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Dr. B.
Dr. B., Board Certified Veterinarian
Category: Vet
Satisfied Customers: 22615
Experience:  General practice veterinary surgeon with extensive experience in a wide range of species.
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I have a cockatiel who appears to breathing heavy, he is 17

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I have a cockatiel who appears to breathing heavy, he is 17 years old could you help thank you I am Mrs Valerie Jarvis

Hello & welcome,Valerie. I am Dr. B, a licensed veterinarian and I would like to help you with your wee one today.

I must say I am quite concerned about your wee bird, especially if he is showing signs of breathing issues. This heavy breathing suggests that he may not be able to exchange oxygen as well as he normally has been able to do. So, as his breathing is abnormal, it is prudent to have him seen as soon as possible. Because if he is struggling to breath, then this is a red flag of urgency and he may need his vet to put him on oxygen to stabilize while addressing what is causing his respiratory disease.

The problem I am sure you will appreciate with birds to that they do a very good job of covering up when they are sick. This is because as a prey species, attention to your illness will make you a target for predation. So, if we are even seeing him like this then we need to pay attention and address this aggressively before it can become an even more serious issue. Too often we are the last to know when our birds are sick. And too often we only see signs of struggling when their condition is just too advanced for them to hide any longer. Therefore, bird instinct puts us human owners at a disadvantage for catching things early, and makes addressing the signs we are seeing now even more important.

Now I am sure you can appreciate just like people, birds can show respiratory signs like this for a variety reasons. Specifically, a respiratory infection in this species can be caused by bacteria, fungus, parasitic, nutritional, and viral agents.

You will not be able to rule out most of these at home (a good physical examination +/- fecal or blood testing are the best measures to do so), but I do just briefly want to mention one differentials that does require you to assess your management of your boy. Specifically, we can see respiratory disease secondarily to nutritional issues. Birds are prone to vitamin A deficiency when they diet is unbalanced or if they are selectively grazing and filling up in the wrong foods (ie. sunflower seeds). If he is on an imbalanced or all seed/millet diet, then you might consider supplementing his diet with vitamin A or try to tempt him to eat some veggies or fruit. You can try leafy dark greens and vegetables (i.e. kale, squash, celery, carrots, corn), as well as fruits (i.e., bananas, apples, grapes, pears, etc). They can also have seeding grass, and dandelion (flowers, roots and leaves). The reason Vitamin A is so important is because birds with vitamin A deficiency issues can show respiratory signs and can often have sneezing, wheezing, nasal discharge, crusted or plugged nostrils, lethargy, depression, diarrhea, tail-bobbing, respiratory distress, thinness, poor feather color, swollen eyes, ocular discharge, anorexia, gagging, halitosis and a "slimy mouth". Therefore, while we need to rule out infectious agents as the root of the signs you are seeing, we must also consider a nutritional differential and/or component to your bird’s illness.

So, diet is something to keep in mind. But further to this, and critically important if he has started to have labored breathing is to get his vet involved to rule out those other differentials and initiate appropriate treatment. You want your vet to examine your bird, have a listen of his chest and determine if there is a respiratory infection (and if so, to what extent). Depending on the vet’s exam findings, they will be able to advise you on which causative agent might be present, and guide you on diagnostics and treatment steps to get him well.

Overall, your lad's heavy breathing is a serious concern here that we don't want to leave to linger. If he is struggling to breathe, then we do have to consider having him seen by his vet as soon as possible to get him help and address this respiratory disease. This will give you the best chance of helping address this and getting him back to breathing comfortably.

While you are sorting out veterinary care for him, if he looks chilled and fluffed up, then do make sure you are keeping him warm. You can cover three sides of the cage to keep heat in or consider moving him to a little hospital cage (one level with a soft substrate floor). You can use a heat lamp, or a heating pad under half her pen (do not put it in the cage) but do monitor closely. Alternatively, you can make a safe warmer for the bird from a clean sock filled 2/3rd full with uncooked white rice. Tie it closed and microwave (approx 1-1.5 min). Make sure to shake it before adding it to the cage, to allow the heat to distribute. Make sure its not too hot (as we don’t want to burn the bird. If it cools, you can re-warm as required). Whichever technique you use, do monitor the temperature closely, since we don’t want to overheat him (and we cannot be confident he would move himself if he grew too warm).

Since it is Saturday and your vet may not have regular hours today (most do, so its worth checking), you should consider seeing your vet as an emergency. If you have a vet you see normally, I would advise to first ring the practice (as they will have a contingency for emergency care for their patients, often outlined on their answering machine message) or contact the local pet ER if the regular vet isn't open.

If you don't have a specialist avian vet, you can check where you can find one at near you at the RCVS Register (HERE),, or Avian web (LINK).


I hope this information is helpful.

If you need any additional information, do not hesitate to ask!

All the best,

Dr. B.


If you have any other questions, please ask me – I’ll be happy to respond. Please remember to rate my service once you have all the information you need. Thank you and hope to see you again soon! : )


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