Psittacine Beak And Feather Disease

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease is a highly contagious viral disease occurring in birds. Cockatoos, African Grey parrots, Senegal or Meyer Parrots, Ring Neck Parakeets, and Lovebirds are especially susceptible.

This disease rarely occurs in Macaws, however when the environmental contamination is very high then they are more susceptible to develop the disease. Young Macaws contracting this virus will show anorexia and chronic regurgitation.

The virus is transmitted by direct contact with infected birds or through contamination of water or feeding bowls or equipment. The virus can be found in faces, feather dust, or crop content. The virus is extremely resistant and it is able to survive in the environment for several months.
Birds often become infected with the virus at a very young age. The hatchlings may develop acute Psittacine Beak and Feather disease. The clinical signs of the acute disease are poor appetite, crop stasis, diarrhoea and these birds die within a few weeks. The minimum time frame between exposure and signs of disease is 21-25 days, but the incubation time is often much longer, from months to even years, for birds to show signs of illness.
Adult birds show feather dystrophy, the growing feathers get damaged, resulting in progressive baldness. The baldness worsens with every moulting.

Birds showing early clinical signs of Psittacine Beak and Feather disease often show loss of the delicate powder down feathers and a shiny beak. The regrow of feathers may be sparse, the feathers retain their sheaths, change in colour or be deformed. The baldness is especially visible over the ears and around the beak. These clinical symptoms often develop in birds less than one year of age. The growth of the beak can also be affected by the virus, resulting in abnormal cracked or flaky beaks.

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease cause such severe immunosuppression, which weakens the bird’s immunity making the bird more susceptible to other diseases, such as bacterial infections. Birds suffering from Psittacine Beak and Feather disease are therefore more prone to recurrent infections, especially infections of the respiratory and intestinal tract.

Birds that are showing the chronic clinical signs especially the abnormal feathers, should be euthanized. Birds that appear healthy but test positive for Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease can shed the virus and will develop health problems later on.

Birds may become carriers of the disease. A carrier state means that the bird does not show clinical signs but they transmit the disease to other birds.

Testing can be conducted. Most commonly, a PCR test is run on a blood sample of a live bird. In some cases, testing may also be performed on feather or skin samples, or a swab from the internal organs of a deceased bird. Birds with no clinical signs but that are tested positive on PCR should be kept in strict quarantine and should be retested after three months. There is no cure for this virus, like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It is therefore advisable to euthanize a bird that is tested positive.

When you buy a new bird ensure that you use only a reliable supplier, who supplies a Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease-free certificate with each bird. Practice good quarantine protocol when you get a new bird. Keep new birds as far away from birds already present in your home until the test results are returned.


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Sources:

  • BSAVA Manual of Psittacine Birds, second edition Harcourt-Brown N, Chitty J, eds.
  • BSAVA Manual of Avian Practice, Chitty J and D Monks, eds., 2018
  • Psittacine beak and feather disease, the lurking epidemic, Dr D. Elliott, http://www.birdandexotic.co.za/News/entryid/1054/psittacine-beak-and-feather-disease-the-lurking-epidemic
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