I am not a veterinarian. Only a veterinarian can diagnose and treat illness. Contact a vet as soon as possible if your bird shows signs of illness.
However, cases do arise in whichone cannot access a vet with experience in treating small birds in a timely manner. In these cases, a certain amount of logical problem solving will frequently go a long way towarddealing with a health-related problem.
Three things should remain foremost in one’s mind when treating illness in canaries. First, do no harm. Taking a shotgun approach can cause more harm than good and if by chance one of the treatments works, one is left with the question of which treatment or combination of treatments was effective. Second, always start with the simplest causes and treatments and work out from there. Third, the old adage that an ounce of prevention isworth a pound of cure is absolutely correct and the importance of prevention cannot be overstated.
The single treatment that one can apply to any illness is supportive care- providing warmth, reducing stress and isolating the bird from other birds.Often this will be all that is required to allow a basically healthy bird to recover.
Behavior changes such as sleeping more often or being less active than normal. (This change in behavior is normal during the molt.
Change in droppings- becoming looser, changing color or reduction in number. Fewer droppings can be one of the first signs that a bird’s appetite is off.
Increased drinking of water not explained by hot weather, increased exercise, or eating salty foods or those high in water content such as greens, cucumber or watermelon.
“Fluffed up” appearance
Prolonged molt or absence of molt (unhealthy birds will not molt), ragged or sparse-looking feathers, bare areas where feathers do not regrow
Loss of song or hoarseness
Sneezing, coughing, labored breathing, tail bobbing up and down with each breath
Eye discharge or swollen eyelid
Favoring a foot or leg
Swellings or growths
Sitting drooped on perch or sitting on the floor of the cage
Droppings stuck to the bird’s vent area
Stress One of the most important causes of disease in canaries- and one of the least understood by many pet owners- is stress. Transporting, catching, overcrowding, chilling, being placed in a drafty location and poor nutrition are all stressors which can lead to illness. Any steps which can be taken to reduce stress on a bird will be beneficial- darkening a room and removing perches from a cage will minimize the stress of capture, for example.
Loss of song is often a sign of poor health as young, healthy male canaries will sing given appropriate environmental conditions such as adequate lighting, housing and diet.
The single most common cause of failure to sing- outside of actually being a hen- is molting. The majority of male birds will not sing during the molt and those who do usually sing more softly and quietly than usual.
The drive to sing is hormonal- male canaries sing only when testosterone levels are normal. For this reason older birds will sometimes sing less often as they age. As birds come into breeding condition, they will sing more often and more loudly. Male birds caged with a hen will often quit singing as the purpose of song is to attract a mate by announcing one’s vigor and fitness to breed. When two males are caged together, often a less dominant male will cease to sing in acknowledgment of the dominance of the other male.
Almost anything that can affect a bird’s wellbeing can lead to loss of song as well. To name only a few of the most common things which cause birds to quit singing- air sac mites, sore throat, respiratory infections, external parasite infestations, intestinal complaints, over breeding, and poor nutrition.
Before commencing to treat diarrhea, be sure that it exists. A few loose stools are not cause for panic. If the bird seems to be in general good health, is singing and is not acting any differently than it usually does chances are good that it is a passing episode and the bird will be fine.
Loose stools are a symptom rather than an illness in itself. Diarrhea can be caused by diet, stress, bacterial or viral infections, parasites . . . Do not assume the cause to be bacterial and begin giving antibiotics right away- remember to start by addressing possible causes that are the simplest to correct and proceeding from there.
Nervousness or stress due to changes in the environment can cause a bird to pass watery stools.
After nervousness or stress, the most common cause of loose stools is feeding too much green food or fruit. Birds which are not accustomed to eating fruits and vegetables regularly will often gorge themselves when offered a large amount- offer only small tidbits and gradually increase portions until the bird becomes used to eating them.
Large stools are common in hens while they are sitting due to the fact that they hold their stools while in the nest and leave it infrequently. As long as the droppings are firm, there is no cause for concern.
Don’t feed iceberg lettuce to birds- it is devoid of nutrition, containing mostly fiber and water. Feeding it will result in loose stools.
Wash all produce thoroughly to remove chemical residues, bacterial contaminants and other potential problems. Give fresh food such as greens, broccoli and carrots a short soak in water to which cider vinegar has been added.
Do not leave fresh food in the cage for too long- a good rule of thumb to use is to leave fresh food before the birds no longer than you would leave your own food out.
Wash all water and food dishes with dishwashing soap and sterilize with a 1:9 bleach/water solution. Rinse the bleach solution off the dishes thoroughly. Maintaining clean water dishes is vital- birds frequently fill their water dishes with bits of food and all sorts of other things. Change water whenever it becomes dirty and provide only fresh, clean water in clean cups, drinkers, or bottles. All treatment suggestions presume that good hygiene is being maintained!
Withhold egg food, fruit and green food and feed a half-teaspoonful of poppy seed until the stools firm up. Often the poppy seed will resolve a simple bout of loose stools.
If the diarrhea is unresolved by the poppy seed or returns when the poppy seed is discontinued, switch the bird to bottled water. Often “city water”- water which has been chemically treated with chlorine and other substances- can irritate a bird’s bowels; some birds are more sensitive than others. Well water can also cause problems because it can sometimes harbor bacteria to which small birds are less resistant than humans.
Electrolyte solutions for infants such as Pedialyte can help a bird maintain proper electrolyte balance during periods of diarrhea. There is now a powdered form on the market which is more economical since the bottles for infants are much larger than needed to treat a single bird. The powdered form is sold as a box of individual packets and can be stored for some time at room temperature and probably indefinitely if frozen.
Add a few drops of cider vinegar to the bird’s drinking water. The actual amount will depend on the preexisting acidity of your water and the size of the drinker or cup. Usually a few healthy drops in a half cup or so of water is sufficient. The reasoning behind this is that it will acidify the gut, easing digestive disturbances.
Antibiotics (which should be prescribed by a vet) can be effective in cases of diarrhea which resist all other treatments. See an avian veterinarian if your bird does not respond to home treatment - a veterinarian can perform tests on the bird’s droppings to determine the cause.