Animals / Birds / Health & Nutrition

Ataxia with pet birds

Ataxia with pet birds

Ataxia may be defined as the inability to coordinate the voluntary movement of muscles. Birds that are ataxic appear wobbly or clumsy and will often stand with the legs spread far apart in order to balance or hook their beak on the side of the cage. When severely ataxic, they will stumble and fall from the perch. 

Ataxia may occur due to disorders of the nervous system or musculoskeletal system. 

  • Nervous system disorders. These are often caused by damage to the spinal cord, inner ear or brain. They often result in an inability of the brain to perceive the position of the limbs, body or head in space or an inability of the brain to coordinate movement. 
  • Musculoskeletal damage. Birds with musculoskeletal damage may also appear uncoordinated, as the muscles are unable to respond properly to signals from the brain.

What to Watch For

  • Standing with the legs wide apart in an attempt to keep balance.
  • Hanging on to the cage or objects in the cage in order to remain standing on the perch.
  • Uncoordinated movements of the head, legs or wings.
  • Falling from the perch.
  • Lethargy, which appears as excessive sleepiness, ruffled feathers, tucking the head under the wing. 
  • Difficulty breathing. This includes leaning forward and stretching the neck out to breathe, open-mouthed breathing, puffing out of the cheeks with each breath. 

Your veterinarian will recommend specific diagnostic tests depending on how severely ataxic the bird is, how long the problem has been going on, and if there are other symptoms. A complete history is extremely helpful in reaching a diagnosis. Be prepared to tell your veterinarian when the problem began, if the ataxia is constant or intermittent, your birds chewing habits, the type of diet your bird is on, and of any potential exposure to other birds. Tests may include:

  • A thorough physical examination
  • Testing for heavy metal toxicity
  • A complete blood count (CBC) and serum biochemistry panel
  • Blood tests or choanal samples for Chlamydiosis (Psittacosis)
  • Radiography (X-Rays) to look for evidence of metabolic disease or spinal cord damage
  • Endoscopy to view the ears to look for inner ear infections, or abdominal cavity if evidence of metabolic disease is present.


  • Hospitalization for intravenous or subcutaneous (under the skin) fluids and injectable medications for critically ill or dehydrated birds.
  • Antibiotics or antifungal medications.
  • Medications (chelating agents) for heavy metal toxicity.
  • Vitamin or mineral supplementation.

Home Care
Ataxic birds generally suffer from serious disease and require veterinary attention. In the meantime, take the following precautions:

  • Keep your bird in a quiet environment.
  • Remove perches or swings if your bird is unable to remain perched.
  • Use shallow water dishes that your bird can easily reach.
  • Spread food out near your bird so that he can reach the food.
  • Keep the environmental temperature warm if your bird appears fluffed up.

After veterinary examination and treatment:

  • Give all medication as directed, for as long as directed, even after the symptoms appear to be gone.
  • Watch for the development of other symptoms.
  • Observe your bird closely. If improvement is not seen, call your veterinarian.


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