lifetime and they will nurse their mate back to health by snuggling with their mate at night and regurgitating food into their mate's crop.

Check her vent (the place where the egg and the poop comes out). If she has dried poop stuck on her vent, then take a Q-tip and dip it in some very warm water and then gently swipe it back and forth on her vent to remove the dried poop. If you see an egg in her vent don't try to remove it; you can put a very tiny drop of warmed mineral oil on it and then set her on a heating pad to allow her to eliminate the egg.

In any case, it's always best to take a bird to an avian vet when you're concerned about the bird. An avian vet can give her an injection of calcium to help her to pass an egg if that is her problem.

Let me know how she's doing.

Dr. Hanson, DVM, PhD, Aviculturist & Ornithologist

Expert:  Patricia replied 10 years ago.

Hello Nash. I don't believe you have been given all the informtion you and your bird need in this situation. If there is any possibility she is egg bound, you need to know how to determine that and you need to know exactly what to do since this can be a life threatening situation. There is also a lot of diet information you need to insure she has plenty of calcium in her diet. Low calcium reserves are the main cause of egg binding. Also, the information about grit is true for birds who do not hull their seeds prior to eating them. That does not apply to Cockatiels. Not only do they not need it, it can be dangerous for them as it can cause both crop and intestinal impaction. Another possible life threatening situation. Also, here is a link to let you read more in detail about the issue of grit. If you need more information and/or more assistance with the egg situation or anything else about the proper care and diet for you Tiel, just let me know. Patricia

Click here: Winged Wisdom Pet Bird Magazine - A Bit About Grit - Do Birds Need It?

Expert:  Dr. Hanson replied 10 years ago.

Cockatiels have been eating mineral grit for hundreds of thousands of years because it is essential for normal avian digestion and neuromuscular physiology. Tiels do not hull all of their seeds. If a Cockatiel were to hull each seed in the wild it would be easy prey for predators. Therefore, Cockatiels (and other psittacines) will carry seeds in their crop until their proventriculus is ready to digest them. Hydrochloric acid is secreted in the proventriculus which begins the digestive process, however, the seeds are digested in the bird's ventriculus using pieces of insoluble mineral grit (quartz, granite, and other minerals).

Tiels use grit to digest their seeds and fibrous leafy food and as a source of electrolytes to prevent neuromuscular pathology. Without soluble and insoluble mineral grit Tiels can suffer from inflammatory neuromuscular pathology of the gastro-intestinal tract.

A bird's physiology is not the same as a dog or a cat. A bird uses insoluble grit to digest seeds in their ventriculus. The ventriculus is composed of keratinous plates that use the grit to grind and pulverize seeds and fiber. Birds deprived of grit can become impacted with ingesta. Impaction is not caused by grit. If this were true there would not be birds in the world today because Cockatiels and most birds have instinctively used insoluble pieces of mineral grit for hundreds of thousands of years as a natural aid to digest their diet of seeds and fibrous plant matter.

Cockatiels are indigenous to Australia. Here is an article by Mike Owen Queensland Australian Rep. World Parrot Trust copied from the internet.

"Almost all Australian parrots have access to grit. . . . President of the Australian chapter of AAV, has only ever seen two instances of impacted crops in 15 years of practice. . . . all wild parrots apparently have been found to have some grit in their gizzard, and I don't think they would swallow it if they didn't find it useful. . . . .Corellas, Galahs, Major Mitchells, budgies, and other species, deliberately land on sand banks in dry inland river beds and peck away and swallow sand grains. It is a deliberate action on their part. . . . .A Rosella for instance might have up to 50 grains of grit in the gizzard. . . .presumably reflecting the amount of wear that the grain has undergone. . . ."

"Actually when an autopsy is done on a seed-eating parrot, it is surprising just how much seed seems to be swallowed unhusked. Some birds might have 20% or more of the seed in their crop which is unhusked, particularly the smaller millets and pannicums."

"Parrots can certainly live their whole lives without grit. The question is whether having a significant amount of grit helps that bird to have a less-stressed (= more efficient) digestive system. I believe that it does. Anything that makes it easier, and more efficient for the bird to grind up the seed before the digestive system gets to work must be a help to the bird."

This idea that a sick bird will gorge on grit is a common one in the USA - all I can say is that I have never, ever, come across such a case. I have never seen an autopsied parrot with a gizzard full of grit and never seen grit at all in the proventriculus. I also find it incredible that a single vet in Florida sees hundreds of grit impaction cases a year, while Australian vets see none! Something is wrong here. Perhaps with USA vets not having exposure to wild parrot autopsies, they are not used to the large amount of grit that can occur in healthy wild birds. What they are diagnosing as gizzard impaction, to Australian vets might be a healthy and normal grit load for a bird." Quote: Mike Owen Queensland Australian Rep. World Parrot Trust

Customer: replied 10 years ago.
I am thinking that it may be a problem with laying an egg. I see see didn't have any in her nest and that is unusual. She has always had grit available to her. I am currently steaming the room, hoping to soften up her little body so she can drop the egg if that is in fact the problem.
Expert:  Patricia replied 10 years ago.

Good morning. Since there are dissenting opinions about the use of the grit, there will be little else you can do but use the information provided, in conjunction with your own Avian vet and hope you make the right decision for you bird. According to my mentors, Sally Blanchard and Dr. Margaret Wissman, there is only one form of "grit" that is safe for a seed hulling bird. And, it is not actually grit at all. It is a water soluble form of oyster shell, that is given for the calcium benefits it has. But it is not a true "grit", and it does not function as a grit, for digestion. It is a source of extra calcium and because it dissolves, it will not cause impaction. As for the egg, there is one thing you can try at home but I have to tell you up front, it is one of those last ditch efforts before getting her to the emergency clinic and the odds are not real good that it will work. If you can detect a lump or swelling, just in front of her vent area then you will know almost positively, she is egg bound. You may be able to see it or you may have to gently rub you fingers down her abdomen, feeling for it. But be very gentle with her because if she is bound up, and if that egg should rupture inside of her, she is in even more immediate danger. The home remedy you can try is to coat her vent area with cooking oil and have her stand in a dish of warm water. The water must come up past her vent and past the swelling. Of course she is not going to want to stand in the dish and you can't use any force or pressure to keep her there so it's best to just cup both hands over her so she can't fly or jump out of it. If it's going to work, she should pass the egg in no longer than about 30 minutes. Also, keep a close eye on the droppings. If you should see anything that looks like mucus and/or raw egg, that's a strong indication that egg has ruptured. If that happens, you have no choice but to get her to a vet right away or she will die. If you have any kind of a nest box for her, I'd suggest getting rid of it and taking all possible steps to discourage further laying. It's much to hard on her health. Removing all semi dark, and semi private areas, rearraning things inside the cage and moving the cage itself, even if only across the room for a few days, can help discourage laying. Cutting back on her daylight hours can help as well by covering her cage earlier in the evening, uncovering later in the morning. In case you do not have a true Avian vet, I can give you some links to help locate one. Beware of dog/cat vets who may be excellent in their field but do not have the extra training and experience required to work with avians. Well meaning as they may be, they can often do more harm than good, both to your bird and to your budget. I hope this will work for you but if you need anything else, just let me know. Patricia

Expert:  Dr. Hanson replied 10 years ago.
You are wise to continue providing your tiel with grit. Also, raising the humidity should help her to pass the egg. If you have other questions about your birds please request Dr. Hanson.
Customer: replied 10 years ago.
Reply to Dr. Hanson's Post: I deceided to take her to a vet. She had a egg yoke in her stomache
Expert:  Patricia replied 10 years ago.

Hello Nash. I'm not at all happy for her that I was right about the egg because that is a traumatic event, at best. But I am so pleased you got her in and she got the proper attention she needed. I hope she will be just fine from now on. Just be extra alert to making sure she has plenty of calcium rich foods, all the time and don't ever let her run out of the cuttlebones. If her calcium reserves are in good shape, hopefully you and she will not have to go through this again. There are also several things you can do to discourage laying, thereby eliminating the possibilty of a future problem. You can reduce the amount of daylight hours she has by covering her earlier than usual in the evening, and uncovering a little later in the morning. Use a fairly dark cover. You can rearrange things inside her cage and move the cage itself, even if only across the room for a day or two, then move it back. Small things like that will put some upset in her routine and will hopefully make her feel that things are not "settled" enough to be laying any eggs. If none of those measure work and if her laying gets too excessive, talk with you vet about an injection she can have that will slow down or stop the laying. If you have any more questions about any of this, just let me know. Patricia

Expert:  Dr. Hanson replied 10 years ago.

It's good you took her to a vet. When a tiel has egg yolk in her stomach it's called "egg peritonitis". Egg peritonitis is common in cockatiel hens. It's due to a failure of the egg to enter the end of the oviduct near the ovary called the "infundibulum".

The peritonitis is usually sterile but there can sometimes be a secondary bacterial infection so your tiel should probably receive an antibiotic.

The symptoms of egg peritonitis include lethargy, weakness, no appetite, and difficulty breathing due to a fluid-filled distended abdomen.

An X-ray shows the bird has a fluid-filled abdomen.

The usual veterinary treatment for egg peritonitis is an "abdominocentesis" to remove the fluid and this usually helps the bird breathe better. Sometimes a drain called a Penrose drain is placed in the bird's abdomen so the fluid can drain continuously. Intravenous or subcutaneous fluids, an antibiotic, and a low-dose of corticosteroid is usually administered to the bird for a couple of days and the bird is also usually put on a course of Depo-Provera.

Well, you did good. She'll be feeling better in a few days.

If you have other bird questions please ask me.

Dr. Hanson, DVM, PhD
Aviculturist & Ornithologist