Giardia in Birds

Giardia in Birds: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment OptionsCommon giardia picking pattern on underside of the wings
Index of Bird Diseases ... Symptoms and Potential Causes ... Bird Species and Diseases They are Most Susceptible to

Giardia is a parasite found in both drinking and recreational water and lives in the intestinal tract (usually the duodenum) of numerous infected species, which could be people, birds and other animals.

Birds: This parasites has infected any species of bird, although it is most often found in cockatiels, lovebirds, budgies, and Grey-cheeked parakeets. Giardia can survive for a substantial amount of time in the environment, so infection can occur simply by placing a bird in a contaminated environment (cage, aviary, etc.).

Once an animal or person has been infected, the parasite lives in the intestine and is passed in the stool. Because the parasite is protected by an outer shell, it can survive outside the body and in the environment for long periods of time. Giardia infection has become recognized as one of the most common causes of waterborne disease in the United States.


Physical Symptoms:

Giardia is often asymptomatic or causes relatively mild symptoms. In some birds (particularly cockatiels and budgies), and at certain times of physical or emotional stress, giardia can cause symptoms, such as intense itching.

  • Owners may observe that their pet birds spend a good part of the day scratching themselves, as if they had fleas - most often the most affected areas are the flank and legs. They may pull out feathers and scream as if in pain.
  • They may exhibit what is known as "pica", which appears as if they are licking non-food items, like toys, perches, etc.
  • Acute chronic or recurrent diarrhea (a bad odor and lots of mucus may occur with the diarrhea
  • Other possible symptoms: depression, lethargy, anorexia and weight loss, and even death, if untreated. The parasite is believed to interfere with absorption of nutrients and fat metabolism.

Birds: Skin may become very dry and itchy, and this caused them to pick out their feathers. The common giardia picking pattern usually involves the chest, underside of the wings, insides of the thighs, shoulders and sometimes the lower back region. Asymptomatic carriers may exist, and serve as sources of infection for other birds.

Lovebird with skin problems

In humans it can cause a variety of intestinal symptoms, which include diarrhea, gas or flatulence, greasy stools that tend to float, stomach cramps, upset stomach or nausea. These symptoms may lead to weight loss and dehydration. However, some people or animals have no symptoms at all. Giardiosis is thought to have zoonotic potential (transmissable to humans).



Diagnosis of Giardia can be difficult. It may be necessary to examine multiple fresh fecal smears to find the motile trophozoites. Infected birds may only shed trophozoites and cysts intermittently, rather than continuously.

The tests for Giardia now used by avian vets include:

  • Fecal Trichrome. Tests for the Giardia parasite itself (the most reliable method).
  • ELISA Tests. Tests for the antibodies produced by the bird to combat the parasite
  • Crypto/Giardia IFA and fecal stain

Self-testing is an affordable alternative and is available through this webpage. Note the collection of the first morning feces will provide the best opportunity to detect the parasite. It is important to make sure that the sample is collected fresh within minutes. The Merck Veterinary Manual, 8th edition, recommends: "Because Giardia are excreted intermittently, several fecal examinations should be performed if giardiasis is suspected. Samples from three consecutive days should be examined."



The good news is that giardia is a treatable condition.

  • Antiprotozoal medications, such as Ronidazole, Flagyl, Ipronidazole, Metronidozole, are used to treat Giardiosis. Dimetridazole (Emtryl) is also said to be effective. Breeders are administering it by mixing it with their hand feeding formula and using a crop needle every twelve hours for five days.

  • To prevent re-infection switch a bird to a water bottle instead of water bowl, which can be contaminated with droppings, resultng in reinfection and high levels of bacterial

  • Oregano: The European herb Oregano is one of the most nutritious substances on earth, with 42 times more antioxidants than apples and 30 times more than potatoes. Additionally, it's loaded with antimicrobial compounds that fight cold-causing bacteria and researchers found that it destroys giardia. To reap the benefits, sprinkle on your food each day or follow package directions. Fresh herbs provide the greatest health benefits -- you might want to consider growing an organic herb garden that includes Oregano!


Provide clean, dry, uncontaminated food and bedding. Avoid overcrowding. Water should be uncontaminated. Chlorine does not always kill Giardia. Unfortunately, relapses are common, either as a result of failure to destroy all of the parasites in the bird or as a result of a new infection.

  • Below are products that purify water and / or test, treat Giardia infections or vaccinate against it. Please discuss doses and safety for your birds. Better than treatment is prevention. Consider purifying your drinking water on a daily basis with a good water filtration system.
  • Many disease-causing organisms / toxins are transmitted via air and water. If you suspect a disease problem (or if you would like to prevent one), please investigate the possibility of filtering your air and purifying / treating your birds' drinking water.

Holistic Approaches:

Goldenseal Herb:

Strong antibiotic properties. It has a long history of use in infections including bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic. Staph, strep, E. coli, Vibrio cholera, Giardia lamblia,and even tuberculosis bacterium have proven sensitive to this herb.

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