Anorexia and Lethargy

What are the causes of anorexia and lethargy in birds?
Anorexia (a loss of appetite), and lethargy (listlessness and general inactivity), are commonly seen in sick pet birds. While not diagnostic for any specific disease, they do indicate that the bird does not feel well and probably requires immediate medical attention.

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. 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?
A wild bird cannot stop and rest for long when it is ill or injured. They must continue to forage and maintain themselves. Also, birds that behave oddly will be more visible to predators. This instinct is still present in many pet birds such that illness and injury may not be obvious to you. In short, they may “hide” their illnesses until they no longer do so. An experienced bird owner will see the subtle changes in behavior that indicate illness but, still, when the symptoms are noticed, they have often been building for quite some time. You should seek veterinary attention as soon as you notice symptoms.

How will my veterinarian determine what’s wrong with my bird?
Because many diseases can cause the signs of anorexia and lethargy, several diagnostic tests may be necessary. Common tests for this condition include bloodwork (serum biochemistry and hematology) and radiographs (x-rays). Based on the results of these, other more specific tests, such as lead level, Chlamydophila testing, or cultures may be necessary. In severe cases, it is likely that your bird may need to be hospitalized.

Is it really necessary to hospitalize my bird?
Travelling with your bird back and forth to the veterinarian is stressful and consumes precious energy reserves. If your bird is dehydrated or not eating, it may require injections of fluids or tube feeding with a diet made for critically ill birds. Finally, as new information comes to the veterinarian from diagnostic tests, it may be necessary to change treatments or collect new samples for more specific tests as they zero in on the diagnosis. If your bird is present, these changes can be accomplished much more quickly without additional stress of transporting your bird back and forth.

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, tube-feeding, and broad-spectrum antibiotic therapy are usually indicated. If the specific cause of the illness is determined, then medicated early, treatment can be easy and inexpensive. There’s no need to wait until your bird is on death’s door before it sees your veterinarian.