A parrot may have a sinus infection (also known as sinusitis) if it shows signs of respiratory distress, such as labored breathing, sneezing, and discharge from the nares and eyes.
Sinusitis arises in parrots when the sinuses (the hollow holes found between the nares and throat) become blocked or inflamed. This is often a consequence of an unsuitable diet, irritation, viral or fungal infections, the formation of rhinoliths, or a lack of humidity in the air.
Parrots usually make a full recovery from sinus infection when acted upon swiftly.
If the problem is minor, it can be resolved with a nasal flush, which loosens mucus within the sinuses. Antibacterial or antifungal medication may be required to treat secondary infections.
All parrots can develop sinus infections, but African grays are widely considered to be most at risk.
How Do Parrots Get Sinus Infections?
A parrot’s sinuses are hollow pockets accessed through the nares at the top of the beak.
When a parrot inhales, air enters the nares and reaches the sinuses. A parrot’s sinuses warm up the air before it reaches the lungs.
A thin layer of mucus is housed within the sinuses. This mucus attracts anything unwelcome in the parrot’s body, bonding to dust and other irritants.
This mucus is moved deeper into the nose by tiny, hairlike structures called cilia.
Once mucus reaches the nose, it’s swallowed and passed to the digestive tract. From here, the mucus is swallowed and broken down by stomach acids, which enables the sinuses to drain regularly.
Sinus infection is a consequence of a blockage of inflammation of the sinuses. The cilia can’t clear the mucus if the sinuses are blocked or inflamed, leading to symptoms of sinusitis.
Here are the main reasons why parrots develop sinus infections:
A lack of air moisture can cause the sinuses’ mucus to thicken and harden.
This concern is likeliest to arise during the winter months when artificial heat sources are used to increase ambient temperature, and ventilation is limited due to unwillingness to open windows in the home.
Consider getting in a humidifier and air purifier to enhance the air quality in the parrot’s room.
Hypovitaminosis A is a lack of Vitamin A in a parrot’s diet.
While a balanced meal plan can minimize the risk of a vitamin A deficiency, parrots that subside exclusively on nuts and seeds are most vulnerable to Hypovitaminosis A.
One of the many vital roles that vitamin A performs within a parrot’s body is maintaining the health of the mucus that lines a parrot’s sinuses.
If a parrot doesn’t get sufficient Vitamin A (retinol), this mucus grows increasingly thick.
If the mucus that lines a parrot’s sinuses starts to solidify, the cilia won’t be able to clear it. This leaves the parrot at risk of blocked sinuses and more susceptible to external airborne toxins and irritants.
Parrots have a complex and delicate respiratory system irritated by allergens and airborne particles. Common airborne irritants include the following:
- Tobacco smoke, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and vapes.
- Fumes from paints.
- Non-stick cookware (Tefal)
- Dander from other pets.
- Aerosol sprays, such as air fresheners or deodorants.
- Household cleaners.
- Scented candles.
Sometimes, sinusitis will be a best-case scenario if a parrot inhales inappropriate particles. Many of these fumes are also toxic, which can put the parrot’s life in danger.
Avoid exposing the parrot to any fumes it wouldn’t experience in the wild, and ensure the parrot’s room is adequately ventilated.
Bacteria or Fungus
Sinusitis can be the natural progression of bacterial or fungal infection. If a parrot has a health concern like the common cold, it should be treated quickly to minimize the impact on the sinuses.
A respiratory illness that leads to sinusitis could result from cramped, unsanitary living conditions. A caged parrot has no choice but to breathe in fungal spores or be surrounded by bacteria.
Many respiratory conditions are also zoonotic, shared between parrots, humans, or other animals.
A blockage of the parrot’s sinuses may be due to rhinoliths (also known as nose stones). As the name implies, rhinoliths are solid obstructions within a parrot’s sinuses that restrict breathing.
Rhinoliths are usually due to another illness that affects the respiratory tract. A common cause of rhinoliths is epistaxis, with blood not expelled from the nares solidifying within the sinuses.
Bacterial or fungal infections left untreated or prolonged hypovitaminosis A can also lead to rhinoliths in a parrot’s nares. These stones must be removed as soon as possible by a vet.
Sinus Infection Symptoms
The following symptoms are commonly associated with sinus infections in parrots:
- Loud, heavy breathing.
- Streaming ocular or nasal discharge.
- Regular wet sneezes.
- Clicking the beak.
- Swelling around the eyes, potentially leading to proptosis (bulging eyes.)
According to the New Zealand Veterinary Journal, significant untreated cases of bacterial sinusitis can also lead to malocclusion of the parrot’s beak.
All parrots occasionally sneeze, so 1-2 symptoms don’t necessarily point to a sinus infection,
Preventing Sinus Infections
Sinusitis may be comparatively common in parrots, especially African grays. However, there are steps you can take to protect parrots from sinus infections, including the following:
- Keep the parrot’s cage clean.
- Feed the parrot a balanced and nutritious diet.
- Maintain an appropriate ambient temperature.
- Prevent contact with unwell birds (especially poultry) and humans.
- Clean and sanitize your hands before handling a parrot.
- Get an air purifier and increase the humidity level.
- Provide adequate ventilation.
- Avoid common airborne irritants, like smoke.
These actions will help a parrot breathe easily but always remain vigilant.
Treatment for sinusitis in parrots will take various forms, depending on the severity of the problem. Assist the parrot in recovering from sinusitis by taking the following steps:
Upon noticing the symptoms of sinusitis, the parrot should be quarantined. It’s possible that what ails the parrot is contagious and could thus spread to other birds, pets, or human family members.
Protect yourself while the parrot is in quarantine by sanitizing your hands following handling, wearing a face mask, and putting on designated clothing while in the same room as the parrot.
While the parrot is in quarantine, make an appointment with an avian vet for a medical assessment.
You’ll need to answer some questions about the parrot’s symptoms, diet, and lifestyle, and you’ll also need to bring the parrot to the surgery for assessment.
A vet will run various tests to determine the cause of the sinus infection. Based on the outcome, treatment will be recommended, which could include the following:
A nasal flush will only be effective if a parrot is experiencing hardened mucus buildup due to its diet or temperature. It won’t resolve underlying concerns like a bacterial or fungal infection.
A nasal flush involves applying a small amount of liquid solution to the parrot’s nares. This will loosen the mucus in the sinuses and enable them to perform to capacity once more.
You may need to continue administering a nasal flush at home while the parrot undertakes some lifestyle adjustments. Only attempt this if instructed, and only use prescribed products.
A vet will prescribe oral antibiotics for the parrot in cases of bacterial infection. Common antibiotics prescribed include Vibramycin-D, Periostat, and Efracea.
Antifungal medications may also be necessary but are likelier to be administered through injection.
Surgery may be required for chronic sinusitis or extreme acute sinus infection. This will only be considered if the parrot has oversized rhinoliths that can’t be dissolved or fungi needs to be manually removed.
Surgery can permanently affect a parrot, especially if the nares need to be enlarged to remove rhinoliths.
Rest And Observation
The prognosis for acute sinusitis in parrots is positive, assuming you take action early. Most parrots fully recover, and you’ll be given veterinary advice on minimizing the risk of recurrence.
When the parrot returns home, it’ll need ample rest while it recovers. Consider rehousing the parrot in a quieter room than usual, where it won’t experience too many noises and distractions.
Symptoms should ease within a week, but the parrot can take several weeks to fully heal.