Nobody likes mold. It’s ugly, slimy, and irritating. In cases of black mold, it can even have negative effects on our health. However, mold affects parrots a lot more than it does humans. What might seem like annoying yet harmless fungal growth might be slowly destroying your parrot’s lungs.
Mold is dangerous for parrots because it causes a respiratory issue called aspergillosis. This happens when a parrot inhales the spores produced from mold, and they accumulate in the lungs. This infection builds up over the course of a few weeks to a few months. It will slowly deteriorate the bird’s cells from the inside.
The parrots most susceptible to this infection are those with compromised immune systems. If your parrot is healthy, it is less likely to suffer from aspergillosis, even when coming into contact with mold.
Can Mold Kill Parrots?
Mold can kill parrots if they’re exposed to the substance for long periods of time. After several weeks spent in a cage with mold, the parrot will eventually die from lung issues. However, long before it reaches a fatal stage, the parrot will grow very ill. It will:
- Become lethargic
- Lose its appetite
- Difficulty breathing
You can usually spot the signs – and toxic effects – of mold before it becomes impossible to reverse the damage.
However, that isn’t always the case. If your parrot is repeatedly exposed to mold several times throughout its life, it may develop a chronic illness. It will be more susceptible to mold each time it’s exposed, and it may develop more severe symptoms.
This usually happens when a parrot’s cage is not cleaned out frequently enough. It may be left dirty or damp long enough for mold to grow. If this happens several times a year, or a few times each year, your bird will be in danger.
Black Mold vs. Other Types of Mold
Most people understandably fear black mold. While mold comes in many shapes and forms, the black variety is notorious. It can be damaging to the lungs, brain, and nervous system of any who inhale it.
In parrots and humans alike, black mold results in mycotoxin-based diseases. However, before this sickness develops, the parrot will begin fighting a fungal infection that a human would most likely be able to resist.
All mold is harmful to parrots, even if it isn’t black mold. Don’t think your parrot is safe just because the mold can’t immediately harm you.
How Mold Hurts Parrots
The biggest threat mold poses for parrots is a fungal infection called aspergillosis. This will not appear right away and takes several weeks to develop. As such, if your parrot visits a home that has mold in it, it will not immediately become ill. However, the most common way that parrots are exposed to mold is in their:
- Owners’ home
Mold is produced by humidity. It’s common to see mold growing around the house during rainy seasons. While it may be disgusting, mold at this stage won’t harm the parrot unless it comes in direct contact with the mold.
What if the parrot does touch the mold? If it’s not removed immediately, the parrot will get fungal growth, usually on its feet and beak.
External fungal growth is both easy to spot and easy to treat. It can be cured with topical treatments before it begins harming the bird too severely.
Parrot Breathing In Mold
The real danger comes when there’s dryness in the air that makes the mold release spores. Parrots breathe in those spores, and it accumulates in their lungs. This is dangerous because parrots don’t breathe in the same way that we do.
Oxygen passes through a parrot’s body until reaching a posterior air sac. When the parrot exhales, it doesn’t travel outwards. Instead, it reaches the lungs and stays there until the parrot breathes again.
Aspergillosis is an infection that develops over the course of 3 weeks to 3 months. It’s gradual and internal, so it’s an infection that only gets noticed once it begins to affect the parrot severely. Depending on how often the parrot breathes in spores, the disease can go one of two ways:
- Acute aspergillosis
- Chronic aspergillosis
Does My Parrot Have Aspergillosis?
If your parrot has aspergillosis, this is a serious issue. To cure your parrot before it’s too late, you need to understand:
- How to spot the symptoms
- The differences between an acute case and a chronic case
In a parrot, acute aspergillosis slowly destroys the:
- Air sacs
- Voice box
During this stage, most of the bird’s organs remain uncompromised. However, there is an increased amount of drinking and urinating that indicates the beginnings of kidney failure. The common symptoms of acute aspergillosis are:
- Increased thirst
- Increased urinating
- Difficulty breathing
- Trouble vocalizing
- Change in voice
- Green discharge
It’s difficult to spot and diagnose this illness because the symptoms might resemble other illnesses. It’s quite rare for a parrot to experience all the symptoms of acute aspergillosis at once. As such, owners sometimes confuse it for something else and mistreat the illness.
According to the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, a parrot with aspergillosis may suffer from leg paresis. Paresis is defined by the partial or complete loss of voluntary movement. The parrot in that study had no respiratory troubles, leading experts to believe that aspergillosis can cause paresis without any other symptoms present.
As time goes on and the infection grows, the illness becomes chronic. At this stage, organs are damaged, and little can be done to cure the parrot.
The symptoms of chronic aspergillosis are relatively the same as acute aspergillosis. The only difference is that parrots with chronic aspergillosis can experience:
As the organs begin to deteriorate, so does the central nervous system. If the bird survives long enough for the nerves to be affected, these physical problems will be present.
Aspergillosis can ruin its organs and nervous system before you can do anything about it. This is why it’s important to frequently take your parrot to the vet so that internal check-ups can be done. That’s especially true if you live in a humid environment and mold is a problem.
Causes of Aspergillosis
Parrots are prone to fungal infections because of the way they breathe. While mold is harmful to any living creature, it’s awful for parrots because of how long the spores stay in the body.
For example, humans may breathe in the spores, but they leave our respiratory system with the very next exhale. With parrots, the spores travel through to the posterior air sacs and then travel to the lungs. Some of the spores leave the body in the next breath. Others do not.
Parrots take extra steps when breathing, so the spores stay longer in the body. This gives them a chance to stick themselves onto more surfaces. Of course, like any other living creature, when a virus enters a parrot’s body, its first line of defense (the autoimmune system) will take care of things.
A healthy parrot will be able to combat fungal infections and avoid the development of aspergillosis. With that said, fungal infections can lead to a weaker immune system. That’s especially true if the parrot breathes in too many spores too frequently.
So, what can make your parrot more likely to develop aspergillosis? When these other complications are paired with mold, the chances go up:
Stress is a parrot’s biggest enemy. Not only does it cause behavioral issues, but it can also affect a parrot’s immune system. When stressed, parrots:
- Lose their appetites
- Grow weaker
- Become uninterested in exercising
- Groom themselves less
This state of depression highly impacts how the parrot can function, both physically and mentally. Because of this, stressed parrots are at high risk of contracting any disease and infection. If your parrot is stressed and also exposed to mold, it’s in greater peril.
Even if you don’t live in a place with lots of humidity, it’s important to check the food before you feed it to your parrot. This is especially true if your parrot is on a formulated diet. While pellets are not exempt from going bad, they often contain preservatives that help combat the issue.
Parrots on formulated diets that eat berries, vegetables, and seeds are more likely to eat something moldy. Seeds go moldy pretty quickly and are the number one reason for parrots growing sick.
Malnourished parrots get infected with aspergillosis the easiest. Without a proper diet, the parrot’s immune system is unable to fight disease. Once infected, the parrot will slowly lose its appetite, making the situation worse and erasing any chance it had at building up its immune system.
Malnourishment doesn’t just mean that the parrot isn’t being fed enough. It also means that it lacks nourishment from crucial vitamins and minerals. That’s usually the case in parrots that are on seed- and pellet-only diets.
Bird cages tend to be ideal places for mold to grow. They are often wet due to the spilled drinking water, especially if the parrot uses a bowl.
In dry, hot climates, cage hygiene is a big part of why parrots develop aspergillosis. The spilled water creates humidity, and then the dryness and heat help the mold produce spores.
Leftover food and old paper also promote mold growth. It’s recommended to inspect and clean the cage frequently. The number of times you deep-clean the cage depends on how many birds there are and how often they stay in the cage. Nonetheless, once a week is the recommended amount.
If your parrot has another illness, there is a high chance it could also contract a fungal infection. The body of an ill parrot is already struggling to heal. Any spores that make their way into the bird’s body will not find resistance. They will have no problem setting up there.
If your parrot is on any medication, ask your avian vet how it affects the parrot’s immune system. Certain antibiotics can destroy immune cells and leave the parrot vulnerable to infections. While trying to fix one issue, the medication can actually cause another problem. That’s especially true if the medication has to be taken long-term.
How to Prevent Mold Poisoning in Parrots
Mold poisoning is a serious issue. It causes an infection that’s highly dangerous yet difficult to notice and handle once it becomes chronic.
There isn’t much that can be done for a parrot with chronic aspergillosis. However, you can take the necessary steps to prevent fungal infections in your parrot. Here’s how:
Allow your parrot to go outside during the summer months, either with a harness and leash or in a cage. The heat will help to:
- Ward off any bacteria
- Dry out the bird’s feathers after a bath so mold and mildew do not grow
- Encourage the bird to be more active as this strengthens its lungs
You can also open up a window (one the parrot can’t escape from) when you aren’t home and let the sun in. Never leave your parrot in the sun all by itself while it’s in a cage, though. It might overheat and become dehydrated.
Moldy Cage Hygiene
Deep-clean the cage at least once a week. Do not use bleach or any of the traditional cleaning products. If you suspect your parrot already has a fungal infection, it might have trouble breathing. The toxic smell of chemicals will only make things worse.
Use white vinegar instead to clean out the cage. Leave it out in the sun to dry and kill off bacteria.
Clean the House
If you know there’s a mold problem in your home, do everything you can to make that problem go away. Deep-clean the house after the rainy season ends to eliminate any mold before it begins to produce spores. Again, do not use bleach or toxic cleaning products. White vinegar works just fine.
Get a Dehumidifier
Getting a dehumidifier is an effective, inexpensive way to lower the humidity in your home. They’re a long-term solution that can be placed in the room where the parrot usually stays. This will help prevent the growth of mold.
Relocate Your Parrots
A parrot cannot tolerate mold. If you notice any in your home, be sure to keep your parrot in a different room until it’s been removed. Once the air is clear, the parrot can move back into that space safely.