Conjunctivitis can be caused by foreign bodies in the eye, bacterial or fungal infections, trauma, and parasites. Symptoms include red eyes, swollen eyelids, weeping or discharge from the eyes and nose, and sensitivity to light.
Treatment for conjunctivitis in parrots depends on the cause, but options include antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antifungals, and anti-parasitics. These can be oral medications, sprays, or topical ointments. All treatments involve flushing and cleaning the affected eye to ease irritation.
Other health problems are commonly mistaken for conjunctivitis, including mycobacteriosis and psittacosis. Take your parrot to a vet as treatment will need to focus on all of the different problems. If not treated, conjunctivitis in parrots can lead to partial or total blindness and even death.
Why Are My Parrots’ Eyes Red?
Conjunctivitis is most commonly known as pink eye or red eye. Technically, any animal with a conjunctiva can get conjunctivitis. This includes all members of the parrot family. As The Veterinary Clinics notes, this disorder is one of the most common health problems seen in pet birds. Most owners will notice these symptoms:
- One eye is closed
- Eye looks red
- Eye is swollen
Of course, these symptoms are also found in other illnesses. Since parrots can get pink eye regularly, it’s safe to assume that it’s conjunctivitis.
Conjunctivitis is the name given to an infection or irritation of the eye’s conjunctiva. This is a thin membrane that lines the inner eyelid. Several issues can arise with this membrane, including:
- Foreign objects
All of 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 a wide range of causes, it can also manifest in a variety of symptoms. In and of itself, conjunctivitis may even be a symptom of a larger health problem. Symptoms include:
- Reddened, swollen, and irritated eyes
- Swollen eyelids
- Swelling around the eye or under the eyelid
- Eye and/or 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 possible answer. Many other health problems can present similar symptoms to pink eye. The main ones include:
- 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)
- Eye injuries
- Allergens causing irritation and discomfort
What Causes Conjunctivitis?
According to the Exotic Animal Practice, three clinical groups broadly categorize the infection by cause. There is 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. This will expose 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 the development of 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 infection of the eye, sinus, or conjunctiva may result in conjunctivitis. This includes parasitic, bacterial, or fungal infections. With 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, being exposed to other infected birds or interacting with feces from wild animals and other pets that have strands of the bacteria can lead to pink eye.
Conjunctivitis must be treated as it won’t go away on its own. Left untreated, it will lead to permanent loss of sight or total blindness, starvation, and death. Here’s a typical 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. Aside from clearing out irritants, this controls what the eye and conjunctiva are exposed to. This will give your parrot comfort and relief from the irritation source.
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. If any foreign matter in the eye won’t budge, a vet’s support will be essential.
Depending on the cause, your vet may prescribe:
- Topical medication
These can be given orally, through ointments, or with sprays. Eye drops might also be needed. Anti-inflammatories are useful for reducing any swelling from infection or trauma.
In cases where parasites are responsible, 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 decide to manually remove any parasites. Other medications a vet may prescribe include:
- Tylosin spray
- Ophthalmic ointment
- Anti-parasitic sprays and oral medications
Given how persistent cases of conjunctivitis can be, continue treatment for the full prescribed period.
If you identify the condition early and commence a treatment plan, healthy parrots will recover from conjunctivitis without issue. However, this does depend 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 cases when an illness has gone unnoticed for too long or the parrot is too young or old to recover. Parrots may also succumb to starvation before treatment can begin. If so, a vet may recommend euthanasia.
There are ways to reduce your parrot’s likelihood of developing conjunctivitis:
Ensure that your parrot’s enclosure, play area, and toys are cleaned regularly. This includes 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.
This will remove dust residue, feces, food scrap, and all other traces of irritants. 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 anti-parasitic treatments. This can prevent a wide range of health problems, including conjunctivitis. Also, healthier parrots are more capable of fighting off conjunctivitis.
Ensuring that your parrot is always handled properly means it won’t get hurt by an inexperienced family member. Trauma to the eye can lead to an 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.
If your parrot is housed with other birds, check how well the animals interact. Social as they are, parrots like their personal space and will defend it if necessary. This can result in fights, leading to cuts and abrasions.
If your parrot’s eyes appear red and swollen, they should be checked over by an avian vet. Your parrot may have conjunctivitis. Even if it doesn’t have red eye, it could have Blepharitis, Mycobacteriosis, or Uveitis.