Giardia in Cockatiels: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

What is Giardia?

Giardia is a single-celled parasite that can infect many species, including many birds, and even humans. Unfortunately, cockatiels are especially vulnerable to this parasite, weíre not sure why, but itís suspected to be a deficiency in their immune system.

The giardia parasite lives in the small intestine, where it steals your food, and multiplies.

How is Giardia Spread?

Giardia can be spread in a number of ways. The most common way for people to get infected seems to be from contaminated water. Cockatiels will also get infected from contaminated water, but they seem more likely to get infected from other birds, or contaminated cages.

Unfortunately, cockatiels are very good at spreading the infection to each other, probably because they live close together, and close to their droppings. The parasite can be found in droppings some of the time, and it can survive outside the host for a reasonably long period of time.

What makes infection more likely is that not every cockatiel thatís infected will have symptoms, they might only show symptoms when theyíre stressed out/run down, or they might never show symptoms at all. This means that a healthy looking bird could be silently spreading the infection to all around it.

Symptoms of Giardia

The first symptom youíll probably notice is that your cockatielís droppings are more watery than usual. As we know, the occasional watery dropping isnít a big deal, but theyíll be consistently watery when the birdís being affect by giardia. In the worst cases, this can lead to dehydration.

The most visible symptom is your cockatiel scratching, and pulling its feathers out, as if theyíre itchy and painful. This is probably caused by a nutrient deficiency, as the parasite is stealing the nutrients before they can be absorbed. Your cockatiel will usually start with the feathers under its wings, and down its sides, before moving onto the back or chest.

As well as stealing nutrients, the parasite can also make your cockatiel lose weight, because itís not getting enough of the food that itís eating.

Diagnosing Giardia

Diagnosing giardia can be a tricky business, because none of the tests are fool proof. It will often take several tests to confirm an infection.

One way to test is to examine a dropping under a microscope, and look for the parasite. It has to be a very fresh sample, examined within a few minutes of being passed. And this method is tedious, because you have to look at several different droppings, since the parasite isnít found in the droppings every time.

As well as looking for the parasite under a microscope, your vet can do tests to look for the antibodies your cockatiel will produce if it is infected. However, this method isnít as reliable.

Treatments for Giardia

How your cockatiel gets treated largely depends on your veterinarian. There are several holistic/herbal ways to treat this infection, as well as several different drug regimes that can be used. Thereís no consensus on which treatment is best at the moment, and your vet will likely go with the treatment theyíve had the most luck with.

Whichever treatment is used, youíre going to have a big part to play, as the owner, in getting rid of this infection. As weíve discussed, the giardia parasite can be passed in the droppings, and live outside the body. This means youíre in for quite a bit of cage cleaning and disinfecting, until the infection is over. Unfortunately, all it takes is one or two of these parasite to get missed, and your birds will get re-infected, which is likely why re-infection is so common.

Steps you need to take:

  • Regularly scrub down the cage with hot water and bleach, or some other powerful disinfectant.
  • Use a grill, or some other device, to stop your cockatiels getting to the cage floor, where their droppings are.
  • Clean and disinfect the grill and cage floor daily.
  • Itís best to change to a bottle feeder for water, to stop your cockatielís water getting infected, and re-infecting them.
  • Apply medication as your vet prescribes.

With a bit of effort, and a bit of luck, youíll manage to get rid of this parasite first time, and itíll never trouble you again. Be prepared for the infection to pop up two or three time before you finally stop it though. I know it can get a little disheartening, but you will get rid of it. Good luck.