Budgies are the most popular pet bird in the world, and it’s easy to see why— these Australian parrots are beautiful, funny, and clever.
Although budgies make amazing pets, they are very fragile, and it’s easy to be worried about any strange behaviors. Seeing your beloved bird with labored breathing is distressing for any owner and should always be taken seriously.
Although there are many potential causes for fast and heavy breathing, respiratory distress and overheating are the main culprits, both of which require immediate attention.
If your budgie is breathing hard, time is of the essence, and you should take steps to help your bird as soon as possible.
Continue reading to learn why your budgie might be breathing heavily and what to do.
What does abnormal breathing look like?
Healthy birds typically breathe through their nares. When a bird is especially straining to breathe, it will often pant with an open beak.
When birds breathe, their muscles expand and relax to expand their lungs when they inhale and exhale. Minute amounts of tail bobbing are normal when breathing, especially during sleep.
If a bird is having extreme difficulty breathing, its tail might bob up and down very noticeably.
If your bird is breathing this hard, it is an emergency, and it must be taken to the vet without delay.
Birds usually make little if any sound when breathing. Wheezing, crackling, or gasping is always a bad sign. Additionally, excessive sneezing and coughing are causes for concern.
Discharge from a bird’s eyes or nose is another important sign of declining health and often accompanies heavy breathing. A bird may cough up mucus if it has extreme distress.
Why is my bird breathing fast and heavily?
There are many reasons a budgie might breathe heavily, and most are causes for concern and require veterinary involvement.
They may have just exercised
The least concerning potential cause of heavy breathing is physical exertion.
In fact, it is typically a good sign if your bird has worked up a sweat, especially if they are out of shape or overweight.
Birds require physical and mental exercise for good health, and just like humans, birds will start to breathe hard after quality physical activity.
Flying and flapping especially tend to get their cardio system working, but any sort of movement can get your bird’s heart racing in a healthy way.
Speak with your vet about improving their overall health and give them proper exercise.
They may be overheated
A more distressing cause of abnormal breathing that can often be treated at home is overheating.
Leaving your bird in the sun or exposing them to a hot room is an easy mistake to make, but luckily treatment for overheating does not usually require veterinary intervention.
It is always a good idea to keep a close eye on your bird and consult a veterinarian. Read below to find out how to help your bird with this issue.
They may be stressed
As with humans, when a budgie is scared or acutely stressed, its heart will often beat faster, and it will breathe more heavily. Usually, its feathers will be pressed against its body.
Budgies are typically afraid of new things, but a wide variety of stimuli can set them off. Read below for how to help a stressed budgie.
They may have respiratory disease or allergies
An unfortunately common reason a bird will breathe hard and fast is respiratory disease or distress, which has a number of causes itself, such as infection or poor air quality.
Respiratory disease should always be taken incredibly seriously, as, by the time a bird starts showing respiratory distress, the situation is often already life-threatening for them.
More details on the causes of respiratory disease and what actions can be taken are below.
What causes respiratory distress?
All birds have sensitive lungs, but small parrots such as budgies are especially susceptible to respiratory distress.
The two major causes of respiratory disease in birds are inhaled poisons and infection.
Often environmental toxins can take their toll on a bird. Major irritants include:
- cigarette smoke
- strongly scented cleaning products
- aerosol sprays
- scented candles
- nonstick cookware
Care should be taken to never use these items, even if your bird is in another room.
Cookware and appliances coated in Teflon are especially dangerous and, if burned, can kill budgies within a matter of hours.
Budgies are exposed to a variety of germs on a regular basis in their environment.
Viruses, bacteria, fungi, and even parasites may make their way into your bird’s body through food, air, and even other animals.
Usually, your bird’s immune system does an excellent job at fighting these pathogens off and avoiding infection, but sometimes something may catch your bird off guard.
A budgie’s immune system can be easily compromised if it becomes stressed or has a poor diet.
A healthy diet is critical to maintaining a budgie’s health, and speaking with your vet about proper nutrition may help prevent future disease and improve general health.
Infections and severe allergies always require a visit to the vet for proper treatment, such as antibiotics, steroids, or even hospitalization.
Just like people, parrots may have seasonal or perennial allergies.
Seasonal allergies are typically caused by pollens and mold, and perennial allergies can be caused by dust and dander.
Budgies, cockatiels, cockatoos, and African greys produce dust, which can be another situational irritant.
To alleviate a bird’s allergies, proper hygiene and cleaning, as well as air purifiers, may help.
If your budgie’s allergies are severe enough to cause discharge, coughing, sneezing, or signs of respiratory distress, a vet visit is in order.
How to help a budgie with respiratory distress
Safely taking your bird to the vet
As mentioned above, any bird showing signs of respiratory distress should be taken to an avian vet immediately for diagnosis and treatment.
This is especially urgent if they are fluffed up, lethargic, or not eating/drinking. If a budgie’s condition is poor, too much additional stress could make them worse.
Going to the vet is stressful for any bird, so steps should be taken to make the trip as easy as possible.
Ideally, your bird has a designated carrier, but a box with punched holes and good ventilation will work if you don’t have one.
Unless the trip to the vet is exceptionally long, water should not be put in their carrier. Removing any toys or perches will help reduce stress as well.
The bottom of the enclosure should be lined with newspaper so that the veterinarian may examine their stool when you arrive.
Giving the bird a small washcloth to huddle in can also help make your bird more comfortable.
If your budgie is tame, attempt to coerce it into its carrier. If it is not tame or if attempts to lead it in fail, catch and wrap your budgie in a small towel for transportation into its carrier.
Once the most stressful part is done, be sure to keep your bird covered and avoid any noises during the trip. Quiet and dark is key to reducing stress.
What treatments will the vet give?
Once you arrive, the vet will likely perform diagnostic tests, such as a physical examination or bloodwork.
After diagnosis, your veterinarian will treat your budgie according to the specific cause, such as oral antibiotics for a bacterial infection or a steroid injection.
If your budgie’s condition is critical, there is a chance that it may have to stay at the vet overnight and receive oxygen treatment.
How to help a budgie who is overheated or stressed
Unless your bird is extremely overheated or stressed, at-home treatment will often reduce or eliminate heavy and fast breathing.
How to identify and help an overheated budgie
An overheated budgie will likely pant with its beak open. It may hold out its wings to cool itself better and will likely appear stressed.
Budgies quickly become overheated when left out in the sun, even through a window. It is important to never leave a bird in a hot car, especially for long periods of time.
Whether your bird was left out in the sun or simply in a hot environment, it should immediately be moved to a shaded, cool location.
Provide the bird with water to drink or even stand-in. Similarly, vets commonly recommend misting an overheated bird.
Be sure that the water is cool and not cold, as cold water may put your bird in shock.
Contact your vet immediately for more advice if your bird still exhibits signs of being stressed or overheated even after this treatment.
How to identify and help a stressed budgie
Identifying a stressed budgie is often a process of elimination. If your budgie is not exhibiting other signs of respiratory distress and is not in a hot environment, it may be acutely stressed.
Budgies are very sensitive to their surroundings and may become scared when exposed to loud, unusual, or high-pitched noises.
As prey animals, budgies quickly become stressed in the presence of unfamiliar objects or other birds.
New surroundings are another common source of stress. Regardless of its cause, try to identify the source of stress and remove it.
If needed, cover your budgie’s cage with a light sheet or move it slowly and carefully to a dark, quiet room.
Contact your vet if your budgie’s stress does not improve or if it begins to show other signs of illness. Prolonged stress may lead to feather picking or disease.