Parasite that can cause Feather Plucking
- Giardia is a one-celled
protozoal organism that is commonly found in Pet and Aviary
- It lives in the small
intestines (usually the duodenum) and is shed sporadically in
the Birds' droppings.
- It may cause diarrhoea,
malnutrition and malabsorption of food, in affected animals.
- In some birds,
especially Cockatiels, it may induce "pruritis" (itching),
causing a bird to scream and pull it's feathers or bite at the
skin with the beak.
- The skin of birds infested
with Giardia may appear dry and flaky.
- Most often, the
underside of the wings, the insides of the thighs and
perhaps the chest are plucked.
- Giardia is quite common in
Cockatiels, Lovebirds and Budgies,
- however, it can be found
in most species of birds, including Amazons, Macaws, Pionus,
Eclectus, Lories, Parrotlets, Parakeets, African grey
parrots, Poicephalus and cockatoos.
- It is also found in
Canaries, Finches, Doves and Pigeons.
- So, you see ~ most
birds are susceptible!
- Groundbirds are commonly
What are the symptoms of Giardia in birds?
- In addition to causing
diarrhoea, malnutrition, itching, feather plucking and weight
loss, it may also cause mortality of baby birds in the nest.
- Often, the babies will be
very thin, have poor feathering and will cry excessively to
- Many will die before
- Their droppings may be
- Adults and babies may show
staining of faecal material around the vent area.
- The organism is difficult to
diagnose for several reasons.
- Giardia is not shed in
- It is a very fragile
organism and may disintegrate before it can be diagnosed.
- Regular faecal parasite
exams, performed in a vet's clinic or by a professional lab,
may miss this organism because of its fragility.
- A new procedure has now
been formulated, which greatly improves the diagnosis of
Giardia in birds.
- In some companion birds
Giardia may induce pruritis (itching),
- causing a bird to
scream and pull feathers.
- There is a
common Giardia picking pattern
- which usually involves
the chest, underside of the wings
- insides of the thighs,
shoulders and sometimes the lower back region.
- Some birds may show
signs of dry flaky skin or act as though they have
- They may exhibit what
is known as “pica,” appearing as if they are licking
- The stools may be
loose, foul smelling, or oily-looking,
- or they may be passing
whole seeds or undigested foods in their droppings.
- Additionally Giardia
may cause mortality of baby birds in the nest.
- Often the babies will
be very thin, have poor feathering and continually cry
to be fed.
- Many won’t make it to
birds may never display visual symptoms,
- yet may have signs of
loose droppings, weakness, anorexia, depression, and
- A solitary companion
home may harbour Giardia for long periods of time before
showing signs of illness.
- When a few birds are
kept together ,they may all harbour this “the
Monster Parasite.” with only a couple showing
visible signs of distress.
- This is another reason
Giardia is so hard to treat.
- Many times Pet birds
are treated individually.
- It is my personal
opinion that the whole flock needs to be treated if a
few are kept together.
- At one time, Giardia
was thought to be carried only by the smaller birds such
as cockatiels, budgies, lovebirds, etc.
- However, in the past
several years has it come to the attention of Avian Vets
that the larger species are susceptible as well.
- Unfortunately, Giardia
thinks of them all as wonderful hosts.
- Another problem
Giardia causes is the compromising of the immune system,
- leaving it unable
to ward off secondary infections such as bacterial
or fungal infections.
How is Giardia diagnosed?
- Since the Trophozoites
stage is unstable and may disintegrate before it can be
- as well as the fact that
Giardia is shed sporadically in the faeces
- (both, cyst and
- it can be difficult to
detect and to correctly diagnose.
- Currently, it is felt a
faecal Trichrome test is the most reliable for diagnosing
- There is an abundance of
evidence that birds that have tested negative under other
test methods have then tested positive using the fecal
- The collection of the
first morning faeces will provide the best opportunity to
detect the parasite;
- the sample needs to be
collected fresh, within minutes.
- Three samples over a
period of 3 days is optimum for catching the organism.
can be tried
- In the past, treatment was
usually administered by using a drug called
- This drug only comes in an
injectable form, which is not good for birds,
- It also comes in a tablet
that is so bitter that no matter what it is mixed with, it
is very unpalatable.
- Flagyl only is effective
in about 40% of Giardia-positive birds.
- Another drug, Fenbendazole (Panacur
- 0.5ml per A.Grey)
may work well to clear many birds
- a white liquid
administered via the beak.
- however, it can cause
feather deformities and it may cause liver problems in some
- Another drug has been tried,
with varying success.
- It is called
- It is a drug that can be
easily administered in the drinking
- Properly administered, it
is safe and effective in
clearing a high percentage of birds harbouring Giardia.
- A 5-day course of
Ronidazole is considered to be safe
and effective in treating Giardia.
- Another drug that may be
somewhat effective is Humatin (Paromomycin).
- This drug must be administered
orally by syringe.
- It is probably a good idea to
treat all birds directly exposed to an infested bird or its
- It must be noted that some
birds will never be completely cured of Giardia, and it may
occasionally flare up.
- Providing your bird with a
secure environment, feeding a balanced, nutritious diet and
using a water bottle will help prevent reoccurrence of problems.
- Water bottles may be purchased
at most pet stores and are useful in preventing contamination of
open drinking water with faecal material and also prevent high
levels of bacteria from growing in water bowls.
- Your bird's Giardia should not
be contagious to humans or other types of pets in the home.
- It is contagious between
- It is not thought to be
transmitted through tap water
- (unless it is contaminated
with bird droppings!)
- The Giardia that infests
humans is a separate organism and is not contagious to
- Feather picking associated
with Giardia may resolve after treatment
- however, it may return
from time to time.
- This can be very
aggravating and other methods may need to be employed to
control feather plucking,
in addition to treating the Giardia itself.
Summary of Giardia
- Giardia is extremely hard
to get a handle on once it has taken up residency.
- You have to make a
personal decision between treating conventionally or
- In either case, it is
advised you seek a professional to assist you in this battle
with “the Monster Parasite.”
- It is imperative to keep
the cage area as clean and disinfected as possible.
- This includes the
toys, cage bars, perches, play gyms, dishes, etc.
- The Giardia cysts can live
outside of the host for months, possibly years.
- Re-infection rate is high,
which makes Giardia hard to combat.
- Take a look at the diet
your bird is eating.
- Can it be improved?
- Remember that a good
diet is the basis for good health
a healthy bird is capable of fighting off intruders
while one with a compromised system cannot!
How about an alternative Holistic treatment?
the following tinctures:
2 parts Oregon grape
2 parts liquorice
2 parts cleavers
1 part garlic
- This formula can be
fed to dogs, cats, birds, horses, and other large
least one hour before feeding
- at a dosage of about ¼
teaspoon (1 millilitre) per 20 pounds of the animal’s
- twice daily for up to
- If positive results
aren’t seen within ten days, it’s time to call your