Conjunctivitis is one of the most common health problems seen in pet parrots. It can be caused by foreign bodies in the eye, bacterial or fungal infections, trauma, and parasites. Conjunctivitis symptoms include reddened eyes, swollen eyelids, weeping or discharge from the eyes and nose, and sensitivity to light.
Depending on the cause, treatment for conjunctivitis in parrots can be 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 can be mistaken for conjunctivitis. These include more severe diseases, like mycobacteriosis, and common parrot afflictions, like psittacosis. Be sure to take your parrot to a vet, as treatment will need to target all problems. If left unattended, 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 be alerted to this illness in their parrots when they notice:
- “Hey, my parrot has one eye closed.”
- “My parrot’s eyes look red.”
- Or even worse, “My parrot’s eye is swollen.”
Of course, these primary 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. A broad number of 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 itself, but may also reach the upper respiratory system in severe cases. This condition may also be a symptom of an underlying health problem. Even if the infection is not a symptom itself, conjunctivitis can have terrible results.
What Causes Conjunctivitis In Parrots?
According to the Exotic Animal Practice, there are many reasons why a parrot may develop conjunctivitis. Given this, there are three clinical groups that broadly categorize the infection by its 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. In parrots, common foreign bodies include:
- Seed husks
- Millet seeds
- Wood chips from chew toys
- Other food fragments
Since parrots are messy eaters, it’s not difficult for one to fling scraps or discarded shells throughout its cage. This may get into the parrot’s eye and cause irritation, eventually leading to pink eye.
Parrots living in unsanitary conditions may also get fecal matter in their eyes. This will expose them to harmful bacteria, leading to pink eye or other conditions that affect the membranes.
Playing at the bottom of the cage or shaking away parrot dust from its feathers may also cause a parrot to irritate its eyes.
Airborne particles, like smoke or chemicals, are also considered a foreign irritant. If your non-stick pans give off mild fumes when you cook, this may be responsible for the pink eye. Likewise, if you smoke indoors, this could lead to issues with your parrot’s breathing and vision. As long as the conjunctiva is irritated, it can lead to pink eye.
Conjunctivitis can be triggered by diseases of the eye or sinuses. Viruses, like the Newcastle virus and pneumovirus, can also cause irritation of the conjunctiva. Many of these viruses can be transmitted between humans and pets, as well as between parrots.
The symptoms are remarkably similar between species, with flu-like effects, but the most notable is the development of pink eye. Sadly, because parrots have weaker immune systems than human beings, it can be lethal to your pet, while just very uncomfortable for you.
As such, it’s important to limit your parrot’s exposure to items, people, places, or pets that may allow it to contract the viruses. The most common infection points for a bird include being:
- Taken outdoors
- Exposed to wild birds, such as pigeons or songbirds
- Exposed to new pet parrots that have not been quarantined
- Exposed to people who work with rescued or rehabilitated birds that may be infected
Parrot Eye Infection
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 both wild animals and other pets that have strands of the bacteria, can lead to pink eye.
Any wounds are at greater risk. For example, if your parrot has injured itself, plucked out feathers, or is dealing with a skin condition, it’s more likely to get infected with bacteria. This can grow conjunctivitis, as well as damage areas of the body outside of the eye.
At this point, the reason why cockatiels are more prone to developing conjunctivitis is unknown. It is thought that the breed is more genetically predisposed to the disorder. It’s also possible they are more vulnerable to bacterial eye infections that spark conjunctivitis.
Given this, cockatiel owners are encouraged to regularly check their bird’s eyes for infection. If you notice swelling, redness, or discoloration of any sort, consider reaching out to your vet.
Aside from the broad categories above, other causes of conjunctivitis in parrots include:
- Vitamin A deficiency
- Eye ulcers
- Cancerous growths
Most of these will:
- Damage the eye
- Irritate the conjunctiva membrane of the eye
- Expose the parrot’s eye to outside bacteria
In the case of a vitamin deficiency, though, it affects how well your parrot can resist conjunctivitis. Vitamin A is crucial for strengthening the eye, boosting the immune system, and enhancing vision. If your parrot is low on this vitamin, it may be unable to fight off infections or recover quickly from trauma. This will open the door for infection.
Symptoms Of Conjunctivitis In Parrots
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. With that in mind, be sure to take your parrot to a vet if you suspect it has pink eye.
Symptoms may be present in just one eye, both eyes, or on one side of the face. In some cases, it’s even necessary to gently pull the eyelid away from the eye to see signs. Be sure to look for:
- 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
Symptoms will progress until the parrot succumbs to the disorder. The odds of conjunctivitis developing are high if:
- Your parrot has been diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection or sinusitis
- You notice symptoms of either condition
Be sure to closely monitor your parrot during treatment and recovery. It may relapse easily or develop other symptoms that signal a bigger issue.
Can Humans Get Conjunctivitis From Parrots?
If the circumstances are right, then humans may get pink eye from parrots. This depends on what causes your parrot’s conjunctivitis. Certain parasites, diseases, fungi, and bacterial infections can be transferred between a pet and its owner.
Microorganisms notes one case where a man caught chlamydia psittaci on a wildlife reserve after coming into contact with:
- An infected bird
- Its feathers
- Its feces
Specifically, he developed C. psittaci chronic unilateral conjunctivitis. To protect yourself, your family, and other pets, be sure that you isolate a parrot with conjunctivitis. This should be paired with strict hygiene protocols, such as:
- Regularly cleaning the cage
- Avoiding cross contamination of food and water
- Restricting who has access to the parrot
Don’t allow children to handle the pet during this time. A face mask may be necessary when cleaning the cage to prevent yourself from inhaling contaminated feces or feather dust. Your vet will be able to advise you if there is a high risk of parrot-to-human transmission.
Conjunctivitis In Parrots Treatment
Conjunctivitis must be treated. It will not heal up on its own. When left untreated, it will lead to:
- Permanent loss of sight or total blindness
- Eventually death
Treatment of conjunctivitis involves treating the problem and all underlying health issues. For example, if pink eye is a symptom of an upper respiratory infection, both must be cured for successful treatment. To diagnose the illness and prescribe a treatment plan, your vet will need:
- A thorough health history of the parrot
- Fluid samples
- Scraping samples
Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands before and after interacting with it during treatment. After all, pink eye can be transferred to humans.
Flushing The Eye
In most cases, a treatment plan 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. Even better, it offers your parrot comfort and relief from the irritation.
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 bird’s head slightly to the side
- Use the cloth to clean away any debris or eye crust
- Do not make contact with the eyeball
Cleaning the eye may be difficult without a helper if the parrot isn’t used to being handled. If any foreign matter in the eye won’t budge, a vet’s help will be needed.
Depending on the underlying cause, your vet may prescribe:
- Topical medication
These can be given orally, through ointments, or with sprays. Eye drops may also be needed. Anti-inflammatories are useful for helping with swelling from infection or trauma.
In cases where parasites are responsible, topical eye drops or carbamate powder will be needed. This will kill the parasites before they can be flushed from the eye. A vet may wish to manually remove the 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, it is vital to continue treatment for the entire prescribed period. It is easy for conjunctivitis to suddenly redevelop if treatment is stopped too early.
If you catch it early, healthy parrots will recover from conjunctivitis without issue. However, this does heavily depend on what caused conjunctivitis to develop.
Severe cases often result in impaired sight or blindness, even with treatment. This will need to be closely monitored by a vet with routine check-ups.
In the worst-case scenario, a vet may recommend euthanasia as the humane option. There are cases when an illness has gone unnoticed for too long, or the parrot is too young or old to successfully recover. Parrots may also succumb to starvation before treatment can begin.
The worst-case is very rare. Many parrots get red eye several times throughout their long lifespans and recover within a few weeks with treatment.
Preventing Conjunctivitis In Parrots
Since pink eye has so many causes, you cannot prevent it entirely. There is always a chance your parrot will sustain an injury to its face or get seed dust in its eyes. Likewise, it may get exposed to the illness through you or other pets.
Even still, there are ways to reduce your parrot’s odds of developing conjunctivitis. Here’s how to proceed:
Keep The Parrot And Its Space Clean
Cleaning your parrot’s cage regularly can help prevent a number of health problems, including pink eye. Always ensure that your parrot’s enclosure, play area, and toys are cleaned often. This includes removing feces, shed feathers, food scraps, and parrot dust.
This will limit the odds of a foreign object getting into the parrot’s eye. Even better, it prevents bacteria, mold, and fungi from growing in the cage. In that vein, be sure to offer your parrot regular baths. Using a spray bottle or creating a bath in your sink will let the parrot clean:
- Its face
This removes dust residue, feces, food scrap, and all other traces of irritants. If left to coat your bird, it could infect or irritate the parrot’s eyes.
If you come into contact with other birds, wild and captive, you should also thoroughly wash your hands before handling your parrot. This prevents cross-contamination of all manner of bacteria, fungus, parasites, and diseases, including conjunctivitis.
Conjunctivitis may develop as a symptom of diet-related deficiencies and illnesses. With that in mind, be sure your parrot is fed a proper diet. This should include high-quality food and a variety of food groups. Should your parrot be exposed to bacteria and viruses that result in pink eye, it will then be more likely to fight the condition off.
Remember that pieces of food can flick up and get caught in your parrot’s eye. Be sure to move its feeding dish away from strong air-flow currents. The shells of husked seeds can easily be whisked into the air by a window breeze or fan, blowing into the parrot’s face and eyes.
Be sure to stay on top of worming and anti-parasitic treatments. This prevents a wide range of health problems for your parrot, including conjunctivitis. Should they encounter a parasite that would result in pink eye, the bird will be more capable of fighting it off.
Proper Handling and Enrichment
Trauma to the eye can swiftly lead to an infection. Ensuring that your parrot is always handled properly means it won’t get hurt by an inexperienced family member.
Parrots can also hurt themselves by flying into objects or falling. Supervise a parrot when it is free-roaming with the family, especially around children and other animals.
If your parrot is housed with other birds, be sure to monitor how well the animals interact. Social as they are, parrots like their personal space and will defend it if necessary.
Owners know how important enrichment is for these intelligent birds. However, not all pet toys are suited to parrots. Toys with small or sharp edges can easily hurt an enthusiastic bird. Others can break into fragments under the pressure of a powerful beak.
Toys that have seen a lot of wear and tear should be replaced. Those meant to stimulate chewing and foraging behavior will succumb to your parrot’s bite-force eventually. All of the wood or cardboard chips need to be cleaned away to limit the amount of debris in the cage.
Things Mistaken For Conjunctivitis In Parrots
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:
- An eye injury
- Allergens causing irritation and discomfort
This is partly why owners are encouraged to have their parrot examined by a vet. A professional can give an accurate diagnosis of the problem. A few health issues that can be mistaken for conjunctivitis in parrots 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, also known as parrot fever
Parrot health problems can rapidly progress to a level where the animal may never recover. Taking your parrot to the vet as soon as you notice something is wrong is critical to recovery. The good news is, if it turns out to be conjunctivitis, a vet can apply quick and effective treatment.