All About Canaries: Diseases of a Canary

Updated on October 26, 2016

All your pets deserve the right treatment and that includes being aware of diseases that can harm your little birds. To prevent diseases you need to take time informing about them and feed and treat pets well, but it is not guaranteed that diseased will not strike.

First, you need to distinguish a healthy canary from a diseased one. A healthy canary is mobile and agile. Feathers are shiny and stick to the body. Asks for food for himself, grabs seeds quickly then instantly peels it and eats it. His eyes are bright, head is straight, and song is clear and lasts long. Belly of a healthy canary is somehow pinkish, and chest are meaty, and his feces are two-coloured: at the bottom is white and at the top is black, and also it is straight and solid.

A sick canary is not very agile, he is sad, his head is lowered and below the wings, his feathers are ruffled and wings are relaxed. His whole days he will spend on a stick and will move to and fro with his tail and wings. He will not take food, he will sleep near the food bowl, and when he takes food he is incompetent to eat the seeds. Through belly skine you can see the intestines and liver spot, his feces are not two-coloured, can be of different colours and is almost liquid.

There are three categories of canary diseases: contagious diseases, parasitic and organic.

Contagious diseases

Cholera: 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 a diarrhea and his feces smells very unpleasantly. 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 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.

Diphtheria: After contracting the virus, 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 healthy form diseased and disinfect the room.

Tuberculosis: 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 the best to destroy the diseased ones, although it is an emotionally tough assignment…

Plague: Very similar 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-concious. It is the 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. The can even get healthy again if you isolate them and treat them right.


Canary lice (louse, fleas): A canary struck with lice is quiet over 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 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 places 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.

Organic diseases

Diarrhea: 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.

Obesity in canaries: 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.

Constipation: 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.

Spasms: 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.

Pneumonia: 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, in low mood and has no appetite. You need to secure a well heated, light room full of fresh air. Food needs to be various and of high quality. Crusts around breathing holes shoul 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, brain concussion: Canaries are timorous and if they escape the cage they will hit into windows and walls, sometimes causing a 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 is out of appetite and unhappy. You should provide her 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 and after that disinfect the spot with alcohol soaked cotton wool.

Poisoning: 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 paralisis 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 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 to 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 stimulating the uterine tube. If this doesn’t help then inject 2-3 drops of olive oil into cloaca. Some breeders say that pecking apples and bacon can help!

Eye diseases: 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.

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 aid but for more serious cases you visit the vet if you feel the need. Anyhow, treat your birds well, and like all other animals they will give you back love and happiness multiplied.


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      Sunny 4 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Violeta Ogden 5 months ago

      My canari have this sm like cyst inside his skin they look like little eggs what can I do to help him?

    • profile image

      Minha 5 months ago

      My canary is always sleeping, he eats drinks and takes a bath and then goes to sleep again. Is that bad?

    • profile image

      Hamza 5 months ago

      My bird just sits in one place and only showers and eats and then goes back to this spot but does not sing.

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      Joyce Earl 10 months ago

      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

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      tom 13 months ago

      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.

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      Giselle 19 months ago

      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?

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      Helen 3 years ago

      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 profile image

      Gentle Fist 3 years ago from Serbia

      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!

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      Kathy Patterson 3 years ago

      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 profile image

      Alexa Parritt 3 years ago from London, United Kingdom

      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 profile image

      Gentle Fist 5 years ago from Serbia

      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!

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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I didn't realize that there were so many canary diseases. Thank you.

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