Birds can get Worms??

  by Susan Benning

Member - Aloha Hawaiian Parrot Association

If you thought birds only ate worms you are sadly mistaken!  I learned this the hard way. 

I am a new parrot parent and I am learning something of value almost everyday from reading countless articles on the Internet and seeing other parents in action at the Aloha Hawaiian Parrot Association monthly meetings. I figure knowledge is power and I owe that to my new feathered family.  

I gained a new-feathered baby about two months ago.  He/she is a Sun Conure and "Stymie" is the light of my life. I had read that when a bird is ill they can hide their symptoms very well and by the time you realize there is a problem, it can be too late.

One morning our day started normally -  feed the formula, play with the baby and do housework.  Stymie ate a good breakfast and acted as silly as ever.  I came downstairs about an hour later and noticed droplets of formula on the bottom of his cage.  He is a messy eater so I assumed it was just some formula that I failed to wipe off his chest.  I went about my chores and checked on him again and he seemed sluggish and sleepy .  So I took him out and gave him his blanket so he could nap, and he vomited on my shoulder.  That explains the formula in the cage.  I knew something was wrong and called Feather and Fur Animal Hospital immediately.

They told me they would work me in and to come right away.  Stymie vomited several more times on the way and really wanted to sleep.  While we were in the exam room having his vitals taken he pooped and it appeared to have angel hair pasta in it.  That’s odd, we didn’t have pasta last night!

Dr. Brian Walsh came in about that time and informed us that the problem was a roundworm.  WHAT?  I have read everything I can about parrot care and I have never seen anything about worms.  

Dr. Walsh explained that Stymie most likely had worms when we got him and that baby birds often get them from the mother.  The mother gets them from wild birds if she's housed in an outdoor aviary, or from other contact with wild birds. The mother somehow ingests an egg from the wild bird feces, the egg hatches in Mom’s intestines, develops into a round worm that lays more eggs and so on.  Mom then passes it on to the baby and the whole mess starts over again.  The roundworms are stealing all their nutrients from the host.

Dr. Walsh did lab work to confirm his suspicions and they were indeed roundworms and apparently a very serious infestation judging from the amount of eggs passed in Stymie’s feces.  There is medication to treat and kill the roundworms and eggs but it can be dangerous if the infestation is great.

These birds must pass the worms, which usually isn’t a problem if there aren't too many.  Dr. Walsh was very honest and said that we must be aware that Stymie might not be able to pass the worms because sometimes they get lodged in the intestines when there are this many.  If that happens, the bird will not survive. My husband and I decided to treat him at home and hope for the best.  

We got Stymie home and started treating him.  It usually takes a couple of days for the medication to kill the worms so we would just have to wait.  Being a mother of human children, I treated Stymie like a human baby along with the medication Dr. Walsh prescribed.  I did this on my own, using my own motherly instincts.

When my human babies were stopped up, I unstopped them.  I wanted to make it as easy as possible for Stymie to pass those worms.  I was still hand feeding formula but instead of mixing it with water I used unsweetened apple juice. I also alternated adding baby food applesauce and baby food prunes with a tiny bit of palm oil, just a drop.

His movements were very loose but not to the point of dehydration.  I fed him as often as he would eat so I could keep him hydrated.  On the third day he started passing the worms mostly one at a time but occasionally two.  The worms were approximately one inch long and the size of angel hair pasta.  This went on for two days.  I stopped counting at forty worms!  I still can’t believe he had that many worms in his intestines!

As I stated, I opted to trust my judgment and use the above-mentioned method to help my baby, but I would never have treated him without going to the veterinarian first.

Stymie has recovered and is now as silly and lovable as ever.  

What’s the moral of the story?  Always take you parrot children to the vet for check ups.  Just because they don’t exhibit any symptoms of illness doesn’t mean they are completely healthy.  And trust your instincts, but with the guidance of a good avian vet!