Giardiasis In Cockatiels
Giardia infection in cockatiels is poorly understood and hard to diagnosis.
A bird often has no problems, appears perfectly healthy yet is a carrier of a bug and may be shedding the protozoan parasite to other birds in the aviary. We often make a clinical diagnosis based on clinical signs and history. Giardia cockatiels seem to be intensely itchy. They start chewing and feather plucking over the back and shoulders and progressively work their way to the underside of the wings and breast. These birds literally cannot sit still. They are very agitated and are constantly moving or picking. They usually have good appetites and appear bright and alert. Often times the keel is somewhat prominent indicating malnutrition. Many times the feather follicle has a black plug of material where the feather has been chewed off. I have often seen cases where two birds are kept in the same cage and one bird has signs and the other appears perfectly normal. This suggests that immune system function has an important rule in the disease. Perhaps the itchy bird of the pair cannot develop the antibody to rid the body of the bug. Perhaps the healthy looking bird is the primary problem (sheds the organism) but does not show the disease.
Treatment should never be attempted without proper veterinary diagnostics. Fecal direct smears with Lugols iodine sometimes shows the organism. A plethora of other tests are described by avian veterinarians, none of which produce reliable results. A complete blood count and Gram stain of mouth and feces should be performed to help rule out other diseases. Metronidazole (Flagyl) by intramuscular injection for 5-7 days is currently my treatment of choice. Some birds do very well with one treatment series. Others relapse periodically and need treated again. Environments should be cleaned well, and never should a bird be allowed to pick over feces in the bottom of the cage or flight.
Giardia is also a disease of people. To our knowledge, no reports of infection from man to bird have occurred. In my experience, lutino cockatiels are more prone to Giardia than others. The best prevention is cleanliness since the organism is shed in the feces.