-General Information and Care- -Canaries- -Illnesses-


The most common ailment for birds is a cold. Colds are most often caused by drafts. The most common causes of drafts are:

1. An open window in spring or fall when it is cool outdoors.

Being placed under a ceiling fan.

Placing the cage near a door to the outside.

Not covering the cage at night.

Signs of a cold (respiratory) are:

Fluffing of feathers. The bird looks "puffed up" in an effort to get warm.

Loose stools or a change in the droppings. Often pasty stools on the vent are noted. A healthy bird has a clean bottom.

A change in eating habits. The bird seems to be eating constantly.

Tail bobbing. Observation of a bird at rest on the perch and the tail pumps up and down. The air sacs (lungs) are located low in the body. Difficulty breathing causes the tail to bob.

An increased appetite is an effort to:

Get more calories that are being burned by having chills (fluffing up).

Recoup the nutrients being lost in the form of diarrhea.

Birds metabolize at a rapid rate. Therefore the calories that are burned and the nutrients lost cause them to rapidly loose weight. This is called "going light". The keel or breastbone in a healthy bird is like your turkey at Thanksgiving, nice and fat on either side. A bird that has lost weight has a very prominent breastbone that feels razor sharp. You must actually feel the breast, as feathers hide the actual loss of weight. .


Birds mask signs of illness. In the wild a sick bird is easy prey, therefore when you approach the cage the bird may smooth the feathers and look normal. Other birds try to separate themselves from an ill cage mate in order not to fall prey to a predator. Sometimes attacking or picking on them in order to "drive them off".

A bird that is on the bottom of the cage is extremely weak and unable to perch.

A bird that was normally unhandable that allows itself to be handled is too weak to fight.

Because birds are so good at hiding illness it is important to become familiar with normal stools and behavior. Often by the time symptoms are observed a bird may have been ill for several days. It is difficult, but not impossible to treat a small bird. For larger birds it is recommend that the bird be taken to an avian veterinarian.


There are 4 things that must be done at the first sign of a "cold"

1. Do not handle the bird, it needs to conserve energy.

2. Warm the bird to reduce chills. This can be done by using a 60-watt light bulb placed at the side of the cage near the perch. The cage must be covered, back, sides and top, with the front uncovered for observation. The heat source must be such that the bird can get closer or farther from the heat as needed. The temperature in the cage should be at least 85 degrees. Too hot and the bird will hold the wings out from the body and pant in an effort to cool down.

3. A high fat seed should be provided in addition to normal feed. Oat groats are high in fat and have no hulls. A stress feed containing lactobacillus would also be beneficial. Lactobacillus is a culture that places beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract.

4. Medication for respiratory infections should be given. (Medication is susceptible to bacteria growth in warm conditions and should be changed often)