Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) is a viral infection that affects parrots and other avian species, and can significantly impact their health. Understanding the symptoms, modes of transmission, and diagnostic options is crucial for early detection and effective disease management. While treatment options for PBFD are limited, providing supportive care and addressing secondary infections can help improve the affected bird’s well-being. As it can be highly contagious to other birds, it is important to confirm a suspected diagnosis of PBFD to ensure other birds at home are safe.

In this article, we will delve into the details of this disease, and emphasise the importance of testing and provide a more nuanced perspective on the prognosis for infected birds.

Psittacine beak and feather disease

What is Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease and What Are the Symptoms?

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease is caused by a virus (Circovirus) that primarily affects fast growing cells in the body of infected birds. This typically includes cells in feather follicles, bone marrow and internal organs.

In parrots, symptoms are most commonly identified by changes to the appearance and quality of the beak and feathers. These physical changes can range from mild (change in plumage colour, quality, mild feather loss) to severe (complete feather loss, elongation and deformation of the beak, abnormal pin feathers). . In more serious cases, the immune system is severely impacted by the virus, making the bird more susceptible to secondary infections.

How is It Spread?

The virus is shed in the feather dander, faeces, oral and nasal secretions of infected birds. When these infected particles are ingested or inhaled, a bird may become infected with PBFD. Some birds that become infected with the virus can mount an immune response strong enough to fight and clear the virus. Other individuals that become infected may not be able to mount a strong enough immune response, causing ongoing infection and development of clinical signs.

It is essential to note that the virus can be highly contagious among parrots, and can be subclinical initially, so appropriate hygiene and quarantine measures should be taken when introducing new birds into a household or aviary.

Psittacine beak and feather disease
Psittacine beak and feather disease

How is It Diagnosed?

Several testing options are available for diagnosing PBFD. Typically a PCR test is performed which tells us if the virus is present or not present in the patient. While false positive results are rare, they can occur in birds which WERE infected but mounted a strong enough immune response to kill the virus – unfortunately, dead viral DNA can still result in a positive PCR test. Following this, a second test called HI/HA is recommended which tells us the strength of the patient’s immune response to the virus, and how much of the virus is present in the bird. This allows us to gain a better understanding of how the patient is coping with the infection and gives a better idea of prognosis. Timely and accurate diagnosis is crucial for effective disease management and preventing the spread of the virus.

How is This Disease Treated and Managed?

While there is currently no cure for PBFD, supportive care and treatment of secondary infections can be administered. Prompt veterinary intervention is essential to alleviate symptoms and improve the affected bird’s quality of life, as well as ensuring other birds at home are not infected. However, it is important to note that infected birds’ prognoses can vary significantly. Some birds that test positive for PBFD can lead relatively normal lives for many years, while others may succumb to the disease more rapidly.

If you suspect your parrot may have Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease, ensure that you take appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the virus within your bird population by visiting your local Unusual Pet Vets team.

Psittacine beak and feather disease