- Fecal testing is the recommended method for diagnosing gastrointestinal (GI) parasite infections.
- GI parasites can cause serious illness in pet birds.
- Your veterinarian can recommend medications to treat most GI parasites.
- Your veterinarian can recommend a schedule for checkups and fecal testing that can help protect your pet bird from dangerous GI parasites.
What Are Gastrointestinal Parasites?
Gastrointestinal (GI) parasites are any parasites that live in the digestive tract of a host. The following are among the GI parasites that can affect pet birds:
- Roundworms: Several species of roundworms can affect pet birds.
- Tapeworms: Tapeworms are less common than they once were, but several types of birds can be infected, including finches, parrots, and cockatoos.
- Giardia: Giardia is a single-celled GI parasite. Cockatiels and other pet birds can become infected.
- Trichomonas: Trichomoniasis is caused by the microscopic organism Trichomonas gallinae.Trichomonas creates infected lesions that can damage the mouth, esophagus, and other organs.
- Coccidia: Coccidia is a protozoan parasite that is especially common in birds housed in groups.
How Do Pet Birds Become Infected With Gastrointestinal Parasites?
In most cases, eggs or infective stages of GI parasites are shed in fecal material. Once parasites are in the environment, other birds can be exposed through direct contact with feces or exposure to fecal-contaminated food or water.
Tapeworms are slightly different in that they can be transmitted indirectly when birds consume certain insects that are infected with the parasite. The immature stage of the tapeworm lives inside the insect. If your pet bird eats the insect—and the tapeworm inside—the tapeworm can hatch inside your bird and continue its lifecycle. Keeping insects away from your bird’s living area can help reduce the risk of exposure to tapeworms.
What Are the Clinical Signs of Gastrointestinal Parasites?
Feather plucking, diarrhea, weight loss, and weakness can be among the clinical signs of GI parasite infection in birds. Infected birds can even die. However, many infected birds don’t show any clinical signs at all. The best way to tell if your bird is infected is to schedule an examination with your veterinarian and have your pet tested for parasites.
How Is Fecal Testing Performed?
Your veterinarian can begin a fecal analysis by examining the appearance of your bird’s fecal material. If the stools are abnormal, discolored, or have an unusual odor, this can indicate a problem. Your veterinarian may recommend performing more than one type of fecal test. The most common types of fecal analysis are the following:
- Direct fecal smear: In this test, a small amount of stool is placed on a microscope slide, mixed with a very small amount of water or saline, and examined under a microscope. Parasite eggs and single-celled parasites can sometimes be identified using this method.
- Fecal flotation: In this test, a sample of stool is placed in a small tubular container and mixed with a small amount of a special solution. Mixing causes the parasite eggs to float to the top of the solution. A clean microscope slide is placed on the rim of the container to collect the eggs, which your veterinarian can see under the microscope.
Fecal testing can detect GI parasites in many cases, but your veterinarian may recommend additional tests to help confirm a diagnosis. For example, Trichomonas is more commonly diagnosed by examining a direct smear of material from the mouth or throat (instead of from feces) to look for the microscopic organism in this material.
Even if testing doesn’t confirm parasites, your veterinarian may recommend treatment as a precaution. This is not harmful for your bird.
Why Is Fecal Testing Important for My Pet Bird?
In many cases, birds infected with GI parasites don’t exhibit clinical signs. That means the only way to tell if a pet is infected is to perform fecal testing periodically to screen for parasites.
Your veterinarian can recommend a schedule for checkups and fecal testing that can help protect your pet bird from these dangerous parasites.