Anorexia (a loss of appetite), and lethargy (a feeling of listlessness and general inactivity), are commonly seen in sick pet birds. While not diagnostic for any specific disease, they do indicate a severely ill bird that requires immediate medical attention. Simply put, just about every illness will produce signs of anorexia and lethargy.
What are the causes of anorexia and lethargy in birds?
There are many causes of anorexia and lethargy in pet birds. These include cancer, viral or bacterial infections, fungal or yeast infections, parasites, endocrine or hormonal diseases, and organ specific problems such as liver, heart or kidney failure. Some diseases such as proventricular dilatation do not have a known cause but can produce the signs of anorexia and lethargy. Anorexia and lethargy are not diseases themselves but indicate a serious underlying medical problem requiring diagnostic evaluation and appropriate therapy.
Do I have to take my bird to my veterinarian immediately, or can I just “wait and watch” and see if it improves?
Unlike dogs and cats, birds are still “wild” pets. This means that they still retain their preservation response. The preservation response is something unique to wild animals. In the wild, an animal can’t “act sick,” every time he feels bad. If it did, it might be killed by a predator or even a member of its own group. The preservation response assures that a sick animal will not “act sick” until it is really sick, and literally dying. Birds rarely get sick overnight. Because of their preservation response, they don’t usually act sick until they are really sick. Therefore, a bird with anorexia and lethargy is EXTREMELY ILL and requires IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION. Waiting and watching will only make things worse; you may actually wait and watch as your bird dies.
How will my veterinarian determine what’s wrong with my bird?
Because many diseases can cause the signs of anorexia and lethargy, many diagnostic tests will need to be run. These can include blood tests, gram stains and cultures, fecal tests for parasites, yeast, and bacteria, radiographs (X-rays), and a psittacosis test among others. There is no one test to diagnose the many causes of anorexia and lethargy.
Hospitalization for my bird. Is that really necessary?
By the time many birds are seen by the veterinarian, they are literally dying. If your veterinarian recommends hospitalization, it is because your bird requires the type of critical care that cannot be given at home.
How are birds with anorexia and lethargy treated?
Treatment obviously varies with the cause of the anorexia and lethargy. In general, many of these birds are extremely ill. Hospitalization in an incubator, fluid therapy, force feeding, and broad-spectrum antibiotic therapy are usually indicated. If the specific cause of the illness is determined, then medicated early, treatment is usually easy and inexpensive. There’s no need to wait until your bird is on death’s door before it sees your veterinarian. Annual check-ups can detect diseases early and prolong your bird’s life.