The Parasite that can cause Feather Plucking

Minor Ailments

  •  Giardia is a one-celled protozoal organism that is commonly found in Pet and Aviary birds.
  •  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 infested.

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 be fed.
    • Many will die before fledging.
    • Their droppings may be smelly.
    • 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 every dropping.
    • 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 fleas.
    • They may exhibit what is known as “pica,” appearing as if they are licking non-food items,
      • like toys, perches, etc.
    • 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 fledging.
  • Some birds may never display visual symptoms,
    • yet may have signs of loose droppings, weakness, anorexia, depression, and weight loss.
    • 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 seen, giardai trophs
  • as well as the fact that Giardia is shed sporadically in the faeces
    • (both, cyst and trophozoites)
  • it can be difficult to detect and to correctly diagnose.
  • Currently, it is felt a faecal Trichrome test is the most reliable for diagnosing Giardia.
  • There is an abundance of evidence that birds that have tested negative under other test methods have then tested positive using the fecal trichrome method.
  • 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.

Treatments that can be tried

  • In the past, treatment was usually administered by using a drug called Flagyl (metronidazole.)
  • 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 birds.
  • Another drug has been tried, with varying success.
    • It is called Dimetridazole.
    • It is a drug that can be easily administered in the drinking water.
    • 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 droppings.
  • 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 birds, however.
  • 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 birds.
  • 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 holistically.
  • 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
    • and a healthy bird is capable of fighting off intruders while one with a compromised system cannot!

How about an alternative Holistic treatment?

  • Combine 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 herbivores
      • at least one hour before feeding
    • at a dosage of about ¼ teaspoon (1 millilitre) per 20 pounds of the animal’s body weight,
    • twice daily for up to ten days.
    • If positive results aren’t seen within ten days, it’s time to call your Holistic Vet.



Hit Counter