Q: My cockatiel has been sneezing a lot lately. Is that normal?
-Joshua P., Balzac, Alberta, Canada
A: There are many reasons a bird will sneeze. The nares (see photo below) are your bird’s nostrils. When they collect dust or if an object, such as a seed hull, were to get lodged in them your bird will force air through their passages to disperse whatever is obstructing them. This will result in what is called a “dry sneeze”, a sneeze that does not expel any fluids. You can expect these types of sneezes from time to time.
“Wet sneezes” are a different matter. These are sneezes that release fluid from the nares. If your bird is perched on you, you might feel a spray following a sneeze. The release of a clear fluid might simply represent nasal irritation from an object in the nares and infrequent wet sneezes are not a concern. However, if you hear your bird sneezing often, you will want to investigate the cause. It could be, or could result in, a bacterial or fungal infection.
Causes for upper respiratory infection in a bird can be environmental or dietary:
– If your bird’s environment is unsanitary causing particulates such as dust, dander or dried fecal matter to get caught the room’s air currents, it can be a source of constant nasal irritation.
– If the air in the house is too dry, the nasal passages will over-produce mucus to create moisture, eventually causing infection.
– If your bird’s diet is deficient in vitamin A, which is responsible for the condition of the body’s soft tissues, the body will also produce excessive mucus to compensate.
If you notice discharge (wet or dried) in or around the nares, the equivalent of a runny nose, there is an infection present. Your bird might shake its head wildly from side to side, bang its beak on objects and use its talons to try to clear the passages.
You will need to get your bird to the vet for treatment. This is not an expensive vet visit because symptoms are present which identify the problem saving you the costs of testing and investigating a mystery illness. Treatment and medication is inexpensive, but it must be treated – like other types of infections, they only get worse. If your bird’s body were able to eradicate the infection, it would have done so long before you noticed your bird was sick.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.