Conjunctivitis is caused by foreign bodies in the eye, bacterial or fungal infections, trauma, and parasites. Symptoms include red eyes, swelling, weeping or discharge from the eyes/nose, and sensitivity to light.
Treatment for conjunctivitis in parrots depends on the cause, but options include antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antifungals, and antiparasitics. These can be oral medications, sprays, or topical ointments. All treatments involve flushing and cleaning the affected eye(s) to ease irritation.
Other health problems are commonly mistaken for conjunctivitis, including mycobacteriosis and psittacosis. If not treated, conjunctivitis in parrots can lead to partial or total blindness and even death.
Why Are My Parrot’s Eyes Red?
Conjunctivitis is most commonly known as pink eye or red eye.
Any animal with conjunctiva can get conjunctivitis, including all parrot family members. As The Veterinary Clinics notes, conjunctivitis is among the most common problems in pet birds.
Most owners will observe these symptoms:
- One eye is closed
- Eye looks red
- Eye is swollen
Conjunctivitis is the name given to an infection or irritation of the eye’s conjunctiva, which is a thin membrane that lines the inner eyelid. Several issues can arise, including:
- Foreign objects
These may develop into a case of red eye. In parrots, conjunctivitis can spread throughout the eye but may reach the upper respiratory system.
Symptoms Of Conjunctivitis
Since conjunctivitis has various causes, it can manifest many symptoms. In and of itself, conjunctivitis can be a symptom of a larger health problem. The symptoms of conjunctivitis include:
- Reddened, swollen, and irritated eyes
- Swollen eyelids
- Swelling around the eye or under the eyelid
- Eye and nose discharge
- Glassy, watery eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Drooping eyelids
- Visible masses or lumps in the eye
- Loss of sight
- Crust around the eyes and nose
- Watering eyes
- Loss of appetite
Things Mistaken for Conjunctivitis
When a parrot has red or swollen eyes, conjunctivitis is a common diagnosis. However, it’s not the only explanation for these symptoms.
Other health problems can present similar symptoms to pink eye, including:
- Blepharitis: A condition that results in chronic itching of the eyes.
- Uveitis: An inflammation of the inner eye.
- Mycobacteriosis: An often-fatal zoonotic disease.
- Psittacosis: Parrot fever is a contagious disease caused by chlamydiae.
- Eye injuries: Includes accidental scratches and punctures.
- Allergens: Cause irritation and discomfort.
What Causes Conjunctivitis?
According to the Exotic Animal Practice, three clinical groups broadly categorize the infection by cause. There’s also a singular type of conjunctivitis that cockatiels are more vulnerable to.
The eye and its surrounding tissues are sensitive to foreign bodies, including:
- Seed husks
- Millet seeds
- Wood chips from chew toys
Since parrots are messy eaters, they fling scraps or discarded shells around their cages. A food fragment may get into the parrot’s eye and cause irritation, eventually leading to pink eye.
Parrots living in unsanitary conditions may get fecal matter in their eyes, exposing them to harmful bacteria, leading to pink eye.
Diseases of the eye or sinuses can trigger conjunctivitis. Viruses like the Newcastle virus and pneumovirus can irritate the conjunctiva. Some can be transmitted between humans and other pets.
The symptoms are similar between species, with flu-like effects, but the most notable is pink eye. Because parrots have weaker immune systems than humans, it can be life-threatening.
The most common infection points for parrots include:
- Going outdoors
- Exposure to wild birds, such as pigeons or songbirds.
- Interaction with new pet parrots that have not been quarantined.
- Exposure to people who work with rescued or rehabilitated birds.
Any eye, sinus, or conjunctiva infection may result in conjunctivitis, which includes parasitic, bacterial, or fungal infections. That said, bacterial infection of the conjunctiva is more common.
Your parrot may become ill and have red, swollen eyes if it’s infected by:
- Chlamydia psittaci
The latter infection is common among parrots. However, exposure to other infected birds or interaction with feces from wild animals and other pets that contain bacteria can lead to pink eye.
Conjunctivitis must be treated as it won’t go away on its own. Left untreated, it’ll lead to permanent loss of sight, starvation, and death. Here’s a common treatment plan:
Flushing The Eye
In most cases, treatment will involve saline flushes and some form of medication. Flushing the eye removes foreign bodies and other matter from the eye.
Only use sterile water or saline solutions for eye flushes. Not doing so will further irritate the eye and risk worsening the infection. To make a saline solution:
- Mix ½ teaspoon of salt into a cup of water.
- Boil this in a small pot with the lid on for 10-15 minutes.
- Seal inside an airtight container and allow to cool to room temperature.
Fresh solutions should be made daily.
To flush the eye:
- Dampen a cloth with the saline solution and hold the parrot’s head.
- Tip the parrot’s head slightly to the side.
- Use the cloth to clean away any debris or eye crust.
- Avoid any contact with the eyeball.
Cleaning the eye may be difficult without assistance, especially if the parrot isn’t used to being handled.
Depending on the cause, your vet may prescribe:
- Topical medication
These can be given orally, through ointments or sprays. Eye drops might also be needed, and Anti-inflammatories are useful for reducing swelling from infection or trauma.
In cases that involve parasites, topical eye drops or carbamate powder will be necessary. This will kill the parasites before they can be flushed from the eye. A vet may remove parasites manually.
Other medications include:
- Tylosin spray
- Ophthalmic ointment
- Antiparasitic sprays and oral medications
Given how persistent cases of conjunctivitis can be, continue treatment for the recommended period.
If you identify the condition early and commence a treatment plan, healthy parrots will recover from conjunctivitis without issue. However, this depends on what caused conjunctivitis to develop.
Severe cases can result in impaired sight or blindness, even with treatment. The situation will need to be closely monitored by a vet with routine check-ups.
There are ways to reduce a parrot’s likelihood of developing conjunctivitis:
Ensure that your parrot’s enclosure, play area, and toys are cleaned regularly by removing feces, shed feathers, food scraps, and parrot dust.
This will reduce the likelihood of a foreign object getting into the parrot’s eye. Also, it prevents bacteria, mold, and fungi from growing in the cage. Offer your parrot regular baths, or give it a spray wash.
If you come into contact with other birds, wild and captive, wash your hands before handling your parrot to avoid cross-contamination.
Stay on top of worming and antiparasitic treatments, as this can prevent various health problems, including conjunctivitis.
Ensuring that your parrot is always handled correctly reduces the risk of it getting hurt by an inexperienced family member. Trauma to the eye can lead to infection.
Parrots can hurt themselves by flying into objects or taking a fall. Supervise your parrot when it is free-roaming with the family, especially around children and other household pets.
Check how well parrots interact with other birds. Parrots are territorial and will grow defensive when deemed necessary. This can result in fights, leading to cuts and abrasions.
If your parrot’s eyes appear red and swollen, they should be checked by a vet, as your parrot may have conjunctivitis. Even if it doesn’t have red eye, it could have Blepharitis, Mycobacteriosis, or Uveitis.