By Dr Colin Walker  BSc, BVSc, MRCVS, MACVSc (Avian health)

The following is a short list of some of the common problems seen in canaries and finches.
It should always be remembered that management or environment flaws weaken the birds, predisposing them to disease. The provision of a clean, dry, draught-free aviary, together with good nutrition, will do much to decrease the incidence of disease.



Further signs
that suggest
this problem

What the vet
will need to
reach a diagnosis


Nesting problem





1. Inside of nests stained with yellow diarrhoea of nestling, youngster stunted, increased death rate first few days of life

E. coli diarrhoea


Droppings, microscopic examination ,staining and/or culture

Antibiotics. Neomycin. Sulfa AVS in water and soft foods (egg and biscuit, canary starter)

2. Pale, weak youngsters, hen can be found dead in nest

Blood-sucking mites

Crusty pinpoint feeding sites visible, particularly under the wings

Recently dead or unwell nestlings

Moxidectin. Spray cages with Permethrin prior to breeding

3. Nestlings dying, 10 – 20 days of age, many youngsters affected and dying

Circo virus

Black spot visible in abdomen, which is an enlarged gall bladder

Sick or recently dead youngster for autopsy, tissue collection and histology

Management – break in breeding, thorough clean of aviary, identify carrier birds

4. Nestlings dehydrated, weak with yellow diarrhoea

Cochlosoma, a flagellate that lives in the digestive tract. Fresh birds infected through dropping contamination of food and water

In finches fostered under Bengalese, which act as asymptomatic carriers. Problem most severe in chicks aged 10 days to 6 weeks

Fresh droppings for microscopic examination

Ronidazole (Turbosole), 400 mg/kg of soft food and 400 mg/1 litre of water for 10 days. Organism does not survive in the environment

less than
1 year of age





1. Generally unwell and dying birds

Atoxoplasma,( a type of coccidian)

Birds usually 2 – 9 months, high mortality (up to 80%), blue spot (swollen liver) visible through abdomen wall

A sick or recently dead bird for autopsy. Parasite eggs occasionally found in droppings

Sulphonamide antibiotics, eg ‘Tribrissen’, interrupt the infective life cycle but does not affect the intracellular stages. It therefore reduces but does not eliminate egg shedding. Given for 5 days per week until the birds are well

2. Lethargy, weight loss, yellow (= amylum or undigested seed) dry droppings often containing undigested seed. High mortality rate in nestlings

Camphylobacter, a bacterium spread by dropping contamination of food and water, carried by wild birds

Bengalese often act as asymptomatic carriers, Gouldian finches particularly vulnerable

Appearance of bacteria (often curved rods) in droppings under the microscope suggestive, culture of droppings or autopsy

Antibiotics, e.g. Erythromycin, Baytril

3. Generally unwell with some deaths

Polyoma virus

Debility and death in birds of all ages, including adults and nestlings but particularly juveniles. Surviving adults sometimes develop elongated beaks

Fresh bird for autopsy and pathology. PCR (DNA) test on blood or droppings

No medication available. Controlled through altered breeding strategy and blood testing. A break in breeding enables many (approx. 85%) birds to develop a protective immunity in the absence of vulnerable juveniles. Cabinet breeding or blood testing identifies persistent carriers

4. Shortness of breath, coughing, diarrhoea

Cryptosporidia, a coccidian

Diamond Firetails may be particularly susceptible, exhibiting diarrhoea and death


Medication (paromomycin) is available overseas but not in Australia. Wild birds can be source of infection. Infective eggs passed in droppings, therefore ongoing hygiene will decrease exposure

5. Diarrhoea and some deaths

Giardia, a flagellate

Usually young immunosuppressed birds

Microscopic examination of fresh droppings

Ronidazole (Turbosole), 3 g (1 tsp)/2 litres of water

Any age





Main symptom respiratory distress

Avian Pox

Crusty wart-like lesions on non-feathered parts of body and/or yellow plaques inside mouth. Difficulty in breathing, high mortality rate.

Appearance often diagnostic. Autopsy and histology (looking for bollinger bodies)

Management. Separate birds, control insects, treat secondary diseases



Red watery eyes, nasal discharge, shortness of breath, matting of feathers around eyes

Appearance suggestive. Laboratory diagnosis can be difficult

Tylan or doxycycline either separately or together


Blood-sucking mites

Pale and lethargic Crusty pinpoint feeding sites visible, particularly under the wings

Examination of an unwell bird, or a recently dead bird

Moxidectin. Spray cages with permethrin


Air sac mites (Sternostoma or Cytodites)

Loss of condition, cough, sneeze, nasal discharge, unable to sing, response to treatment. Particularly common in Gouldians

Dead bird for autopsy, droppings, unwell live bird

Moxidectin orally or spot on


Trichomoniasis (canker), a flagellate

Weight loss, regurgitation, dried saliva around beak

Crop flush from live bird

Ronidasole in drinking water, 'Flagyl' syrup trickled into throat in acute cases


Bacterial infection, e.g. Enterococcus faecalis

Red watery eyes, nasal discharge

Live bird for bacterial culture from trachea

Antibiotics, antibiotic choice preferably based on the result of a culture and sensitivity, review hygiene


Aspergillus, a fungus

Weight loss, shortness of breath. Usually low infection rate but virtually all unwell birds die. Often a history of stress +/- exposure to damp unhygienic conditions

Diagnosis sometimes possible in live birds through microscopic examination of droppings or a throat or sinus swab. Diagnosis usually made at autopsy

Medication (usually itraconazole) available for individual birds of value. Identification and removal of source of fungus. Identify and correct any management or environment flaws


Egg binding

Horiizontal posture, hen in nest, egg overdue. Egg palpable in abdomen

Clinical examination, x-ray

Heat (brooder approx. 30?0C) plus oral calcium initially. Veterinary intervention if no response. Ongoing provision of palatable calcium supplements before and during breeding will decrease likelihood of problem, as will delaying pairing until warm weather


Toxoplasma, a protozoan that infects cats. It is likely that infective eggs excreted in cats’ droppings get into the through the provision of seeding grasses collected outside the aviary

More so in canaries. Shortness of breath initially, with some surviving birds becoming blind several weeks later

Autopsy and pathology

Trimethoprim/sulphadiazine may be effective


Cytomegalo virus

Conjunctivitis. Principally in Gouldians

Autopsy and pathology

Separation of unwell birds, hygiene, quarantine

Main symptom diarrhoea and weight loss

Acuaria or gizzard worm, a parasitic worm

Enlarged gizzard often palpable in abdomen. Undigsted seed in droppings

Microscopic examination of droppings reveals the parasite’s eggs. At autopsy, the fine white worms are just visible below the koilin lining of the gizzard

Insects act as intermediate host, therefore more of a problem in finches that are particularly insectivorous, e.g. Crimson Finch. Moxidectin is an effective wormer. Ongoing hygiene leads to decreased parasite exposure



Huddled, fluffed and lethargic. Diarrhoea sometimes with blood

Droppings collected from sick bird in late afternoon. Autopsy

Baycox (3ml/1L for 48 hours), protein supplements (sprouted seed, seeding grasses, soft foods)


Megabacteria (avian gastric yeast)

Fluffed and underweight. Often continually eat

Droppings, Autopsy of recently dead bird if available

Acids (citric acid 1tsp/6L) or probiotic to in-contact birds, thorough clean of aviary, Amphoteracin B to sick birds. Identify genetically susceptible birds.


Salmonella (a bacteria)

More prevalent in wet times of year, outside aviary, low hygiene, exposure to mice or wild bird droppings.

Autopsy and culture. Pooled dropping samples, checked 3 – 6 weeks after therapy to check success. Canaries do not become carriers of Salmonella (common in other birds)

Antibiotics, usually Baytril. Provision of chopped greens and soft foods will help prevent dehydration, multivitamins in water, hygiene


Yersinia (a bacteria)

As above

Autopsy and culture

As above


Other bacteria, e.g. E. coli

Some birds may have an infection elsewhere, e.g. in eyes or sinus

As above

As above


(formerly Chlamyida)

Often also have conjunctivitis and nasal discharge, low mortality. (less than 10%) Some birds develop into asymptomatic carriers. Periodic flare-ups of disease can occur following stress

Throat swab (preferred) or cloacal swab. Autopsy. Blood (Immunocomb) test

Doxycycline (Doxyvet 1tsp/2L), Baytril (1drop twice daily per 100g/bw or 10ml/1L of drinking water)



Weight loss, visible ribbons of egg packets (called proglottids) in droppings. More likely to occur in species that eat a lot of live food, eg: Crimsons

Examination of droppings for proglottids or discovery of adults in bowel at autopsy

Insects act as intermediate hosts. Medication of choice is praziquantel but must be used with care in finches. Moxidectin Plus (which contains Moxidectin and praziquantel) appears effective and safe at 5 ml/1 litre or 1 drop/100 g body weight.


Mycobacterium, avian tuberculosis

Principally weight loss accompanied by either diarrhoea or shortness of breath. Usually Gouldians affected

Microscopic examination of droppings following special staining may be suggestive of problem. Biopsy of suspect lesion Autopsy, pathology

Medication available for individual birds of value. Infected birds often euthanised. Long-term quarantine


Round and hairworms

Increased vulnerability to other disease

Microscopic examination of droppings. Autopsy

Usually Moxidectin, 2 mg/ml, 5 ml to 1 litre water for 1 - 3 days or 1 drop/100 g body weight


Candida, a yeast

Delayed crop emptying and failure to thrive in nestlings. Related to unbalanced diet, poor hygiene, overcrowding, stress or the uncontrolled use of antibiotics

Microscopic examination of droppings or throat swab

Probiotics (e.g. Probac) or acids (e.g. apple cider vinegar, 5 ml/litre). For individual birds, Nilstat, 1 ml/300 g body weight. Correction of predisposing factors

Sudden death

Toxic exposure

May have salivation, diarrhoea, difficulty breathing

Detailed history

Identification and aviodance of toxin



Blood in droppings, too ill to eat, getting wrong food or no food at all, someone else looking after the birds

Recently dead bird for autopsy



Plasmodium, a form of avian malaria spread by mosquitoes

Weight loss, lethargy, shortness of breath. Blue-faced Parrot Finches particularly susceptible. Wild reservoir in sparrows

Blood sample for microscopic examination or autopsy

Chloroquin or Pyrimethamine. Can be prevented with weekly doses


Hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver)

Particularly Zebra, Parrot and Star Finches. Associated with inadequate exercise and high energy diet, such as soft foods and meal worms

Autopsy and pathology

Dietary correction. Increased protein in diet and ensure adequate levels of choline and methionine. Supplementation with some herbs (dandelion and milk thistle) may help


Scaly face. Knemicoptes mite infection

Crusty lesions on face and legs

Appearance often diagnostic. Microscopic examination of crusts

Moxidectin (2mg/ml , 1drop to effected birds twice at a 3 week interval)