When budgies are unwell, they keep their illnesses well hidden. This is one of the reasons why many owners don’t realize there’s something wrong with their budgie until the symptoms have progressed.
Budgies cough due to respiratory infections or allergic reactions. Sometimes, budgies cough involuntarily due to choking. A budgie’s cough may sound like a chirp or a kack.
If your budgie’s cough sounds like a human cough, it’s not coughing but rather mimicking you.
What Does a Budgie Cough Sound Like?
A budgie’s respiratory system is different from the respiratory systems of humans.
Humans have diaphragms that allow us to cough forcefully to expel foreign objects. According to Medical Mycology, birds don’t have diaphragms, so they can’t produce a strong cough reflex.
While our lungs expand and deflate each time we inhale or exhale, birds use air sacs for breathing.
The larynx or voice box that helps humans produce sounds is different in birds, as they have a syrinx. The syrinx is located at the bottom of their windpipe, so their sounds come from their chest, not their throat. The human voice box is in the throat at the top of the windpipe, so it’s easy for us to produce sounds with it.
When a budgie coughs, the sound produced is different from the sounds of human coughs, and it doesn’t sound like a cough at all. The noise most budgies make when they cough sounds more like a chirp or a kack and typically involves a forward motion of the head, like head bobbing.
You may not realize that your budgie is coughing or mistake the sound for sneezing. However, when it repeatedly happens, especially within a short time frame, you’ll realize the strange sound is a cough.
Why Is My Budgie Coughing?
There are several reasons why your budgie may be coughing:
Allergies can cause coughing, sneezing, runny nose, rashes, and swollen eyes. If your budgie has started coughing, it may be due to an allergic reaction.
If this is a new development, think about any changes you’ve recently made to your home, such as bringing in a vase of flowers, a new pet, or wearing a new perfume.
Anything new can set off an allergic response in your budgie. Check for other signs of an allergic reaction to know if that’s truly what’s happening.
It’s uncommon, but budgies can choke and start coughing to expel an object.
It can also be like when you might take a drink of something that goes down the wrong way and propels you into a fit of uncontrollable coughing.
When it’s the latter, your budgie should be okay after the coughing ceases. However, if there’s an object lodged in your budgie’s throat, the situation is much more serious.
Also, if your budgie coughs after eating, it can lead to aspiration pneumonia, which happens when a budgie inhales an object or liquid into its lungs.
Your budgie may start gagging or even vomiting. Your budgie may try to use its regurgitation maneuvers to remove the object.
You can help your budgie if the choking isn’t resolving on its own. If you know your budgie is choking on a solid object like food, turn it upside down, which will help the object move in the right direction.
If your budgie is coughing and it sounds similar to a human cough, it isn’t coughing. Your budgie likely heard you coughing at some point and is now mimicking your cough.
Budgies love to mimic sounds, and while mimicking your cough may be an unsettling sound to hear at first, rest assured that there’s nothing wrong with your budgie’s health.
According to Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, “respiratory diseases are a common cause of illness and death in caged birds.”
Respiratory tract infections in budgies can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites. Here are some of the most common respiratory conditions:
Aspergillosis is a common fungal infection that can affect the respiratory tracts of budgies.
The spores of aspergillosis are often found in contaminated water, food, and nesting material, and budgies can inhale them into their lungs and air sacs.
This fungal infection usually happens in the lower respiratory tract. It affects the lungs, air sacs, trachea, syrinx, and bronchi. The infection can also spread from the respiratory tract to other organs.
The symptoms of aspergillosis include:
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty breathing
- Reduced energy
Treating aspergillosis in its early stages with antifungal medications takes time to work, but it’s usually successful. However, if the condition is left untreated, it’ll be fatal.
Air Sac Mites
Air sac mites are parasites that live in the air sacs, trachea, lungs, nasal cavities, mouth, and syrinx of budgies. Male and female mites reproduce and lay eggs within the respiratory tissues.
Their long, strong legs allow them to roam around the respiratory tissues and suck the budgie’s blood. They can be spread to other birds.
The symptoms of an air sac mite infestation include:
- Nasal discharge
- Difficulty breathing
- Head shaking
- Loss of appetite
- Secondary bacterial infection
- Inflamed trachea and lungs
Topical or oral administration of an endo/ecto insecticide should be given daily for the first few days and then weekly until the infestation is gone. The cage should also be cleaned and disinfected.
Budgies are susceptible to respiratory distress due to inhaling air-borne toxins.
Pet birds are exposed to things like household cleaners, air fresheners, heaters, second-hand cigarette smoke, perfumes, candles, fragrances, and non-stick cookware.
Overcleaning your budgie’s cage can be a negative thing because it suppresses its immune system. Birds, just like humans, need some germs to help strengthen their immunity.
Budgie Cough Treatments
A vet may recommend changing your budgie’s diet or improving hygiene management.
Sometimes, viral infections must run their course. If so, your vet may offer supportive care to make your budgie more comfortable until the infection goes away.
For bacterial infections, antibiotics and nasal flushes can be administered. For fungal infections, antifungal medications can be given.
For parasitic infections, medications will be given that kill parasites. Allergies can be treated with antihistamines and by removing the allergen (once it has been identified).