Why Does My Cockatiel Have Labored Breathing?

Why Does My Cockatiel Have Labored or Heavy Breathing?

While there are many things that can cause your cockatiel to breathe heavily and have labored breathing, which we will talk about a few of those reasons, the main reason would be due to respiratory disease.

But before we get into the topic of respiratory problems, let’s look at some of the other causes of cockatiels breathing heavily.


This is a type of fungal infection in our feathered friends. Your cockatiel can breathe in these tiny little microbes or spores that are floating in the air and they cause an “upper respiratory infection”. This is a serious disease and will need immediate medical attention. Your pet will need antibiotics and antifungal medication to help it recover.

Symptoms of this disease usually do not show themselves until it gets to the later stages of the infection. If you see your pet bobbing its tail or breathing with its mouth open, these are the main signs that their breathing is being labored. Get your pet medical attention as quickly as you can.

To help to prevent this disease, keep your pet in an area where the ventilation is good, it gets sunshine, and make sure that it is a dry area.

cockatiel climbing cage

Smoke (marijuana, cigarettes, or incense)

The smoke from either of these is worse for your pet than it is for you. A bird’s lungs are over receptive, and they make smoke a mixture of deadly chemicals.

The ash is also dangerous as it can get lodged in your pet’s lungs which can cause Aspergillus. So, if your home has smokers that smoke inside, keep your bird outside. Just putting the bird in another room of the house will not help because smoke travels and will get into every room of the house.

Incense has an extremely strong odor that I promise you, your bird will not be fond of. The smoke is full of ash and toxins. This smoke too will cause harm to your pet.

Polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon) Toxicosis

The smoke from heating up Teflon has been responsible for killing huge numbers of birds every year.

If Teflon gets above the six-hundred-degree Fahrenheit mark then the coating will start to decompose which will release different types of toxic gas that makes humans ill and causes the death of birds.

It will cause a bird’s lungs to start to hemorrhage, fill with liquid, and then they will smother to death. So, if you own Teflon cookware, before buying a bird, you should replace your pots & pans with either cast iron or stainless-steel cookware.

Cleaning Supplies, Spray Cans, & Aerosols

Bug spray insect repellant, ammonia, vinegar that is vaporized and so many other cleaners are completely hazardous to your bird’s health.

If you think these chemicals bother you making you sneeze and cough making your eyes water, think of your size compared to that of your pet’s size. All of these chemicals and more can and will cause your bird to have many illnesses including heart failure. Even being exposed to a minimal amount can kill your feathered friend.

In every single one of these cases, if you notice that your pet has heavy or labored breathing, take him/her to get medical attention immediately.

What Is A Respiratory Disease?

Diseases like aspergillus, fungal, and bacterial pneumonia are all respiratory diseases and a threat to your pet.

Diagnosing it early is the only way to prevent it from getting entrenched to where it harms your pet’s organs.

Seeking the aid of an avian doctor that specializes in this field is important to help your pet survive these infections.

These respiratory diseases are like a common cold, but they are infectious and caused by pathogens.

Symptoms In Birds

It is extremely important if your pet is showing any of the signs below, to immediately get the help of an avian vet because it could be a respiratory disease but there are also other problems that can cause these symptoms:

  • Dyspnea when your pet flies for a short time
  • Nasal discharge combined with sneezing
  • Your pet’s voice changes
  • Constant jerking of your bird’s tail (tail bobbing)
  • Panting after minimal exercise
  • Wheezing sounds
  • Coughing
  • Period of swelling
  • Labored or heavy breathing

Cockatiel on the cage

Reasons For Bird Respiratory Diseases

  • Fungal or bacterial pneumonia
  • Infections like Chlamydophila, Klebsiella, Pasteurella, and Proteus are all extremely dangerous to your bird.
  • Toxic fumes such as ammonia, smoke, hairspray, insect repellants Teflon overheated bug sprays, air freshener sprays, and cleaning chemicals being inhaled by your pet.
  • Things stuck in your pet’s throat like a toy, seeds, and sometimes an abnormal type of growth can cause heavy breathing in y9our cockatiel as well as an infection.
  • Malnutrition, poor ventilation, overcrowding, and antibiotic therapy in the long term can cause heavy breathing in cockatiels as well as causing respiratory diseases.
  • An environment that is damp or has dying vegetation or with contaminated seeds will end up causing fungal growth.
  • If your pet is an indoor bird then it is receptive to toxins that are airborne like air fresheners, cleaning agents, and smoke from incense.
  • A fungal disease called aspergillus can affect your pet’s respiratory system and lungs. It is extremely infectious if your pet has a low immune system.
  • A deficiency that is known as Hypovitaminosis A can happen with a change to the respiratory epithelial tissue that will allow viruses, fungi, and bacteria to get into your pet’s body.
  • The more indoor birds that you have the greater the risk of them getting a fungal or bacterial infection in their lungs causing heavy breathing or labored breathing.

Diagnosing Respiratory Diseases

If your cockatiel is breathing heavy, has labored breathing, or has a hard time breathing then it’s time to take your feathered friend to get medical attention.

Your pet will attempt to hide the fact that it is sick simply because, in the wild, a sick bird is an easy prey for predators. Thankfully, an illness like respiratory disease can’t be hidden. It makes your bird cough, sneeze, and wheeze where you can actually hear that there is a problem.

The vet will do an examination of your cockatiel to find out why it is breathing heavy and what is causing the problem.

Normally, the vet will take a mucus lab culture to be able to diagnose the reason for the labored breathing or infection. He will question you about your pet’s diet and his environment and he will more than likely do a physical exam of your cockatiel.

He will check your pet’s air sacs looking for any inflammation. This may show that the lungs and air sacs are congested with white mucus.

Regardless of what is causing the infection, your bird needs immediate treatment for it to survive.

Treating The Infection

Your cockatiel’s survival rate is good if the infection is caught in the early stages. A bronchodilator is used to treat a bird that is in severe distress due to respiratory problems.

This works by calming the muscled that is around the bronchi which will cause the bronchi to open and allow air to pass deeper into the tissue for oxygen exchange. If your pet does not respond to this then drugs such as terbutaline will be given through a nebulizer.

If it is a bacterial infection then your vet will give your pet antibiotics to treat the problem. With the nebulizer, it administers the medication directly into your pet’s respiratory system.

Steroids, antibiotics, and antifungals will be used to test your pet all depending upon the diagnosis. The sooner you can get your bird into treatment the better chance of survival he has. Once the disease advances and progresses it gets even harder to treat.

With the disease aspergillosis, there are new developments with the medications. Lamisil is great for long-term use. It is difficult to define every treatment since there are so many different causes of respiratory problems in birds. Taking your pet to an avian vet is the best solution.

You may also read the following article:

Recovering From A Respiratory Infection

Of course, preventing the disease is definitely the best solution there is. You need to know exactly how sensitive your bird is to toxins in the air.

Make sure there is plenty of ventilation, keep the area clean, do not use strong cleaning chemicals, and do not clean with any chemicals near your bird’s living area.

Try to purchase non-toxic cleaning supplies. Don’t use spray air fresheners. Always monitor your bird’s health. Remember, diagnosing the problem early on and having long-term treatment that is effective will keep your pet healthy.

If your bird gets sick, make sure to have it in a relaxing environment so it can rest, feed your feathered friend only quality food and fresh water. This will help the treatment to be successful.

Other Symptoms To Watch For

If your bird is having respiratory problems there are other symptoms to watch for such as:

  • A gasping, clicking, or rattling sound
  • Weakness, lethargy, or fluffed up look
  • Weakened appetite
  • Coughing
  • Conversely or shallow, rapid, deep breathing
  • Bobbing its tail each time it takes a breath
  • Breathing with its mouth open
  • Heavy, labored breathing

If and when you realize that your cockatiel is breathing heavy or has breathing problems, get your bird to an avian doctor as soon as possible.


Your pet absorbs a lot more oxygen than humans do which means that anything it inhales or breaths in that is toxic, will absorb and that will cause it serious harm.

Birds also have weak immunity that allows your feathered pet to get illnesses, have them get worse, and die just within a matter of a few days, in some instances as soon as twenty-four hours after the symptoms start showing.

The best thing that you can do for your cockatiel is to never use anything that comes out of a spray can, make sure your cookware is not made with Teflon, keep them in a dry, well-ventilated area, feed them quality food, make sure they always have fresh water and do not burn anything in your home including cigarettes and incense.

Other Resources For Heavy Breathing Cockatiel

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