Budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus), called budgies or sometimes parakeets, are intelligent and social birds, making them one of the most popular avian pets. Caring for your budgie can be mystifying, especially when your pet starts sneezing or exhibiting changes in behavior. Trying to determine whether a sneeze is normal or if it is time to call an avian veterinarian can be a worrying experience for any budgie owner.
An occasional sneeze from your budgie without the presence of other symptoms is probably no cause for alarm. However, frequent sneezing, with or without other symptoms, may indicate an illness or a problem with your budgie’s environment.
Just because your budgie is sneezing doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem. So how can you tell if a sneeze is just a sneeze, or if something more serious is going on? This article will help you become familiar with your budgie’s care needs, some of the most common signs and symptoms of an illness, and what to expect when you make an appointment with your vet.
Know Your Budgie’s Nose
A budgie’s nose is an area of skin located just above its beak. In healthy birds, this area, known as the cere, is featherless, with a smooth texture and regular coloring. The two openings in the cere are the budgie’s nostrils. If your budgie is healthy, you should be able to see the edges of the nostrils and into the nasal cavities. A budgie with a healthy respiratory system will have:
- An upright posture
- Clear eyes
- A clear and smooth beak, cere, and nostrils
- Quiet, regular breathing
Consult your vet if your budgie’s cere and nostrils exhibit:
- A change in color or texture
- A Rough texture
Every budgie is unique. It is important to familiarize yourself with your budgie’s cere and nostrils from the very beginning so that you will notice any changes as soon as they occur.
What Do I Do If My Budgie Is Sneezing?
What makes you sneeze? A sneeze is the body’s automatic response to an irritant in the nose. Like humans, budgies sometimes sneeze in response to:
- Other particles
in the environment. Sneezing is the body’s natural, involuntary response to keep these particles out of the respiratory system.
If you are concerned about your budgie sneezing, try to put it in context. How often is the budgie sneezing? If it’s only once or twice, and there are no other changes with your pet, there is probably no cause for concern. If your pet is sneezing frequently, however, it may be time to take stock of your home environment. Be on the lookout for potential irritants, such as:
- Candles, incense, and other sources of smoke
- Household cleaners and aerosols
- Air fresheners
- Dust and lint
Remember: if it can irritate a human nose, it can irritate your budgie’s nose. Keeping your home clean and dust-free is a first-line defense in your budgie’s health. When you clean, it’s important to minimize your budgie’s exposure to household irritants by moving them to a different location from where you are cleaning. However, don’t allow your budgie to roam your home unsupervised. This can lead to injury or expose your budgie to more irritants. To exercise your budgie and keep them out of the way, you can close off a room of your home for their use.
If keeping your budgie away from indoor irritants cuts down on the sneezing, great! However, if you make these changes and your budgie continues to sneeze frequently, or you are noticing other changes with your pet, consult your vet as soon as possible.
Do Birds Sneeze or Cough?
Yes, like humans, budgies can cough as well as sneeze. If a cough accompanies your budgie’s sneezing, it may indicate a respiratory illness, such as a cold. Bird colds are not like human colds and you should not wait for symptoms to clear up on their own; if your budgie is coughing and sneezing, contact an avian vet as soon as possible.
Is Your Budgie Cold?
Don’t let the feathers fool you; budgies are indoor pets and can get cold. Although they don’t “catch” cold, it’s better for your pet’s overall health and comfort to make sure they are warm enough. It’s fine to crack a window now and then (and can improve your indoor air quality), but don’t overdo it. Keep your budgie away from drafts, especially in the cold months, and remember to close windows after use.
Fresh air from an open window is great for your budgie in the warm months. Furthermore, your budgie uses natural light to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which may lead to other health problems. While your budgie will thrive with a natural light source, be careful not to expose your bird to too much draft, which could lead to illness. If natural light is not an option, an avian floor lamp with a UVA/UVB bulb will also work.
Budgies evolved outdoors, in the wilds of Australia, where they were often prey for carnivores. Because they were prey animals, over time, they adapted to mask the early signs of illness and injury in order to survive. This remarkable adaptation means that your budgie’s appearance and behavior is something to watch closely: by the time you notice a problem, it may have already progressed to a severe state.
Consult an avian veterinarian immediately if your budgie’s sneezes are accompanied by one or more of the following:
- Wheezing, tail movement with breath, noisy breathing, difficulty breathing
- From the eyes, beak, or nostrils
- Dull, cloudy, or swollen in appearance
- Not opening eyes
- Sitting on the floor of the cage, falling off of perch
- Listless appearance
Because of the way budgies have evolved, it is likely that changes in behavior may manifest before symptoms of illness. Monitor your budgie for changes in behavior such as:
- Becoming quieter or more agitated
- Vocalization changes
- Sleeping more
What To Expect At The Vet
When you suspect that your budgie may have a respiratory illness, it’s important to bring them to an avian vet as soon as possible. It is the vet’s job to diagnose your pet’s illness and prescribe a course of treatment. The vet’s diagnosis may include:
- A blood sample
- Analysis of any discharge
- An X-ray
Once your pet’s illness has been diagnosed, you will learn the treatment. This may include antibiotics or antifungal medication.
Here are some important things to keep in mind if you suspect that your budgie is ill:
- Don’t try to “guess” what type of illness your budgie has. Remember that your job as a budgie owner is to notice signs of illness in your pet, not to diagnose – leave that to a vet.
- Don’t “wait and see” if your budgie gets better. Allergies are rare in pet birds, and birds do not simply recover from a cold or flu the way most humans do. Seek treatment for your pet to ensure a swift and full recovery.
- Don’t try to treat your budgie at home, or with pet store medication.
It is your responsibility to ensure your pet the happiest, healthiest life possible. Even if your budgie shows no signs of illness, it is important that they have a veterinary check-up every 6-12 months. Early detection of illness is a great way to ensure a swift recovery for your budgie.
Being familiar with the conditions that are specific to budgies and their symptoms will help prepare you to take whatever steps are needed to keep your pet healthy and happy.