Apus apus   German Association for the Protection of
  Common Swifts
NewsThe swiftFoundlingVeterinarySwift Rescue CenterAssociationHelp & DonateMiscellaneous
 deutsch español italiano français polski Veterinary  →  Infections

Infections and deficiency symptoms

There is nothing known about infectious diseases of free living swifts. However, certain disease patterns are occurring regularly on swifts in human hands which will be described in the following chapter. It is not always possible to assign the observed symptoms to a certain disease. Diagnostics and therapy in such cases are often merely empirical.

formation of an abscess on the head of a young swift. The abscess could be removed operationally. © E. Brendel


Some bird species like for example parrots, mynahs, various birds of prey and water birds are extremely susceptible to infections of the respiratory tract with aspergillosis spp. A high sensitivity to an infection by mold fungus was also observed on swifts. In particular, immuno-suppressed swifts as well as patients which get an antibiotic therapy are affected. The so far documented aspergillosis infections on swifts processed without exception hyperacutely and led often to death by suffocation a few hours after the appearance of the first symptoms. On swifts, the fungal spores appear to have a high affinity to the trachea and especially to the syrinx. An aspergillom appearing in this region may displace the trachea within hours so dramatically that rescue becomes impossible. When symptoms like a beeping dyspnea and hectic breathing with open beak occur, a medical treatment mostly comes too late. Here, one has to pay attention to the smallest warning signs: frequent panting, breathing with an open beak, increased breathing frequency without an evident reason, even the slightest wheeze. As Itraconazol, which is reliable and quickly effective, is well tolerated by swifts and has shown no adverse reactions so far, a medical treatment should be started immediately at the slightest suspicion of a beginning aspergillosis.


For some years now, a symptom complex which leads to the diagnosis of vitamin b-hypovitaminosis has been observed increasingly often on swifts in human hands. In the beginning relatively unspecific symptoms like anorexia, a transfixed gaze, then anankastic head movements, quickly increase to high-grade ataxia, torticollis and ophistotonus. Commotion and stress may activate these symptoms on swifts with an undersupply of vitamin B within a few minutes. Untreated, the convulsion develops rapidly und leads at last to death. The younger the bird, the more dramatic is the development. A nine-day old nestling was dead half an hour after the first symptoms occurred.

In the inital stage of a vitamin B-hypovitaminosis a subcotaneous application of vitamin B-complex is sufficient to make the symptoms abate within the shortest time (approximately half to one hour). If the convulsions have already proceeded, an intramuscular injection is necessary. By regular prophylactic applications of vitamin B-complex each 8 to 10 days a deficiency symptom can be prevented. An oral application, on swallows successful, is almost effectless on swifts.


convulsion caused by lack of B vitamin © C. Haupt

Gastro-intestinal infections
Not closer specified gastro-intestinal infections occur on swifts which after a long period of starving get into human hands where they are fed immediately too copiously. Within the shortest period of time it comes to a middle- to high-grade disturbed general condition and a pasty, stinky diarrhea. In case of a mild process the oral application of ampicillin ("Ampitab") over 2 to 3 days is necessary. Ampicillin has a purely local effect on the bowel, not a systemic one. Thus a simultaneous prophylactic application of an antimycoticum in this case is not necessary. Additionally, a preparation which supports the physiological gut flora, for example "Bene-Bac" should be applied. The feeding of a highly emaciated swift should be carried out very carefully and cautiously and be supported by infusions with roborantia, not only to avoid gastro-intestinal infections but also a perilous overload of the stomach. If it comes to an explosive reproduction of gastro-pathogenic germs, like e.g. an e-coli-infection, it may be necessary to apply a systemic antibiotic. Enroflaxin (“Baytril”) or amoxicillin/clavulan acid (“Augmentan”) have proved themselves in some cases. A therapy after a cloaca smear and antibiogram is advisable.



Pododermatitis ("Bumble Foot")
Plantar abscesses which are feared by bird of pray-owners and also known in pet birds’ medicine (e.g. in budgies and cockatiels) occur casually in swifts with different progressive forms. Especially two forms were observed:


1) Especially in malnourished juvenile swifts purulent swellings on the sole of one foot or both feet and also swellings on the toes have sometimes been observed. When the abscesses where opened surgically a great amount of hart white crumbly pus could be dispelled. Caused by the mechanical pressure of the suppurative focuses on the surrounding soft part tissue and the sinews it presumably comes to a circulus viciosus. The infection keeps itself going and worsens more and more. An effective decontamination was in no case successful, as not each suppurative focus could be removed from sinewy structure of the foot, neither by dispelling nor by flushing. Also conservative medical treatment with antibiotic bandages (e.g. chloramphenicol, tetracyclin) in cases where it did not yet come to the inclusion of pus, mostly did not succeed.


2) The second form of pododermatitis became manifest in diffuse soft-part swellings, especially in adult swifts. Coherence with a prior malnutrition could in these cases not be observed. Even adult birds which where admitted without any prior manipulation where affected. It is not known whether it is a matter of inflammatory or oedematous swellings. These swellings occur on claws, soles and are spreading over the whole tarsometatarsus. Finally, it comes to a formation of monstrous "paws" and secondarily to injuries through the own claws and subsequent heavy bacterial infections. If swifts which also need a long-term inpatient stay are affected, euthanasia is in the worst case the only remaining treatment. If the "bumble foot" is only slightly formed and the swift can be set free within a short period of time, one should let it fly also with swollen feet (but it must not be ringed!). Under natural conditions (when flying) the feet of a swift are little encumbered. The normal movement may also conduce to the resorption of incorporated tissue liquid. Healing can rather be expected when the birds are set free than with further therapy efforts in human hands.


Pharyngial infections
The throat of a free living swift is normally sterile. All infections of the pharyngial and gullet mucosa noticed up to now were multifactorial diseases which occurred in captivity, abetted amongst others by insufficient hygiene, a weakened immune system, undersupply of vitamins, too dry mucous membranes and stress.


The most common form is a smear infection with Candida Albicans. Infected animals show mucous whitish coverings on the pharynx and sweetish foetor ex ore. Without medical treatment these pharyngial plaque may grow to thick brownish incrustations which in the worst case even hinder the bird in swallowing and breathing. Up to now, in pharyngial smears of infected swifts only Candida Albicans was detected. Yeasts of different genera and species did not occur. Infections with Candida Albicans should be treated immediately as they have often been observed as a pre-stage of high-grade bacterial pharyngial infections. Not rarely, pathogenic germs like Klebsiella spp, Proteus spp and Pseudomonas aeruginosa were detected in bacterial examinations. For a successful medical treatment an antibiogram is essential. Nevertheless, such pharyngial infections often turned out to be therapy-resistant, and due to their dramatic peracute progress, euthanasia of the diseased swift was often necessary


Additionally, a lack of vitamin A which often occurs during a long-term captivity, as well as too dry mucous membranes forward pharingial infections as it comes to micro-lesions in the mucous membrane and thus constitute an entry port for pathogenic germs.

ill young swift. Pharyngial infection, damage of the primary plumage © E. Brendel

Buchenstraße 9
D-65933 Frankfurt

Tel.:+49(69)35 35 15 04
We accept only swifts! Questions regarding other bird species will not be answered!
Information regarding other bird species: http://www.wildvogelhilfe.org/
Start  ·  Flag  ·  Directions  ·  Sitemap ·  deutsch español italiano français polski