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Psittacosis (Parrot Fever)

By | Last Updated: 30th June 2020

What is psittacosis (parrot fever)

Psittacosis or parrot fever, also called ornithosis or chlamydiosis [1, 4], is a potentially fatal bacterial infection that can plague different birds and even other animals. Among parrots, the most susceptible are the various cockatiels, macaws, budgies, and Amazons. It is also common in birds like sparrows, ducks, pigeons, and hens. Humans, as well as domestic animals like sheep, cows, cats, and pigs, may get it from coming in contact with an affected bird, or its droppings. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) needs to be notified when pet birds or livestock get infected [7].


What causes psittacosis

It is a contagious disease, caused by the bacteria Chlamydia psittaci [8]. Birds contract it mainly by inhaling the dust from infected droppings of other birds, and also from nasal secretions. The strain of bacteria often remains inactive (sometimes for years) in the body of its carrier, until stress activates it, causing the bird to shed the bacteria [2]. Pet birds may get stressed due to minor changes, like relocating their aviary or making some alterations in their diet [9]. Sometimes, the carriers just shed the bacteria, but do not display any sign of the disease themselves [10].

The incubation period for the Chlamydia eggs can range from 3 days to a few weeks, so, you will need to keep an eye out for the presence of any abnormal symptoms for quite a few days in case you suspect your bird to have been exposed to the bacteria [8].

Psittacosis symptoms

Look out for the following symptoms if you suspect that your bird has psittacosis [1, 10]:

  • Runny nose
  • Fluid discharge from the eyes
  • Discolored (green) droppings
  • Lethargy and Sleepiness
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite to the point where the bird may refuse to eat
  • Depression

Psittacosis diagnosis

Veterinarians usually prescribe a blood profile with a white blood cell count for the initial diagnosis of parrot fever. A high WBC count with elevated levels of liver enzymes indicates an infection. They may also order a test to specifically look for the Chlamydia bacteria, and a positive result can confirm the infection. However, a negative report does not always mean that your bird is free from the disease; so, other tests should be run to confirm [2].

Parrot Fever

Psittacosis treatment

Treatment for psittacosis must begin as soon as it is detected, otherwise, the infection may advance and lead to the death of the bird. Avian veterinarians usually start with a course of antibiotics, usually tetracycline, especially doxycycline. The treatment usually continues for at least 45 days [2]. The mode of administration varies depending on what bird you are treating. For birds like cockatiels, African Gray parrots, and Goffin’s cockatoos, the doxycycline can be mixed with water, while for budgerigars, the medicine may be added to their food for easy administration [8].

High levels of calcium intake may interact with the antibiotic, coming in the way of its absorption by the body. So, make sure to keep the calcium levels low in your bird’s diet for as long as the medication continues [6].


When treatment begins at an early stage, the bird may get well and can be housed back with its group in its original cage or aviary. However, since the condition is quite difficult to detect that early, it has an average death rate of about 50% [12].

Preventive measures

There are no vaccines yet to protect domestic and pet birds from the bacteria, so, make sure to follow these guidelines to reduce the risk of the condition [11]:

  • When you buy or adopt a pet bird, make sure to have it tested by a certified vet for any bacterial or viral conditions before you bring it to your household.
  • Get any new bird from a reputable breeder as they usually do regular check-ups for such infectious diseases.
  • Infected birds must be kept in quarantine to ensure they do not come in contact with other birds and animals.
  • Pet birds coming back from a bird show or similar events should also be kept apart till tested by a vet.
  • Direct contact with a sick or carrier bird may lead to the disease in humans. So, always wear rubber gloves when handling an infected bird, its cage, or other belongings.

Signs of the infection in humans include flu-like symptoms, including chills, fever, headache, runny nose, dry cough, breathing difficulties and pneumonia-like symptoms [12]. Severe cases may cause damage to the liver, heart or the nervous system, so make sure to contact your doctor in any case.


    1. Parrot Fever (Psittacosis) – HealthLine.com
    2. Psittacosis – BeautyofBirds.com
    3. Psittacosis (Ornithosis, Parrot Fever) – Health.Vic
    4. Psittacosis (Parrot Fever): Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention – PetEducation.com
    5. Bird Diseases: Psittacosis – Petcha.com
    6. Psittacosis – TheParrotSocietyUK.org
    7. Psittacosis/Ornithosis (Chlamydophila psittaci) – CDC.gov
    8. Bacterial Diseases of Pet Birds – MSDVetManual.com
    9. Psittacosis – TheParrotSocietyUK.org
    10. Psittacosis – BrisbaneBirdVet.com.au
    11. Chlamydiosis in Birds – NASPHV.org
    12. Psittacosis (Avian Chlamydiosis) – CFSPH.IAstate.edu

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