Canker & Protozoan Infection

Canker, Guardia, Cochlosomosis, Cryptosporidium, Trichomonas gallinae and Coccidiosis are all common forms of protozoan infections found in Lady Gouldians, finches and many other species of captive birds.

Have you ever lost any Lady Gouldians finches, other species of finches or small birds in the past to unknown reasons? Did they very suddenly become ill, lethargic, have puffy feathers and sleep during the day, then suddenly die within a few days? I believe we have the answers explain this!


Over the years the Lady Gouldian finch has developed a reputation as being a delicate fragile finch. We have always found this rumor conflicting as our birds are raised outdoors year round with severe seasonal weather changes yet they seem to be hearty and live long healthy lives. We have had customers ask us to sell them older breeding pairs “with them knowing” that they were over 7 years old and those birds went on to breed for years according to the feed-back we received further disproving this rumor.


It was not until we put up our website and were contacted from people all over the world with sick finches and other species of small birds I realized this was a worldwide problem with many birds kept in captivity.


I have always known that Lady Gouldian finches are very susceptible to bacterial problems in the digestive tract. This is why we developed our preventative maintenance program that our finches are on and why we do not give them any “wet foods” as explained on the essentials page and in the 12 steps to success pages.


I believe a protozoan infection called Canker is the culprit and is a wide spread infection in the captive bird and finch population worldwide today.


The Lady Gouldian finch seems to be very sensitive to this protozoan infection. Finches like the society finch, zebra finches, most exotic finches in general, canary’s, most pigeons, doves, button quail, all poultry, etc…. all have a little higher tolerance for Canker than the Lady Gouldian finch and most of them can live fairly well with it.


Once infected they are all carriers and spread it when around other bird species and can also eventually become victim’s of their own canker parasite if stressed or become sick with another “combining” diseases or illness.


Canker is a protozoan infection (single celled organism) which usually flairs up in most birds during the stress of breeding and other highly stressful conditions in a birds life. It is passed to others by the birds droppings getting into the drinking water, grit, food, etc… and by them picking at the seed on the floor of the cage or loft and finally by feeding their young offspring. There is no permanent cure that we know of but it can be kept under control with the proper medication. Canker can ultimately kill both young and adult birds, especially in combination with stress, other infections and bacteria.


Generally speaking people who breed Gouldians also like to breed other species of birds or finches. Often they are all in the same cage or loft with the Gouldians which contributes to spreading this infection or they are in separate aviaries or lofts. This can also contribute to spreading these organisms by transferring the Canker and other diseases on the bottom of the shoes when walking from one cage into the next.


Going back many years people breeding Gouldians for profit have used Society finches or Zebra finches to foster raise their baby Gouldians to increase their annual hatch ratios. As the adult Society or Zebra finches feed the baby Gouldians they are passing the canker in them on to the next generation of baby Gouldians. The babies that are medicated by the loft owners who are aware of using a preventative maintenance program for breeding or the babies who manage to survive on their own immune systems, end up passing the canker on to their offspring when they are breeding or both the babies and new adults die while attempting to breed…


I believe this has been going on for many decades further spreading this infection throughout the captive Gouldian and bird population. I also believe this is what has lead to the worldwide myth that the Lady Gouldian finch is a delicate bird and hard to breed. In my opinion this is nonsense! We have found them to be a very hearty bird, especially considering their small size and high metabolism.


Further proof of my theory: A study that was recently brought to my attention from another Gouldian breeder in Australia. This study was conducted by the University of Queensland, Australia by an Avian Veterinarian in 1997/1998.


Click Here: University of Queensland, Australia This is an article about a study conducted in random pet shops which found Canker in many species of captive finches, Lady Gouldians included.


There are a verity of birds in captivity that seem to have a strong enough immune system to handle the different strains of Canker, Gouldians however along with a few other bird species are very susceptible to this infection, especially during the breeding season. When birds infected with Canker are confronted with “other stressful conditions” in combination with the Canker infection or a secondary protozoan infection such as (Guardia, Cochlosomosis or Cryptosporidium) or another bacterial infection, air sac mites, worms, etc… death can occur quickly.


Some examples of what causes high levels of stress or sudden illness in birds infected with Canker are as follows: breeding in general, flock or group breeding, shortage of nesting boxes or nesting materials during breeding, territory issues from nesting boxes being too close to each other or over crowding, not enough cage space, dirty water, dirty food containers or dirty living conditions, moisture which causes bacterial problems, breeding with multiple species together in the same cage or introducing new birds to your flock, especially if they are “sick” without quarantining and treating them first. Any of these conditions “combined” with a Canker infection can cause sudden death in birds sensitive to this parasite.


As you can see there are many stressful conditions that can cause a flair up of Canker in what seems to be a perfectly healthy bird. Gouldians and other birds that are infected with Canker can quickly become sick or lethargic, sit on the bottom of the cage with puffed up feathers during the day (sometimes endlessly pecking at seed but not really eating) and sleeping during the day with their head tucked over their wing feathers on their back. Another sure sign is their droppings will become very runny and sometimes have a yellowish green color. If this occurs the bird will usually parish within a few short days.


So far we have had tremendous success treating most of the sick birds inquires with the medications we have suggested. Needless to say these people are all very grateful and happy to have saved their birds… We get hundreds of people calling and emailing us with thanks for saving their birds or for helping them become successful breeding Gouldians and many other birds.


There is a similar infection in birds called Coccidiosis which can be mistaken for Canker and is also caused by a parasitic organism. Coccidiosis can infect many animals and all birds. There are several types of Coccidiosis that can infect each bird. This infection spreads through the birds droppings like Canker in order to reproduce. It requires a damp, warm environment and unfortunately does well in lofts with dirt floors or potted plants which is an ideal environment for this organism. The symptoms are just like Canker in birds so if you try the Ronivet and do not get good results the problem could be Coccidiosis which requires a different medication.


We offer Coccivet, made by Vetafarm for treatment of Coccidiosis which is one of the best products available on the market to treat this infection.


Gouldians and other small finches have a very high metabolism “like a hummingbird”. Because these birds are so small it only takes a day or two for them to become very sick and die. Once they become ill with puffy feathers, start sleeping during the day and acting lethargic, time is truly of the essence!


This can be prevented however with the proper preventative maintenance program which we talk about in our “12 steps to success” and using the right medicine. There are a lot of medications available on the market for the treatment of canker however we have found Ronivet to be the safest, especially on hatchlings and baby birds during the breeding season. We do not recommend using alternative medications, of which there are many, as they can cause paralysis (twirling/vertigo) in Gouldians and even death if used incorrectly.


There are many different strengths of Ronivet (ronidazole) on the market such as Ronivet-S or Ronex none of them are strong enough to control canker in Lady Gouldians or to revive a sick bird. I believe both of these products are only about 3% to 6% ronivet (ronidazole) and they both recommend a far “lesser” dose as treatment than what we recommend.


If you use the wrong medication or mix it to strong you can paralyze your birds causing them to get what I call “vertigo” or the bird will start spinning it’s head around in circles backwards/upside-down over the top of it’s back repetitively or will fly in circles when trying to fly around the cage. The symptoms are very similar to the bird having a stroke. Over medicating can also cause death!


Therefore I highly recommend following our dose instructions carefully if you purchase your Ronivet or other products from us. More is not better as the concentration of Ronivet (ronidazole) in our medication is a much stronger percentage (12%), than you can get from most brand name products!


We purchase our Ronivet in bulk through our agricultural manufactures in a much stronger strength and break it into smaller amounts so it’s more affordable for our customers.


Chances are pretty good it would take several days for the proper medication to arrive if ordered “after” your birds are sick which would usually be too late to save a sick Gouldian or other small birds, therefore we highly recommend having the correct medication on hand, ready to be used should your birds ever need it…


Considering what you have invested in your birds or what your about to invest in them financially and “emotionally”, we feel it is a “VERY” good idea to keep a proven Canker/Guardia medication and a broad spectrum antibiotic on hand at all times ready to be used in case your birds should suddenly become ill. It’s a small price to pay for the added security and piece of mind. Your birds will appreciate it too!


We hope you have found this article helpful. Please let us know if you have any questions or comments.