We sincerely wish that we could offer to the pet owner & breeder a swift and sure cure for the various ailments and diseases which affect cockatiels but, in years of experience in raising them, tiel owners have learned that sick birds are very difficult to treat because, in many cases, the cause of the illness cannot identified. So many ailments show the same symptoms and in those cases where the illness can be diagnosed, the treatment prescribed will not always effect a cure. Illness in cockatiels must be diagnosed and treated in its early stages, otherwise other complications develop quickly. Some of the "wonder drugs" and antibiotics which are used in treating larger animals and humans cannot be tolerated in the system of cockatiels in undiluted form, either orally or by injection, and very often hastens the death of the sick bird. Some breeders have had many more heartbreaking failures in attempting to treat sick birds with these drugs than successes. However, antibiotics given in the drinking water are highly effective in treating sick cockatiels, particularly for respiratory ailments and bacterial infections. Aureomycin and Terramycin are available in pet shops and feed supply stores and are specifically formulated for use in the drinking water of birds. The cockatiels seem to tolerate Terramycin very well and some have saved many sick birds with this drug being given in the drinking water. You can use a formula combining Terramycin and vitamins manufactured exclusively for poultry with specific directions for its use.

On occasion, if you notice one or more birds in a pen of cockatiels with a slight case of diarrhoea but not really sick, you can use this medication according to directions given in the drinking water daily for a period of five days and the condition usually clears up rapidly. Any of the antibiotics now on the market which can be given in the drinking water are easily ingested by the birds and if directions are followed, there is no danger of an overdose being given. Not nearly enough research and study has been devoted to the subject of avian diseases in the past. Hopefully, more extensive research will be done in this field which will lead to the discovery of effective and exact medications that will prevent or cure most of the illnesses and obscure disorders which affect our cagebirds, about which so little in known at this time. As of now, prevention of illness is by far the best remedy and this is why, it is of absolute necessity of a nutritionally sound diet, cleanliness of the aviaries and food and water, protection against drafts and sufficient room for the birds to exercise. If all of these measures are taken, almost all illnesses can be avoided. Cockatiels which have proper care seldom become ill, however, they occasionally do catch colds and are subject to many of ailments which affect humans. If immediate treatment is not given, other complications may develop and the condition of the bird will deteriorate rapidly to a point where it cannot be saved. A sick Cockatiel is very easy to spot in the flights, for it will sit listlessly on the perch, feathers puffed up and usually asleep. The eyes appear dull, the bird has no appetite and does not sing or whistle. Droppings will not be the normal black and white, but will be loose and discoloured.

In treating the sick Cockatiel, applying heat to maintain the body temperature and getting food into the bird are first things which must be done because they are essential to a speedy and complete recovery. A hospital cage can be readily fashioned from any type of small cage which allows the bird to move about freely. Perches should be removed and the cage must be covered with a light-coloured insulating cloth on the top and three sides to help hold the heat. To provide heat, a 25-watt light bulb on an extension cord may be suspended from the top of the cage, but the light bulb must be situated in such a way that the cover will not burn and also where the bird cannot touch it. You can use heavy aluminum foil on the top of the cage to maintain heat and this also eliminates the danger of fire. In an emergency, an electric heating pad may be used temporarily. Lay it in the bottom of the cage and cover with a sheet of paper towelling to prevent soiling of the pad. Leave the front of the cage uncovered so the bird can have a view and does not feel isolated. Old newspapers may be used on the floor of the cage and if several layers are put down, the newspaper can easily be removed as it becomes soiled without too much disturbance to the patient. Place the food in a shallow dish on the floor or, in the case of very weak birds, just sprinkle liberally all over the floor to make it as easy as possible for the bird to eat. If the sick Cockatiel is one of a mated pair, it is advisable to place the mate in the hospital cage also; otherwise, the Cockatiel will be lonely and discontented and probably refuse to eat or drink. If the patient is a beloved pet, then it becomes necessary to spend much time entertaining the bird and coaxing it to eat tidbits of favourite foods and drink the medicated water frequently. Cockatiels, when they are ill and weak, very often just refuse to eat or drink and when this happens, the only alternative is to force-feed a bird for a time until it becomes stronger, for without food or drink, death is a certainty . An eye-dropper may be used for this purpose and the food should be given slightly warm. Utmost care must be taken when feeding a sick bird because they choke and strangle very easily and die almost instantaneously. Insert the tip of the dropper into the side of the beak and allow only a drop or two into the mouth at the time, giving the bird enough time to swallow before more is given. The patient should be given only a small amount of food at a feeding, approximately two droppers full, and should be fed every two hours until it becomes noticeably stronger. A drop or two of medicated water should be given after each feeding. Force-feeding may be discontinued as soon as the bird is eating sufficient food on its own. Breeders have very often saved the life of a sick Cockatiel by force-feeding and the formula with which they have had the greatest success is as follows:

1 tablespoon Masa Harina Meal (cornflower used in making tortillas)
2 tablespoons Gerber's High Protein Baby Cereal
1 teaspoon Ovigest or Protogest (Amino acid--naturally organic pre-digested protein food) (this will rest an irritated gut)
2 or 3 drops ABiDEC Baby Vitamins or equivalent (multi vitamin--water soluble)
Mix with warm water to a consistency thin enough to be fed easily with an eye-dropper.

Pro-Gest was distributed by Superior Health Vitamins & Foods, Inc., Dix Hills, N. Y. 1 1746, and can be purchased at most health food stores or use its equivalent.
Since we are no authority on avian diseases and disorders, we shall list only common illnesses which occur among cockatiels and discuss the remedies and methods of treatment breeders have used with some measurement of success.

IMPACTED CROP Occasionally food will get stuck in the crop and you can remedy this with a very thin solution of baby cereal with one or two drops of black strap molasses or a laxative. Too much fibre such as oatmeal is a cause for this in most birds since it is also very low in nutriments and the functions of the gut is impaired. A more concentrated, easily digested diet should be given for several days after the problem is fixed such as soaked or sprouted seed, greens or vegetables. Severe cases can be broken down by using the fingers through the intact tissues of the neck and lightly squeezing upwards a bit a a time through crop and oesophagus to the mouth to prevent asphyxiation of the bird.

SOUR CROP: If too much food is given and does not digest properly sour crop can occur. A few drops of Milk of Magnesia or equivalent will sweeten the crop and remedy this. You can also try a small teaspoon or a few drops of a 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to a pint of water.

WOUNDS: Accidents will occasionally happen in the aviary and in these instances, hydrogen peroxide is a most useful medication to keep on hand. It is a mild disinfectant which also coagulates the blood and promotes healing of the wound. You can also use styptic pencils to stop any bleeding and use Dettol to disinfect. A dab of Vaseline or sulfa ointment may be applied to the wound to speed the healing process.

COLDS: Symptoms are very similar to those in humans, such as sneezing, stuffed-up nose, watery eyes, no appetite and difficulty in breathing. The sick bird should immediately be isolated from the healthy birds, placed in the hospital cage, and temperature should be maintained at 80 to 85 degrees F. Terramycin given in the drinking water daily according to directions and the addition of a drop or two of ABDEC baby vitamins or equivalent usually will effect a complete recovery within a week. Very often sore eyes will accompany a cold and yellow oxide of mercury (2% strength) applied once daily will correct this condition .

PNEUMONIA: Symptoms are similar to those of a cold, along with laboured breathing. This serious illness often develops after a cold if prompt treatment as outlined for colds is not given. Antibiotics are necessary to treat pneumonia but recovery is not always certain.

DIARRHEA: This condition more often than not is only a symptom of some other disease and usually can be successfully treated with the use of Terramycin given in the drinking water as prescribed by the manufacturer. Sick birds must be placed in the hospital cage and heat applied until the condition improves. Absolute cleanliness of cage and utensils is essential and soiled papers must be removed from the floor of the cage as necessary. In addition to the seed diet, whole wheat bread and soft-cooked dried corn may be fed daily. Eliminate fruit and greenfood from the diet until the Cockatiel is completely recovered. You can also try using a few drops of Milk of Magnesia, Kaopectate or Maalox or similar.

GOING LIGHT: This is only a symptom of some other ailment and is not a disease in itself. A Cockatiel which has no appetite will naturally lose weight and close observation of the sick bird will help to determine the correct diagnosis and proper treatment. It is advisable to isolate a bird with this problem in order to prevent the spread of a possibly contagious illness to the other birds in the aviary.

SHOCK AND HEART ATTACKS: Cockatiels are nervous and panic easily and should always be kept in quiet, peaceful surroundings to prevent shock or heart failure due to injury caused by a sudden fright. If a quiet gentle approach is not observed when handling these birds or treating them, they can go into shock and this is almost always fatal. Caution and common sense in the birdroom will prevent this from happening.

C0NSTIPATION: This condition results if sufficient fruits and vegetables are not included in the diet. A pinch of Epsom salts added to the drinking water for two or three days will relieve the condition. Feed whole wheat bread and a bit of fresh, green lettuce which has been thoroughly washed daily. Lettuce has a mild laxative effect and the cockatiels relish it.

EGG BINDING: This condition also is usually a result of improper diet or insufficient exercise, although extremely cold temperatures sometimes are responsible. During breeding season, cockatiels should be given fruits and vegetables daily, provided with adequate flying room and crushed charcoal should be provided, as it is an aid in digestion. Cockatiels with this ailment will sit in a straining position, are extremely weak and must be placed immediately in a hospital cage with heat applied 80 to 85 degrees F. Upon examination of the bird, the egg can be located in a bulge near the vent. Apply a few drops of slightly warm mineral oil in the vent or Liquid Paraffin by mouth and place the bird on the floor of the cage and do not disturb. In most cases, the egg will be expelled within an hour or two and recovery is rapid. The Cockatiel should not be allowed to breed for a period of three months after a problem of this type.

SOFT-SHELLED EGGS: This is another problem which only occurs when insufficient calcium is included in the diet of cockatiels. Ample supplies of cuttlebone, oyster shell and mineral block should be on the feed tables at all times, since these are the primary sources of calcium and will prevent this problem.

FEATHER PLUCKING: Frequently, this problem arises due to a dietary deficiency and in other cases it is simply a vice with parent birds and nothing can be done except to remove the babies and either foster them out to other parents or handfeed. Some males will pluck the heads and necks of their mates during the breeding season and there is not satisfactory solution to this problem, as it is just their way of courting the female. Often, boredom in the nestbox causes plucking of each other or babies and the addition of small pieces of cuttlebone or a few seeds will divert their attention and provide some entertainment during incubation of eggs.

OVERGROWN BEAKS AND NAILS: If natural tree branches of varying sizes are used as perches, this problem seldom occurs, as the rough surface helps to keep toenails and beak worn down. A pair of sharp nail clippers may be used to trim beaks and nails, but care must be taken not to cut to far. Never trim off more than one-third of the toenails and beaks should be trimmed back only to normal length. If the vein in the beak is accidentally cut, apply hydrogen peroxide or styptic pencil to coagulate the blood, being very careful not to get any of the medication into the mouth. Cuttlebone provided regularly keeps the beak in good condition and helps prevent this problem.

RED MITES: This is primarily a problem with the small types of cage birds but cockatiels can be infested also if a regular spraying program, using one of the commercial cage and aviary sprays, is not adopted. Cleaning and spraying the aviary thoroughly every two weeks will prevent a mite problem and also eliminate seed moths, spiders, or other insects which might infest the aviary.

SCALY LEG MITES: This type of mite causes the legs of the bird to become sore and inflamed. There are several mite-killing oils and salves on the market which smother the mites and correct this condition. Vaseline from one's medicine cabinet is also very effective against these mites and promotes healing. Mild cases of mites can be dabbed with Dettol disinfectant to kill mites & treat sores.

MOULTING: Cockatiels have their first moult at five or six months of age and thereafter, will usually moult once a year during the latter part of the summer. Their resistance is somewhat lower during this period and particular attention should be given to their diet. They should be protected from drafts, as they seem inclined to take colds easily during the moult. Occasionally, a sudden drastic change in temperature will cause cockatiels to moult out of season, but, unless the moult is continued, there is no cause for concern.

BROKEN LEGS AND WINGS: This rarely happens to tiels but, if such an accident should occur, the Cockatiel should be placed in a roomy cage in a quiet, secluded area where it will not be disturbed. Remove all perches from the cage for a few days and place food and water in shallow containers on the floor of the cage within easy reach of the injured bird. Splints are not usually necessary but can be used in extreme cases. You can use q-tips cut to length with the ends cut off or a strong tooth pick taped over the leg or wing to help hold it in place. In some cases, splints only hinder the recovery because of discomfort and aggravation to the bird. The bones will heal quickly and if the top of the cage is covered, the patient will usually be contented on the floor of the cage until the condition improves, at which time a low perch may be installed at one end of the cage. Skill and patience are required in handling and treating sick or injured cockatiels. A calm and gentle manner is necessary so that a serious condition will not be aggravated further.

In summary, it must be noted that in addition to those discussed, there are other diseases, various ailments and vague, obscure disorders that can affect cockatiels which are difficult to diagnose or treat successfully. Continuing research hopefully will bring a better understanding of avian diseases and offer more accurate diagnosis of illness and advanced methods of treatment. As stated at the beginning, almost all of the diseases and disorders which affect cockatiels can be prevented by nutritionally sound diet, protection against drafts, and cleanliness in the aviary. One's success or failure with birds depends almost entirely on the time and effort expended on these basic rules of bird keeping.

E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca



Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.