Psittacosis in cockatoos

Psittacosis is a very serieus disease that occurs among parrots and cockatoos. Also people and other animals can get very sick because of this disease. Psittacosis is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci. Humans, guinea pigs, horses, dogs, sheep, cattle and almost all bird species can get sick from this baterium. When a mammel gets infected with Chlamydia psittaci the disease is not called psittacosis but ornithosis.

Chlamydia psittaci is related to the bacterium that causes the STD Chlamydia, but is not the same bacterium. The two diseases should not be confused.

The symptoms of Psittacosis

The poop of birds infected with Chlamydia psittaci are greenish in color because the disease affects the liver

When a bird gets infected with Chlamydia psittaci it will take some time before he will start to show symptoms. Usually the first symptoms arise between 12 and 45 days after infection, but some birds only start to show signs of infection years after obtaining the bacterium. All this time they carry the Chlamydia psittaci bacterium with them, but are not visibly affected by it.
The symptoms of Psittacosis in cockatoos are shortness of breath, audible breathing, fluid running from the nose, couching, fluid from the eyes and light green diarrhea. When these symptoms occur, the cockatoo will often die within two weeks.

A bird that does not appear sick and still carry psittacosis and house the Chlamydia psittaci bacterium in its body. It is called a carrier of the disease. Only when its health becomes compromised by other reasons the disease will surface and cause symptoms. But weather the bird shows symptoms or not, it is contagious and will spread the psittacosis bacterium. The carrier will infect other birds, mammals and people who either also become carriers or who will start showing symptoms of psittacosis (or ornithosis in humans).

The symptoms for ornithosis in humans are fever, low reaction speed, trembling, severe headache and shortness of breath. When the disease is not treated, it could result in kidney damage, pneumonia or meningitis. In some cases this is life threatening or deadly.

Possible ways of infection with psittacosis

The bacterium that causes psittacosis can be transferred from a sick bird or carrier to other birds or susceptible mammal species by: feces, feather dust, food from the gizzard, saliva or fluid from the nose. A carrier of psittacosis can even infect the egg, making a young bird carrier of the disease from birth onward.
Infected dogs, cats, horses, pigs and people cannot spread the disease. In other words: they can be infected by a bird but not among themselves. Birds, cattle, sheep and goats can spread the infection among themselves and to all other susceptible species.

Treatment of psittacosis and ornitosis

Luckily psittacosis is easily treated with antibiotics. With humans and cockatoos this treatment is very effective. It is crucial that the treatment is started quickly after symptoms are noticed. The disease is cured by antibiotics, but the damage it does to the body cannot be undone.

Testing for psittacosis in cockatoos

You can have your cockatoo tested for psittacosis at a lab or vet. As said, a bird can look perfectly healthy but can still be a carrier of the disease. It carries and spreads the bacterium to its surroundings, causing other birds, people and other mammals to get sick or also become carriers.
Testing can be done by getting blood sample of your bird and having it tested in a laboratory. You don’t even need the vet to get the blood sample. Pulling a feather will suffice. Please contact your veterinarian how to get your cockatoo tested. You should have the cockatoo tested before you take him into your home. Responsible cockatoo breeders will always test their birds on psittacosis, PBFD and Polyoma and show you the test results.