It’s only normal for a parakeet to sneeze once in a while.
You will be going about your daily routine when you hear a tiny sneeze. You will see your parakeet ruffle its feathers, shake its beak, and go right back to normal.
Occasional sneezes in parakeets can be a reaction to dust in the air. Parakeets can react to lint from the clothes dryer and fine particles put in motion by sweeping and dusting the furniture.
Sometimes a parakeet sneezes because it feels a draft. But repeated sneezing in a parakeet is a symptom that should not be ignored.
Parakeets Can Get Allergies
Some people are allergic to bird dander (tiny flakes of dry, dead skin).
We don’t know whether some birds are allergic to people dander, but veterinarians confirm that parakeets can have allergies, too.
Allergies can make parakeets sneeze.
Allergic inflammation can redden the cere, the waxy, fleshy covering at the base of the upper beak. Parakeets with allergies can get red, swollen eyes. They may seem to have itchy skin.
There are no scratch tests or blood tests for birds to determine what they are allergic too.
The only way to know whether a parakeet has an allergy is to take away possible offending substances and see if your bird gets better.
The first thing to do is to see if keeping your bird in a clean, dust-free environment helps.
Use HEPA filters to get pollen and dander out of the air, especially if you have other pets, such as dogs, cats, or cockatiels.
Then remove any potentially problematic chemicals. Don’t use plug-in air fresheners in the room where you keep your parakeet.
Don’t use deodorant or hair spray when your bird is in the room.
Don’t use candles, carpet cleaners, dust removers, spray-on wax for furniture, floor cleaners, or bug sprays when your bird is in the same space.
If these measures don’t work, then test for food allergies. Parakeets can develop allergies to peanuts, rice, soy, wheat, or corn.
Remove one of these food items at a time for a week at a time. If your bird’s allergies improve, never offer that food to your bird again.
One thing you should not do is to give your bird any allergy medication intended for humans.
The dosage almost certainly would be fatal. Your veterinarian can prescribe bird-appropriate antihistamines and soothing products for skin care, if needed.
But not all sneezing in parakeets is caused by allergies.
Psittacosis in Parakeets
Psittacosis (pronounced psit-uh-KO-sis) is a bacterial infection that is transmitted by dry bird droppings that turn into dust and get into the air.
The bacteria can also travel in urine, nasal secretions, and secretions from the eyes.
It’s a condition that affects parakeets and every other bird in the Parrot Family, as well as 466 other kinds of birds (including backyard chickens).
The first symptom of psittacosis in a parakeet is usually weight loss. Its feathers may be ruffled all the time.
Parakeets will sneeze and release mucus from their nostrils and eyes. Their droppings may be watery and yellow-green.
Psittacosis doesn’t always kill parakeets. Sometimes they won’t have any symptoms at all. Even without symptoms, infected birds can pass the bacteria through their droppings.
You aren’t likely to have a problem with psittacosis if you buy your parakeet from a breeder.
If you do, your veterinarian can prescribe antibiotics that can bring the infection under control, although you will need to keep the infected bird away from other animals while it is being treated.
You will need to be careful when you clean its cage.
Symptoms that a human has caught psittacosis include fever, dry cough, sore throat, and nosebleeds.
It’s not unusual to have severe headaches, and to break out in spots on the face.
People don’t get over psittacosis without antibiotic treatment, but the condition is almost never fatal if it is treated promptly and all prescribed antibiotics are taken.
Tuberculosis in Parakeets
Strange as it may sound, infection with tuberculosis (TB) is a relatively common problem in parakeets, scientists at the University of Wisconsin say.
The organism that causes tuberculosis in parakeets, Mycobacterium avium, can infect birds of all kinds, pigs, and people.
There is one strain of tuberculosis, called Mycobacterium avium, that parakeets can get from other infected birds.
They aren’t likely to pass this strain to people unless the human exposed to it has a compromised immune system.
However, there are two more strains of tuberculosis, Mycobacterium intracellulare and Mycobacterium genavense, that parakeets can catch from people.
There is also a strain of tuberculosis that can be passed from cows to chickens to parakeets.
Parakeets that contract tuberculosis may not show any symptoms other than sneezing and coughing until the condition is relatively advanced.
You shouldn’t assume that just because your parakeet can’t stop sneezing, it has TB. Continuous sneezing is much more likely to be caused by allergies.
But you should suspect tuberculosis infection if your bird exhibits sneezing and/or several of these symptoms:
- Atrophy of the muscles in its chest
- Depression, not wanting to play with toys, sitting in its cage when it has a chance to fly around the room
- Diarrhea. This may mean unusually frequent stools if your bird’s droppings are usually loose
- Swollen abdomen
- Weight loss, especially muscle loss
- Increased urination
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty staying on a perch
- Difficulty walking in the cage
- Sleeping all the time
- Loss of interest in favorite foods
- Feathers falling out
- Weight loss
Tuberculosis bacteria get into the air when an infected animal or person coughs or sneezes.
In birds, the bacteria can be excreted with droppings and urine.
That’s why people who have HIV, people on long-term steroid medications, people getting cancer treatment, and other immunocompromised individuals should not clean bird cages.
If you suspect your parakeet could have TB, a visit to the vet is in order. There are blood tests that can detect TB in parakeets.
There are antibiotic treatments for TB in parakeets that bring the disease under control.
Your bird has to be given the drugs on schedule for six to eighteen months.
It’s important to quarantine your bird from other pets and people until the infection has been cleared out of its system.
Parakeets must receive all of their antibiotics every day for the full course of treatment if they are to have a chance at recovery.
Doctors note that any kind of preexisting inflammation increases the risk of catching the disease.
Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, goes around the world every winter.
Epidemics usually start in countries where pigs, birds, and people live in tight quarters. The virus can spread when the air is cool but not cold.
Parakeets can catch two strains of influenza called H5N1 and H7N9, Scientists note that it is impossible for parakeets to catch either strain of the flu except from people who have it first.
Your parakeet isn’t going to give you bird flu, although you could give bird flu to your parakeet.
The signs your parakeet could have bird flu include:
- Wet, loose droppings. Pooping more frequently than usual
- Purple discoloration of the cere (the soft tissue at the base of the upper beak)
- Purple discoloration of the legs
- Misshapen eggs
- Swelling of the head and eyelids
- Green and/or yellow nasal discharge
Don’t take your bird to the vet with these symptoms. Call and ask what to do.
Signs you could have bird flu (remember, it’s more likely that you will give it to your bird than your bird will give it to you) include:
- Sore throat.
- Muscle aches.
- Yellow discharge from the eyes.
Avian flu viruses can cause pneumonia in people.
It’s also a good idea to call ahead before you go to your doctor or to an emergency room for treatment of avian flu in humans, to keep from spreading the disease.
Parakeets can also get a fungal disease caused aspergillosis. This is a fungal infection that your parakeet can get from infected birdseed.
Your parakeet can’t give aspergillosis to you or to other birds in the same cage, so quarantine isn’t necessary.
However, if two birds eat the same diet, both of them are likely to get aspergillosis at the same time.
Birds that develop aspergillosis may sneeze and wheeze. Or they may simply become strangely lethargic.
By the time they start bobbing their tails up and down (a sign of respiratory distress) and losing weight, they are seriously ill.
Your veterinarian may be able to treat aspergillosis with a combination of antifungal drugs. Treatment takes a long time, and usually requires a stay in the animal hospital.
Parakeets are less likely to get aspergillosis if they get enough beta-carotene in their diets.
Good sources of beta-carotene are carrots, green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, pumpkin, and orange slices. It’s also important never, ever to give your parakeet moldy seed.
FAQs About Sneezing & Other Respiratory Symptoms in Parakeets
Q. If my parakeet doesn’t stop sneezing, should I always take it to the vet?
A. If you have done everything you know to do to eliminate airborne allergens, or if your bird has a yellow or green discharge from its nostrils or diarrhea, you should take your bird to the vet. This is for your own safety as well as for your parakeet. But try to eliminate allergies first.
Q. How do I know that my parakeet is in respiratory distress?
A. A parakeet that is having trouble breathing will bob its tail up and down with each breath. This is a sign that treatment is needed right away.
Other symptoms of respiratory disease in parakeets depend on where the infection is located.
A parakeet’s respiratory tract can be divided into its upper airways and lower airways. The upper airways consist of the sinuses, nasal passages, and throat (trachea). The lower airways consist of the lungs and air sacs. The air sacs are inside a see-through membrane in the bird’s chest and abdomen. Birds can also have air sacs in their bones.
Parakeets that have upper airway infections may just have trouble singing or talking. Parakeets that have lower airway infections will have trouble breathing.
Some parakeets with respiratory problems will sneeze, wheeze, cough, and have nasal discharge. Others will just stay in the bottom of their cages with their eyes closed. They won’t be interested in playing. They may not even move up to their perch.
Most parakeets with breathing problems will have ruffled feathers. Any bird that has any of these symptoms after you have taken steps to remove allergy triggers needs to be seen by a vet.
Q. How does my veterinarian accurately diagnose what is wrong with my parakeet?
A. When you take your parakeet to the vet, they will want to know its history. You will need to tell them the symptoms that caused you to bring your bird to for a checkup, how long they have been going on, and whether your bird’s overall behavior has changed.
Then your veterinarian will do a physical examination. If your parakeet isn’t too distressed, they will take a blood sample. Blood tests can rule out specific infections quickly. The vet will also want to know your parakeet’s red and white blood cell counts and to get a reading of organ function.
If your parakeet is sneezing or has a discharge from the eyes or nose, the vet may want a sinus aspirate. The vet sticks a tiny needle into the sinus to get a sample of the mucus inside.
Or your vet may want to do a nasal flush. The vet flushes salt water solution through your parakeet’s nostrils to get a mucus sample. This procedure is especially important if the vet suspects a fungal infection.
Veterinarians usually check out lower respiratory tract infections with an x-ray. The x-ray will show the condition of your bird’s lungs and air sacs. If indicated, the vet will run tests for specific infections that may be bacterial, fungal, or viral.
Q. Can I treat my parakeet with medication I buy over the counter?
A. Never give any pet any medication designed for human consumption. It’s not really a good idea to waste time on over-the-counter medications for your parakeet, either.
Your bird will get well fastest after an accurate diagnosis and precise treatment by a vet. The sooner you take a sick parakeet to the vet, the sooner it will get back to providing you with fun and companionship.
Other articles you may also like:
- How to Prevent Mites in Parakeets?
- Parakeets Bob Their Heads — What It Means?
- How to Take Care of Parakeets? All You Need to Know
- What Do Parakeets Eat in the Wild?
- Can Parakeets Live in Cold Weather?
- Can Parakeets Die From Loneliness?
- Parakeet Kicking Food Out of Bowl — What to Do?
- Should You Cover Your Parakeet’s Cage at Night?