In caring for canaries and other birds, I have seen a number of health issues arise. Here I share what I have learned with others.
Is My Canary Sick?
Your canary deserves the right treatment, and that includes being aware of diseases that can harm your little bird. To prevent diseases, you need to take time to learn about them and feed and treat your pet well. However, even with proper care, disease may still strike your pet.
Be sure to always consult with an avian veterinarian if you suspect your canary is ill. Their professional opinion can guide you in your journey to treat your canary and help it recover. A great place to begin your search for an avian vet is through the Association of Avian Veterinarians' "Find a Vet Form."
How to Recognize Illness in Your Pet
First, you need to be able to distinguish a healthy canary from a diseased one.
A Healthy Canary . . .
- is mobile and agile.
- has feathers that are shiny and stick to the body.
- asks for food for himself.
- grabs seeds quickly, then peels and eats them.
- has bright eyes and a straight head.
- sings a clear song that lasts a while.
- has a pinkish belly and meaty chest.
- produces feces that are bi-coloured: white on the bottom and black on the top.
A Sick Canary . . .
- is not very agile.
- is sad.
- has its head lowered and below the wings.
- has ruffled feathers and relaxed wings.
- doesn't move much.
- does not take food.
- may sleep near the food bowl.
- has trouble eating seeds.
- has thin, translucent belly skin.
- produces thin, wet feces that are not bi-coloured.
Categories of Canary Disease
There are three categories of canary disease:
1. Contagious Diseases
It is the most dangerous and most widespread disease, it can be transmitted with food, clothes, shoes and such. A bacteria causes the disease. Signs: Canary loses his appetite, is thirsty, relaxes his wings and tail, has diarrhea and his feces smell very unpleasant. This disease lasts shortly, maybe for two to four days and then the canary dies. If you have more birds, you should, after diagnosing this, separate healthy from diseased ones and the deceased birds you should pour lime over cages, nests and everything else and bury deep underground, and the room should be disinfected and cleaned again.
However, cholera does not always have to be lethal: if it lasts longer, you should remove sticks from cages and put hot sand there so that the canary can lie on it. Feed him with oat porridge and let him drink chamomile tea instead of water. Treating cholera with sulponamides diluted in water can be an option, and you could also use chlorampenicol. The disease is over if the canary does not die and if he is still alive two or three weeks after the first symptoms.
After contracting the virus, the canary is tired, moves poorly, does not eat and loses weight. His beak is usually open, breathes heavily and swallows. Feces are yellowish and liquid. Treatment: there are two kinds of disease – skin diphtheria which is a pox, so you should treat scabs 2-3 times a day with glicerine and pig fat, and after they soften, with iodine tincture. Diphtheria which attacks internal organs is a bit harder to treat – there you should use a knife to remove yellow scrubs on the mouth and then spread a mixture of iodine and glicerine over it with a piece of cotton wool. Also, if you have multiple birds in a cage or room, separate the healthy from the diseased and disinfect the room.
It is not so common disease, it usually spreads with feces. Feathers are not shiny anymore, canary loses weight and his joints get swollen. It is lethal but lasts very long – two to eight months. It is best to destroy the diseased ones, although it is an emotionally tough assignment…
Similarly to cholera, 3-5 days after contraction, the disease will be visible and the canary dies after 2-4 or 6-8 days. The bird is sleepy, breathes heavily, loosens his wings and his walk is very clumsy. His eyes are closed and he is half-conscious. It is best to destroy the diseased and disinfect the cages. Although, there is a possibility for them to get well if you vaccinate them with a dead vaccine but you need to be careful. They can even get healthy again if you isolate them and treat them right.
Canary Lice (Louse, Fleas)
A canary struck with lice is quiet during the day but gets active in the night and jumps a lot. If you throw light at the cage in the middle of the night, you will be able to see these lice walking around the cage freely. You can also try to spot them if you cover the cage with a white rug and they will walk on it.
Preventing lice should be of main concern to all canary owners. They are not harmless and are very difficult to destroy once they appear. When they are spotted, instantly you should disinfect him and powder him with simple ashes from a wood. Also, canaries should be taken out of those cages and placed into clean ones, and the cages struck with lice should be sunk into boiling water with a little soda.
Etiol can be useful when wiping the cages: you can dissolute a small spoon of etiol into a few liters of water – the mixture must not be strong because it can harm the canary. Those disinfected cages can be left to dry for a few days and after that, the canaries can get back to them. The sticks should be replaced.
3. Organic Diseases
It is caused by big amounts of vegetables, fruits and rotten seeds. Canary is shivering, sitting on a stick, vomiting and if diarrhea is strong then he might die from spasms and nausea. Treatment: First of all, separate the healthy and diseased canaries, and disinfect the cages. Give them black coffee instead of water. Also, give them poppy seeds along with other healthy seeds. Do not give vegetables, fruits or eggs. If this does not help, give aureomicine and teramicine soluted in water to 0.5-1.0 % or mixed with soft food for 1-3 days.
This is the result of unhealthy food. Such canaries have a yellow layer of fat and are unhappy, clumsy and quiet. Move them to bigger cages so they could have more space and feed them with millet, French beans and parsley.
Improper nourishment causes constipation. Treat it with boiled eggs, poppy seeds and such. Instead of water, give him chamomile tea or carrot juice. If this does not help, you can give him a drop of castor oil on a cracker.
Reasons for spasms can differ – it can be fear, change of temperature, strong food or unsatisfied sex drive. Usually, a canary will get upset, shiver, and fall on the ground. However, it might not be spasm but brain damage or epilepsy and there is no help, he will die in a few days. But if spasms are in question, it can be easily treated – just put the canary in a quieter room and feed him with lighter foods and give him chamomile tea instead of water.
It is caused by cold, drinking cold water, bathing in cold water and draft but even tobacco smoke, furnace smoke and kitchen vapors can cause it. The bird is in fever, shivers sometimes, is in low mood and has no appetite. You need to secure a well-heated, well-lit room full of fresh air. Food needs to be varied and of high quality. Crusts around breathing holes should be cleaned with cotton wool soaked in chamomile tea and sometimes rubbed with olive oil. In harder cases, you can add small amounts of antibiotics and sulponamide to drinking water.
Brain Damage or Concussion
Canaries are timorous and if they escape the cage they will hit into windows and walls, sometimes causing damage to themselves – if he gets a brain concussion his feathers will bristle and beak will become blue and he will die. Nothing can help in that case.
Festering of the Sebaceous Gland
Canaries usually moult abnormally and sometimes the reason for this can be the inflammation or festering of a rump gland. These birds are out of appetite and unhappy. You should provide her with bigger cages for more movement, often bathing and feeding with many vegetables and minerals. It is recommended to extrude the fester but it should soften first. To do this properly, first you should treat the spot with warm oil and when it softens, you extrude it gently. After that, disinfect the spot with alcohol-soaked cotton wool.
Your bird can be poisoned with lead, zinc or copper, usually via metal pots for food and water, but even by pecking fresh paint on a cage, inhaling smoke and carbon monoxide, or some chemical that we use in our homes. Signs of poisoning are shivering, spasms and paralysis of wings and legs, loss of appetite, bristles feathers and general unhappiness.
Treatment of a poisoned bird: First of all, change the cage, pots for water and give the bird a drop of milk, egg white, oat porridge or mucus of linseed. After that, give him 2 drops of castor oil for discharge. It is advised to give him 2-3 drops of coffee for strengthening the heart. Repeat this process for a few days until the bird gets stronger.
Disruption in Laying Eggs
Healthy and well-fed females should have no problems with laying eggs, but sometimes they lay eggs with soft and unformed eggshells and that can be lethal if you let the bird continue breeding. First of all, you need to strengthen the food, especially the minerals in it – lime, earth, eggshells, sand can do good here. Treating this illness usually gives results. A few drops of cold water given into the beak can help stimulate the uterine tube. If this doesn’t help, inject 2-3 drops of olive oil into the cloaca. Some breeders say that pecking apples and bacon can help!
Commonly these are inflammation of an eyelid, cataract, and inflamed cornea. In any case, you need to find out the cause and then treat the bird. Inflammation can be treated by washing the eyes with chamomile tea and then use proper antibiotic on it. Keep the bird on a peaceful and quiet place.
Always Consult Your Veterinarian
All in all, there are more diseases that canary can catch but these are the most common ones and the list is pretty detailed, although the descriptions are not. I think this list can help you as a first line of defense, but for more serious cases you should visit an avian vet. Treat your birds well, and like all other animals they will give you back love and happiness multiplied.
References and Further Reading
- 3 Ways to Spot Signs of Illness in a Canary | wikiHow
If you're worried that your canary is ill, it is important to act quickly. Canaries are vulnerable to many conditions, including canary pox, air sac mites, and egg binding. Keep an eye on your canary for any changes in behavior.
- Recognizing the Signs of Illness in Pet Birds | VCA Animal Hospitals
In the wild, a bird will endeavor to uphold a strong appearance when sick. This is called, survival of the fittest. Therefore, bird owners must learn to recognize the subtle signs a bird presents when unhealthy before it is too late.
- Canaries – Common Diseases | Beauty of Birds
When buying new birds – whether it is a canary or any other bird – these are the signs we should be looking for before we spend our hard-earned money.
- Canary Lice – Prevention and Treatment | AnimalWised
It is common for canaries to be affected by lice. They are especially susceptible to parasitic infections caused by red lice, a parasite that feeds on the blood of mammals and other vertebrates, attacking weak birds first, starting with chicks.
- Canary Pox Virus (CNPV) | Beauty of Birds
The Canary Pox Virus (CNPV) can infect many species of birds, and each species of bird may have its own unique strain of the pox virus. The Canary Pox virus can also enter human cells, but it cannot survive and multiply in human cells.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Patty Jones on July 20, 2020:
I bought a canary and it doesn’t fly, just stops on the avery floor, seems healthy and eating well
Julian Schultz on August 22, 2019:
My canary suddenly died. I inspected his body. I found that his feet had dark brown like caking. No other signs revealed any symptoms of disease to reflect canary illness.
abdulsalalm on June 04, 2019:
My canary mualt
raymund-e on March 12, 2019:
My canary egg did not hatch and I remove it. I was surprise to see her with a fat belly. I think she is distress from removing the egg and maybe from the fat belly. I’m limiting her seed and will encourage her to eat more veggies. Do I need to also limit egg food? I also move her to another cage alone with out the male. I just want her to recover from nesting. Will this add to her distress? Is this a good move?
Rose on February 21, 2019:
Hi. Our male canary is about 6 years old. For the last few days his eyes look sunken and he's all puffed up. He's not moving around much. Do you know what could be wrong with him?
Leslie on January 07, 2019:
One of my Canaries has taken to sitting in his feed dish 24/7 - when I tap he flys out - but is spending all of his time in the dish for hte most part.... what can I do - what causes thsi?
abdul on April 17, 2018:
Hey, my canarylost her feathers around her neck please help me to treated it
firstname.lastname@example.org on April 16, 2018:
Hey, my canary lost his feathers around neck
Gaile Hughes on February 17, 2018:
I have just become an owner of a female and male canary, they are about six months old, and from different breeding stock. I was told that the male will sing to mate with the female, as initially l was only going to have a male, however the seller convinced me that this two together would work.
The male is smaller and quite sprightly and friendly, however the female is preventing the male from eating. When he attempts to eat the seed or milk thistle she jumps in front of him, and chirps at him. She fluffs up and ignores him most of the time other than when he tries to feed, she tends to be the more anxious of the two. If anyone could offer some advice l would appreciate it.
Sunny on July 30, 2017:
My canary is nearly 4 years old, my last one lived 9.5 years, but the problem I have with this one is to me very unusual. He sings most of the day, eat's his seeds, a tiny bit of apple and mostly chicory for veg. In the last 4 weeks he started having his pooh near the vent and have to clean it off with a cotton wool bud soaked in tepid water, What could be the cause of this? He only has a bath about once in 2 months, so I put him gently into a plant saucer with a small amount of tepid water for a few seconds, just so the pooh comes off easier. What causes the pooh not to drop down cleanly? Please help
Violeta Ogden on July 19, 2017:
My canari have this sm like cyst inside his skin they look like little eggs what can I do to help him?
Minha on July 13, 2017:
My canary is always sleeping, he eats drinks and takes a bath and then goes to sleep again. Is that bad?
Hamza on June 28, 2017:
My bird just sits in one place and only showers and eats and then goes back to this spot but does not sing.
Joyce Earl on February 13, 2017:
Thank you for so much information, this will really come in handy. I have a canary that sits on the nest all the time but doesn't lay eggs. We seen them mate a couple of times and now she sits on the nest a lot, this is going on a month and a half and no eggs. What can I do
tom on November 06, 2016:
mcock canary eats well, drinks a lot of water, looks good, sings all day and is very lively, yet has very watery droppings and he's been like this since i bought him, i've tried a few medicines but the only thing that makes his droppings normal is if i put coffee in his drinking water but as soon as i stop the coffee his droppings return to water, what is wrong with him please.
Giselle on May 09, 2016:
I noticed my female canary's stool is very light color. It still has the white tops, but it's a very pale yellow. She's eating well & looks good. She's lost some feathers at the nape of her neck, but I felt like that was normal spring molt. Please let me know if I should take her asap to the vet, or if it's ok to wait & see a change in her stool color?
Helen on December 10, 2014:
my canary has a brown line at the top of his beak, his beak looks like it is cracked. What could be wromg?
Gentle Fist (author) from Serbia on April 07, 2014:
Hi! Sorry for not answering earlier. Since I love animals as well as domestic birds so much but am not an expert in the topic (this article was just to be informative), I would not be able to give you some particular advice and would also advise you not to take anything you read on the internet for granted. It is always better to talk to the vet or somebody who is an expert or at least physically closer to you. I could not ignore your questions, but since I am not an expert I do not want anything to happen with your pet bird because of my bad advice. Thanks, and I wish you the best of luck!
Kathy Patterson on April 05, 2014:
Last summer my male canary lost all his tail feathers, they might have been pulled out by other canaries. I separated him from the others and I thought he was going to die, but he didn't. Since then, his chirp has become croaky on occasion, but not always, and his feces seem to be watery, but otherwise he has energy, he eats pretty well. He has been this way for months now. I noticed he gets croaky when his cage in near the other birds cages, so he is not near them. I have 6 birds all together.
Is there anything in particular foodwise that may help? He is about 5 years old.
Alexa Parritt from London, United Kingdom on January 24, 2014:
My canary has gone from perky and alert and singing a lot to quiet and standing on one leg a lot in the last few days. Small lesion on one toe on foot he is lifting up. He is eating and drinking ok but not quite as much maybe. I have been monitoring closely, have put heat pad under one side of cage, offered sweet potato and dry egg biscuit for bird. Both of which he has nibbled at. His droppings are a bit loose but they have been since I got him 6 weeks ago. He seems to have improved slightly since yesterday but I am wondering whether there is anything else I should do and whether it is advisable to take to vet. Do not want to out him under unnecessary stress but do not want to neglect him either. Can anyone advise?
Gentle Fist (author) from Serbia on May 04, 2012:
Yes there are, I might have missed a few more but he list is detailed. Sometimes we start wondering what kinds of things can get our pets but with the right treatment threats will be put to minimum. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on May 03, 2012:
I didn't realize that there were so many canary diseases. Thank you.