Diarrhoea in Budgerigars: An Approach to Treatment

Diarrhoea, otherwise known as scour, wet vent or, is a common complaint affecting either an individual bird or the whole stud. Diarrhoea varies widely in appearance from normal colour but soft or runny, to odd colours, mostly grey or grey-green. If dark, bottle-green, soft droppings are being produced, this indicates that the bird is not eating but there is probably nothing wrong with the bird’s digestive system. If the black part off the dropping is normal but the white part is soft or fluid, this indicates kidney problems which are not covered by this article. As described elsewhere, the causes of diarrhoea are many and varied, and some of these are amenable to treatment and others are not. The aim of this article is to give fanciers some help in the treatment of affected birds always remembering however, that the best person to advise on treatment is a veterinary surgeon with an interest in cage bird diseases.


The first thing to do, once you have spotted that you have a bird with diarrhoea, is to catch it and have a close look at it to check if there are any other symptoms. Is there any matting of the feathers on the head indicating that the bird is vomiting as well? Look at the bird’s beak and eyes – do they look normal? If not, it may well not be a digestive problem. Gently feel the bird behind the keel bone (sometimes known as the breast bone which can be felt as a hard line along the lower side of the birds chest) – is it pot-bellied or can you feel a swelling which should not be there? This could indicate cancer which your veterinary surgeon might consider attempting to operate on. If you notice these or any other symptoms, consult your veterinary surgeon as soon as possible. For the purposes of this article we will assume, apart from the diarrhoea, there is nothing else to be found other than the bird being fluffed up and perhaps not eating.

Having examined the bird it should not be put back in the flight where it might spread it’s disease to other birds, but put it in a cage on its own or with other similarly affected birds. The next thing to do is to decide how the bird is. Is it bright and alert and looking around at its new surroundings, or is it ill, as indicated by it being dull, listless, fluffed up and sitting on the floor of the cage?

If the bird is obviously ill, treatment is urgently required otherwise the bird will die. The first thing it needs is warmth and it should be put somewhere where the temperature is about 80 Fahrenheit. Ideally, this should be in a proper hospital cage, but the use of a show cage in the airing cupboard is quite a good idea if you don’t have a proper hospital cage. It will also need fluid; about a teaspoonful (6ml) a day divided into 5 or 6 doses and also containing a readily digested source of energy.

If you make up a solution of 2 heaped teaspoonfuls of glucose to 3 pints of water this will supply both requirements. This should be given warm and directly into the crop with a dosing tube, (available from good pet shops) which all fanciers should have in stock and know how to use. If you have not used one before ask a local experienced fancier or your veterinary surgeon how it is done. If the bird does not respond to this treatment within a day or two the outlook is not good and it should be seen by your veterinary surgeon.

If the bird shows little or no sign of illness, except for the diarrhoea, and is eating and drinking, there is a possibility that some change in management may have upset its insides. Has it recently been purchased, been to a show, been introduced to a strange group of birds, had its diet or water changed, or been given large amounts of green food? If any of these has happened the chances are that the bird will get over its problem in a day or two. Most of the birds we receive at the University for examination have diarrhoea for the first day but nearly always get over it quickly without treatment. If the problem persists, put the bird back on its old diet and/or water or take it out of the strange group and see if this does the trick. Another not uncommon cause of diarrhoea is stress; some birds can not cope on their own and some can not cope with being mixed with others and, in both these situations there can be an intestinal upset. If you find, for example, that each time you put a specific bird in a flight it gets diarrhoea, this will be one of these stress susceptible birds which are upset by being in the flight. Remember that the large, bulky, wet droppings produced by breeding hens are quite normal and should not be confused with diarrhoea.

If there has been no change in the way you look after the birds and there is a problem with diarrhoea then you will have to start to think about some form of treatment. The first point to make about this is that the last thing you should use are antibiotics. Don’t dash for the yellow powder that most fanciers seem to have. The reasons for this are first, that only very rarely is diarrhoea due to specific disease causing bacteria which are the only thing which antibiotics will cure and second, the more you use antibiotics the more likely they are to lose their effectiveness. Antibiotics do have an important role to play in bird medicine but they are not the first drug of choice for the treatment of most cases of diarrhoea. The way to treat the bird is what is termed symptomatically that is, treating the symptoms rather than a specific disease. What we need is something which will calm the gut, and two things which are good for this are cold strong tea – about a teaspoonful – and kaolin (pure kaolin from the chemists, don’t use preparations for treating humans which have other things added) about 1 or 2 drops. These should be given directly into the birds beak or better still with a dosing tube.

If the diarrhoea persists other treatments may be tried. The work we have done at the University suggests that quite a number of cases of diarrhoea are due to a disturbance in the types and numbers of bacteria in the gut, without a specific disease causing germ being present. It is necessary in these cases to re-establish the normal germs. There are two ways of doing this, one way is to collect some normal droppings from healthy birds, make these into a slurry with a few drops of water and, with a dosing tube put this into the birds crop. Obviously there is the risk of spreading disease if this is done and a better approach is to use a probiotic. These are available from the pet shop under a wide variety of trade names. One that is normally available is called “Revive” but there are a number of others which are equally good, on the market. Probiotics are cultures of harmless germs which are normally present in the birds intestines and the idea is to swamp any germs which might be causing the problem and re-establish the normal ones and hopefully, cure the disease. They can also be used to establish germs in the intestines when they have been lost for some reason. Some of these come with their own dosing tube holding the right amount and with others the instructions on the bottle should be followed

If none of these methods work now is the time to try antibiotics if you have some in stock. If not, contact your veterinary surgeon and show him the bird and he will probably prescribe them. If the antibiotics don’t cure the problem contact your veterinary surgeon and ask him to arrange for samples of droppings to be sent off to a laboratory for examination so that the specific cause of the problem can be identified and the correct treatment given.

If you get a lot of birds affected at the same time and they are obviously unwell your vet should be contacted immediately as in these cases it is imperative that an accurate diagnosis is made and the birds put on the correct treatment immediately.

Original text Copyright 1995, Dr John R Baker.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

clive daily August 21, 2013 at 10:28 am

I have just read your article on diarrhea in Budgerigars, What a tremendous outlay of wealth of information I have just perused, this obviously is the ultimate I could have hoped for in knowledgeable facts,and as a result I can only thank the society for its professionalism in supplying such an array,scope and justification of what would be the general cause of my concerns towards this topic. I am completely gobsmacked with a renown wealth of information which will undoubtedly be passed onto other colleagues to look up and add to their web sites in conjuncture and as a gesture of thanks to your society for this uncompromising information.
Regards and the very best of good wishes
Clive Daily


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