Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Carrie Stephens
Conjunctivitis in parrots (also called pink or red eye) is caused by foreign bodies in the eye, bacterial or fungal infections, trauma, or parasites.
The signs and symptoms of conjunctivitis in birds include red eyes, swelling, weeping or discharge from the eyes and nose, and light sensitivity.
Treatment for avian conjunctivitis depends on the cause, but options include antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antifungals, and antiparasitics.
These medications can be oral, sprays, or topical ointments. Treatment involves flushing and cleaning the affected eye(s) to eliminate the source of irritation.
If not treated, conjunctivitis can lead to partial or total blindness and death.
Other health problems are mistaken for conjunctivitis, including mycobacteriosis and psittacosis.
Why Parrots Eyes Go Red
Animals with conjunctiva, including all psittacines, can get conjunctivitis. The Veterinary Clinics stated that conjunctivitis is among pet birds’ most common health problems.
Most owners will observe the following symptoms:
- One eye is closed.
- Red eye.
- Swollen eye.
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 can 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 more troublesome health problem.
The symptoms of conjunctivitis in birds include the following:
- 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.
When a parrot has red or swollen eyes, conjunctivitis is usually the diagnosis. However, it’s not the only explanation for these symptoms.
Conditions Mistaken for Conjunctivitis
Other health problems can manifest 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 general irritation and discomfort.
The medical condition must be determined before treatment can be administered.
Causes of Conjunctivitis
According to the Exotic Animal Practice, 3 clinical groups broadly categorize the infection by cause. Cockatiels are also more vulnerable to one type of conjunctivitis than others.
The eye and its surrounding tissues are sensitive to foreign bodies, including the following:
- Feathers dust.
- Dried bird poop.
- Food debris, like seeds/millet.
- Wood chips from damaged chew toys.
- Substrate from the base of the cage.
Since parrots are messy eaters, they drop 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 bacteria. Practice good husbandry by spot-cleaning daily and deep-cleaning the cage weekly.
Diseases of the eye or sinuses can trigger conjunctivitis. Viruses like the Newcastle virus and pneumovirus can irritate the conjunctiva.
The symptoms are similar between species, with flu-like effects, but the most notable is red eye. As 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, like pigeons and songbirds.
- Interaction with new pet parrots that haven’t been quarantined.
- Exposure to people who work with rescued or rehabilitated birds.
Any eye, sinus, or conjunctiva infection may result in conjunctivitis, which includes parasites and bacterial or fungal infections. That said, a bacterial infection of the conjunctiva is more common.
The parrot may grow ill and have red, swollen eyes if it’s infected by:
- Chlamydia psittaci.
The latter infection is common among parrots. However, exposure to infected birds or interaction with feces from wild animals and other pets containing bacteria can lead to pink eye.
Conjunctivitis must be treated because it won’t go away on its own. Left untreated, conjunctivitis can lead to permanent loss of sight, starvation, and death.
Here’s a treatment plan used by vets and experienced bird owners:
Flushing The Eye with A Saline Solution
In most cases, treatment involves 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 exacerbating the infection.
To make a saline solution, do the following:
- 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 it inside an airtight container and allow it to cool to room temperature.
New 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 contact with the eyeball.
Cleaning the eye can be difficult if the parrot isn’t used to being handled.
Depending on the cause, a vet may prescribe:
- Topical medication.
These can be given orally or through ointments or sprays. Eye drops may also be needed, and anti-inflammatories are beneficial for reducing swelling from infection or trauma.
For 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 also 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 treatment, healthy parrots will recover from conjunctivitis without issue. This depends on what caused conjunctivitis to develop.
Advanced cases can result in impaired sight or blindness, even with treatment.
There are ways to reduce a parrot’s likelihood of developing conjunctivitis:
Ensure the parrot’s enclosure, play area, and toys are cleaned regularly by removing feces, shed feathers, food scraps, and parrot dust.
This reduces the likelihood of a foreign object entering the eye. It also prevents bacteria, mold, and fungi from multiplying. Offer the parrot regular bathing opportunities or give it a spray wash.
If you come into contact with wild or captive birds, wash your hands to avoid cross-contamination.
Stay on top of worming and antiparasitic treatments, as this can prevent conjunctivitis.
Trauma to the eye can lead to infection. Ensuring the parrot is handled correctly reduces the risk of injury from a family member inexperienced with pet birds.
Parrots can hurt themselves by flying into objects (windows, ceiling fans, etc.) or taking a fall. Supervise the parrot when free-roaming with the family, especially around children and other pets.
Check how well parrots interact with other birds. Parrots are territorial and will grow defensive when necessary. This can result in fights, leading to scrapes, cuts, wounds, and abrasions.
If the parrot’s eyes appear red and swollen, it should be checked by a vet in case it has conjunctivitis. Even if a bird doesn’t have red eye, it could have blepharitis, mycobacteriosis, or uveitis.