Birds sometimes suffer from diarrhea, these health issues can have various causes. Dietary faults are often behind it. For example, if a bird eats food from the owner’s plate which is incompatible with his or her diet, this can lead to digestive upset. Depending on how severe the damage is in the individual case, diarrhea caused by a dietary mistake can be quite persistent. Treatment by an avian vet is urgently required then.
But infections that can be caused by bacteria, fungi or parasites, can also be responsible for the occurrence of diarrhea in birds. If the immune system is weakened or if a bird has undergone severe stress – this can be a change of environment, for example – pathogenic germs can settle inside the animal’s intestine. These are often ordinary environmental pathogens that are constantly present in the birds’ (and in our!) surroundings and would not cause him or her to become ill in general.
Typical bacteria from the natural environment include E. coli (Escherichia coli). But fungi such as Candida or parasites like Trichomonads can also lead to diarrhea. In budgies and other pet birds, also infections caused by specific bacteria, the so-called cocci, including Enterococci, Staphylococci (short: Staph), and Streptococci (short: Strep) may occur. These pathogens are sphere-shaped bacteria.
If one suspects that a bird may be suffering from an infection, the animal should be taken to an avian vet as soon as possible so that a reliable diagnosis can be obtained. This means the doctor has to find out which pathogen or other cause is causing the symptoms. To find out a suitable medication in case of an infection, to which the respective pathogens are not immune, a microbial sensitivity test often has to be performed using a swab or a fecal sample. What is important for an avian regarding the examination is described further below by Dr. Martina Schmoock.
Reddish but no blood? – What fresh food can cause
Anyone who offers their birds fresh foods, which on the one hand contain a lot of liquid and on the other hand have natural red coloring substances, can observe a typical phenomenon a while after consumption: The droppings are pasty to very liquid and more or less bright red. This has caused many bird owners to panic because the assumption is that it is diarrhea mixed with blood. If the birds do not show any symptoms such as the increased need for rest, fluffed plumage, cold feet, trembling, or typical signs of pain, there is usually no need for concern. The watery red fresh food has merely passed through the digestive tract and been excreted – and with it some of the red pigments.
Foods, where this happens quite often, include red peppers, tomatoes, and pomegranate. After eating carrots, the birds’ feces temporarily turn orange, but are not too liquid, since carrots do not contain as much water as the previously mentioned foods.
Reliably recognize diarrhea
If a bird defecates liquid droppings, it is not necessarily suffering from diarrhea. Most bird owners confuse liquid poop with true diarrhea because they are unaware that birds such as budgies defecate their urine along with their feces. Normally, urine is creamy in consistency and whitish in color. The dark fecal portion surrounds these urine excretions. In a healthy budgie, both are solid, odorless, and will dry within a short time.
If a bird consumes a lot of liquid due to increased drinking or eating fresh food, it is like us humans: the amount of urine produced increases. More urine in the poop ball means more liquid that has been excreted. The poop, therefore, appears too wet overall, and a cursory glance can easily give the impression that the bird has diarrhea.
If the droppings are too wet, the actual feces portion is solid, but the white urine part is very liquid and milky or sometimes even transparent. Typically, this occurs after extensive fresh food meals. Because the birds’ digestion is quite rapid, they usually excrete the water ingested with the fruit or vegetables fairly soon. A budgie will usually defecate within the next two hours in excessively moist droppings, where the actual fecal portion is usually solid and the urine part is as previously described. However, if the urine is strongly liquified for no apparent reason such as a previous fresh food meal or even over a longer period and the bird seems to be weakened, he or she may be suffering from a disease of the kidneys such as an inflammation, which in some cases can also be recognized by a strong urine odor.
Doch wie sieht bei einem Vogel wie einem Wellensittich nun Durchfall aus? Echten Durchfall erkennen Sie daran, dass das gesamte Kotbällchen zerfließt. Das heißt, insbesondere der normalerweise feste Kotanteil ist in den Ausscheidungen von an Durchfall erkrankten Vögeln breiig und mitunter klebrig oder gar zähflüssig. Der Urinanteil zerläuft typischerweise ebenfalls, weil er sich mit dem im Kotanteil enthaltenen Wasser vermischt. Hinzu kommt ein weiteres Symptom: But what does diarrhea look like in budgies? You can recognize real diarrhea by the fact that the entire droppings are wet. That means, in particular, the usually solid portion of feces is mushy and sometimes sticky or even viscous in the droppings of budgies suffering from diarrhea. The urine portion typically dissipates as well because it mixes with the water contained in the fecal portion. Besides, there is another symptom: The plumage around the birds’ cloaca shows traces of this mushy feces in almost every case and is accordingly sticky. Often, the liquefied droppings of a bird suffering from diarrhea are not odorless, as should be the usual case. Diarrhea droppings tend to smell musty, fishy, or pungent. Sometimes these droppings can also be very slimy and stringy when touched.
In order to be able to treat diarrhea specifically, it is first necessary to clarify exactly what the cause of the disease is in the individual case. It is thus essential to take the affected bird to an avian vet as soon as possible. Since diseases of diarrhea in pet birds quickly lead to severe weakness, you should avoid waiting for too long.
After the doctor has established a reliable diagnosis – if necessary, a fecal sample or a swab is required, as mentioned above – she or he will determine the therapy. That means you will learn more about the medication to be administered and, if necessary, a special change in diet. It is important to follow the instructions of your avian vet exactly so that the bird gets well soon. Unauthorized changes in therapy or premature discontinuation of medication can lead to severe relapses!
On some discussion boards on the internet as well as in groups on Facebook and some books, the administration of charcoal is still recommended as a first-aid measure for diarrhea. However, nowadays many avian vets are advising against this. They do so for an important reason: Charcoal absorbs the extra liquid and makes the droppings appear to be normal again. This may eliminate the symptoms for the time being. But the underlying cause of the disease is still unidentified because charcoal won’t help to combat the pathogens. Therefore, you should never substitute visiting your avian vet with treating your bird just with charcoal.
Another complicating factor is that charcoal binds not only the extra water but also the nutrients contained in the food pulp inside the birds’ intestine. For this reason, it is better to use commercially available very finely ground healing clay instead of charcoal if you want to use a liquid-absorbing agent as a first-aid measure. The healing clay absorbs the excess liquid but not the nutrients. Despite all this, the cause of diarrhea should be identified and treated as soon as possible.
Cleaning the cloaca
Some birds suffering from diarrhea, as a result, experience more or less sticky plumage around their cloacae. This happens because of the general discomfort associated with the disease, the animals fluff up their plumage and often change their posture a little: They crouch more than they perch straight. Due to both, the feathers around the cloaca tend to be in the way. The wet droppings touch them when leaving the body. Usually, only a little fluid sticks to the feathers at first and dries up quickly. Over time, more and more liquid and feces will adhere to it. It can even happen that thick layers of feces form, then dry up and lead to a cloacal outlet obstruction (blockage). This usually happens in birds who are weakened, crouching on the ground, and virtually dwelling in their droppings.
Not only for hygienic reasons but also to prevent a painful blockage the owner should therefore clean the sticky feathers around the birds’ cloaca. To loosen the dried feces, applying warm water (35 °C to 40 °C) is recommended. A cotton ball is dipped into the water and then touched to the fecal crust for some time. This softens the feces. It can gradually be removed with a cotton swab and a damp cotton ball. You can also very carefully cut off some of the fluffy down feathers that are growing very close to the cloaca. Especially in case they have become too encrusted and can’t be cleaned, this is a recommended procedure. However, great care is required so that the bird is not accidentally injured by the scissors. If in doubt, the small feathers should rather be carefully torn out. This is unpleasant for the bird for a second but can be useful in case of severe staining. If you are not sure what you should do, please consult your avian vet.
As already mentioned above, the increased excretion of urine that occurs in kidney disease is often confused with diarrhea. Real severe diarrhea can be caused by an infestation with parasites called Giardia. As a result of several other conditions, swelling of the lower abdomen may occur, which consequently is not always a symptom of inflammation-related diarrhea. Examples of this are intestinal parasite infestation (roundworms) and resulting constipation or sometimes diarrhea, a tumor in the abdomen, a hernia, or so-called abdominal dropsy (ascites), as well as inflammation of the oviduct in female birds. Besides, other possible causes can be considered. To list them all would go beyond the scope of this article. Only an experienced avian vet can provide a reliable diagnosis.
Please keep in mind: If your birds’ abdomen is swollen, it’s an emergency in most cases because the affected animal usually suffers from severe pain.
This is what avian vet Dr. Martina Schmoock advises
If a bird shows thin droppings or vomiting once, this does not have to be a sign of a serious disease. Nevertheless, if you observe multiple vomiting with mucus-smeared plumage on the head and soft or watery droppings with a sticky cloaca, you should urgently consult an avian vet.
In general, remember to bring feces for examination. In any case, it should be fairly fresh and clean of sand or similar. Place a plastic sheet, freezer bag, or newspaper on the bottom of the cage or aviary. From this, the avian vet can usually easily collect the samples for the examination.
If the bird vomits, you should always check whether it has gnawed on a plant or something else in the room. Take a photo of this or even take it with you to the vet. Thus, a possible poisoning can be detected or ruled out.