Budgie is lethargic and seems to be unbalanced or in pain when moving, but he eats very well and preens

Oct 11, 2021
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Hello and thank you! I've posted this story on a couple of forums, but it can't hurt to get some more opinions.

I own four budgies. The youngest, an 7-8 month old boy named Napoleon, started showing worrying symptoms on the evening September 30. That day remains the worst in this whole ordeal, as he was extremely lethargic and barely interested in anything. Unfortunately it was too late to call my usual avian vet. October 1 morning, he was a bit more energetic, but still very lethargic and stumbling a bit when he moved. Seeing that, I called my avian vet but was informed they didn't have any appointment that day (a Friday) and that I should call Monday early to see if they had any appointments. The weekend saw Napoleon mostly the same, but come Monday my usual vet still didn't have any appointment for that week at all. So I called every vet clinic in my area to see if I could find anyone to treat Napoleon. Everywhere that had an avian vet, didn't have any appointments, and the rest of the places I called didn't treat birds at all. I was finally able to find a relatively nearby vet clinic. I asked if they had an avian vet, the secretary said yes and gave me an appointment for later that day (Monday, October 4).

Napoleon seemed a bit more alert in the carrier. The vet examined his lungs and heart, and said these were fine, but did no other tests. The vet recommended https://www.amazon.com/Lafebers-Avi-Era-Powdered-Bird-Vitamin/dp/B00025YUZO/ Lafeber's Avi-Era Powdered Bird Vitamin 1.25 oz and said that because budgies were so delicate, even a change in weather might cause them to feel ill. I asked the vet if there wouldn't be any problem with the vitamin powder since I feed them Roudybush and Roudybush claims you shouldn't add supplements, but worryingly for an avian vet, she didn't recognize the Roudybush brand. On the recommendation of forum members in other places I've posted, I also bought a probiotic. While I am worried about giving them too much vitamins, I've been using the vitamin powder since Oct. 6 when it arrived in the mail and a probiotic since it arrived Oct. 7. I'm hoping that short term, there shouldn't be an issue with vitamin toxicity. Unfortunately none of these seemed to do much to help Napoleon, which is why I called today, first to my usual vet to see if I could get an appointment there and again no luck, and then to the vet we saw on Oct. 4, where I was able to get an appointment for tomorrow afternoon.

Throughout these couple weeks, Napoleon has been just very lethargic. He sleeps all day, except when he wakes up to eat. That has been giving me the most hope. He's always had the best appetite of my four budgies, and he continues to eat more than them. I watch him a lot while he eats and he doesn't seem to picking at the food, he looks just like my other budgies when they eat. One thing that's sure to wake him up is when I change their food or clip vegetables to the cage. But he is currently extremely unbalanced. When I took him to the vet Oct. 4, it was occasional stumbling. And over the weekend, he really can't move or walk at all without . . . pain? Weakness? I'm not sure. The problem seems to be specifically in his feet and legs, as he seems to have no problem at all flying. Whenever he moves with his feet, he often stumbles, so he tries to stay still. Still he tries to preen, even if doing so often causes him to lose balance. He isn't showing much interest in toys but he does try to climb to the highest perches and swings. I've tried to check his feet by watching him (I don't want to stress him out by grabbing him to look more closely, especially when he's definitely going to be stressed at the vet tomorrow). I can't see the white lumps that often accompany gout. I also can't see the sores that would indicate bumblefoot, and his cage has always had a variety of natural perches.

But what confuses me is that besides the lethargy and extreme discomfort in the legs, he's not showing other signs of illness. No discharge from the cere, no sneezing, the vent is clean, the poop is normal. His feathers are nice and vibrant. There is some tail bobbing, as you can see in the video.

In terms of diet, all my budgies eat Roudybush Daily Maintenance Crumbles, mixed with some Zupreem Pure Fun. I also give them vegetables, typically rotating between carrots, broccoli, cilantro, bell peppers, and more rarely lettuce and cabbage (less for the nutritional value and more so for the variety). They've never liked fruits much, but I haven't insisted much with fruits given the higher sugar content.

I would also give them a little millet (Kaytee) every day, but I stopped Saturday Oct. 2. I had seen two of my older budgies, on separate occasions, spit up after eating millet from one specific bag, so seeing that and Napoleon's health problems, I threw out the bag. I'm not going to be giving them more Kaytee millet after reading a lot of negative information about the brand online.

In any case, I would really appreciate any advice or insight. Tomorrow we're off to the vet and I hope we can get to the bottom of what's hurting his legs.

 
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Tikitiel

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I dont have any experience in what you have mentiones
i just wanted to comfort you and say that you are doing great!
you might still want to keep him a bit warm
its an amazing sign he is eating but are you sure of it? some birds play in their food and we think they are eating
the only way t know for sure is to weigh them using a gram kitchen scale you can try to compare them with your other budgies
none the less you are doing great
keep us posted!
 
OP
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Thank you very much. I don't have a gram scale, but that's a great suggestion and I'll be sure to get one. In the meantime, I'll ask the vet to weigh him again tomorrow. He was 33 grams last week at the vet, so pretty normal for a budgie.
 
OP
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We just got back from the vet clinic. It wasn't really a productive visit. I explained Napoleon's symptoms, but the vet didn't know what the problem could be. She said they could do a fecal test, but said she wasn't comfortable doing a blood test on such a small bird. With a larger bird, she would be willing to try an injection, but with a budgie she was concerned it might hurt him. In fact, she said Napoleon looked so stressed she didn't want to touch him at all for the examination for fear of causing him more stress and possibly harming him. Instead she said we try giving him Baytril for a week, but she said she had to go check what was the correct dosage for a budgie. The vet actually recommended we take him to a different vet she said she had worked with, which turned out to be the younger vet who works at the usual vet clinic I go to. So I called my usual clinic, and the first appointment they had available was for Friday Oct. 22, so that's when we'll be going.

I think his feet and legs look fine, but something has to be bothering him.

Should I give him the Baytril? There's a dropper that has measurements starting at 0.1 and ending at 1, where it says ml/cc. The instructions are to give Napoleon 0.01 every day for ten days. Does this sound okay?
 
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Kitekeeper

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Welcome hablandodebudgies!

First thank you for the careful taken video, it helped a lot to see what you are seeing. Also congratulations for the well prepared environment for your budgies, top notch.

I watched the video three times carefully. It is my impression that Napoleon has some sort of movement limitation on its legs. It looks like the legs can´t move up or have little side movement. Have you ever see Napoleon scratch its head with the feet, like a dog would scratch its ear? In the very beginning of the first video, I had the impression that Napoleon was about to do that but could not and thus lost its balance.

The movement limitation might be some sort of problem in the hip, explaining why he bobs a lot.

Recently I adopted a female budgie that was in need of a new home. When she arrived I could observe that she is a case of mild splayed legs. She behaved a lot like Napoleon with little to zero confidence in her ability to balance on the perch and used her wings a lot to recover balance. After a couple of weeks here, receiving a lot of Calcium to eat and sun bathes she improved greatly. The problem however never disappeared and it seems she might need a much more frequent exposure to sun light than other birds.

Please keep us posted, I hope you can find out how to help Napoleon.
 
OP
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Thank you very much for all your help! Something is definitely bothering him with his legs. Yes, I've seen him scratch his head with his leg. I was watching him after reading this comment and I've seen him scratch his head with his right leg. I saw him try with his left leg but not be able to, though I don't know if he's been able to scratch his head with left leg. He may have. There have definitely been times when he tries to scratch his head and loses his balance. The poor little guy can't really do anything without eventually losing his balance, but God bless him, he keeps trying to do normal things like preen and go to the highest perches.

In your experience with the female budgie you adopted, was she lethargic? Did she have interest in toys? Right now Napoleon has a lot of interest in food, which gives me hope that he hasn't lost his appetite, but he spends all day sleeping when not eating and doesn't show much interest in the other budgies and toys. Like I said, he does try to climb to high perches and swings, so there's some interest there. Before this problem started end of September, he was generally playful with the other budgies and with the toys.

I've always had two cuttlebones in the cage with him, though recently one of my female budgies had eaten a lot of the cuttlebone, so it's something I need to replace very soon. His pellets contain calcium and he eats very well.

A relative mentioned he might have fallen at night and hurt himself. I certainly haven't seen him fall, but I wonder if a fall could cause these symptoms.
 

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We just got back from the vet clinic. It wasn't really a productive visit. I explained Napoleon's symptoms, but the vet didn't know what the problem could be. She said they could do a fecal test, but said she wasn't comfortable doing a blood test on such a small bird. With a larger bird, she would be willing to try an injection, but with a budgie she was concerned it might hurt him. In fact, she said Napoleon looked so stressed she didn't want to touch him at all for the examination for fear of causing him more stress and possibly harming him. Instead she said we try giving him Baytril for a week, but she said she had to go check what was the correct dosage for a budgie. The vet actually recommended we take him to a different vet she said she had worked with, which turned out to be the younger vet who works at the usual vet clinic I go to. So I called my usual clinic, and the first appointment they had available was for Friday Oct. 22, so that's when we'll be going.

In the meantime, I was able to get a video of Napoleon's legs and feet while he was in the carrier.
I think his feet and legs look fine, but something has to be bothering him.

Should I give him the Baytril? There's a dropper that has measurements starting at 0.1 and ending at 1, where it says ml/cc. The instructions are to give Napoleon 0.01 every day for ten days. Does this sound okay?
Your vet is right in this case - budgies are so tiny, and it's hard to give a right diagnosis, they are such little fragile creatures that even added stress could be the end of them, however they should be grabbed and examined at least shortly. To get blood tests often avian vets will have to sedate them (tiny birds) in order to get some blood, even our vet. The vet who took blood samples from our senegal did without any issue (and with no sedation) with her because a) Aina the sennie was completely calm as she was trained for vet visits and b) she is much much much larger than a budgie. The vet also didn't really want to sedate to take out blood samples from my tiny little conure Pascal, as he's really off hands, and none of us wanted to sedate him now. We agreed for the great check up next year after his improved diet.
Our budgie Csilli had some leg issues, and the vet couldn't even make xrays with her because - she's just so tiny, and again sedation would be a must. All he could do at that point is give pain killers and antiinflamation medicine (which helped her in the end), so I do suggest to administer the medicine your vet gave you. Also getting a second opinion is never a bad idea.

Regarding your care for the little Napoleon is really admiring. I'm also bit baffled that an avian vet never heard of Roudybush. While it's good you have them on pellets, very often pure pelleted diet for tiny birds such as budgies is not good, I highly suggest offering them a canary seed mix as well (like, mid day for example). For some reasons, small birds don't do well on purely pelleted diet (not mentioning veggies now).
See if a flat perch could help little Napoleon, if he'd prefer sitting on a flat surface.

I wish the best for you, Napoleon and rest of the budgies there!
 

Kitekeeper

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In your experience with the female budgie you adopted, was she lethargic? Did she have interest in toys?
Yes she was and had not interest in toys. I guess she did not feel confident to move around, so she chose to sleep. Now she is a lot better! Fresh vegetables, calcium, sun and rest, worked wonderfully for her.

Excellent post Skarila!

Great idea on the flat perch, maybe more than one in different heights would be best.
 
OP
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I'm so glad your budgie improved so much! And that does sound a lot like Napoleon. This gives a lot of hope for him. I managed to get the appointment at my usual vet moved up for tomorrow morning, so hopefully I'll find out exactly what is bothering him. I'm definitely trying the flat perches, that would probably make him much more comfortable.
 

Laurasea

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Weakness can look like leg issues. This looks like a sick budgie to me.

Doxycline is a better choice in my opinion. Often again vets prescribe the antibiotics that yours did as it is a broad spectrum, but it is a strong one..and can lead to secondary yeast overgrowth. Doxycline is much rarer to lead to ye as t overgrowth. And also covers many things especially a common infection called chlamydia. And can be given as a powder mixed in water.

If this was my budgie, I'd move to his own cage, but push the Cage up next to tge other burds cage so he doesn't feel stress from being apart. I'd get the k and h cage Warmer panel..warmth of close to 85f is very beneficial for sick burds, and helps them save calories and recover. I'd get a digital kitchen scale, and put budgie in a clear Tupperware container after you zero it out, and weigh every morning. I'd check poop everyday. Treat as directed by veterinarian, or ask if you can have Doxycline instead.
 
OP
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Thank you for your advice, it's very useful. I'm waiting until I can talk to my usual vet before deciding on which antibiotic to give. I think the vet I visited on Monday did the most she could, but even she herself recommended that I see another vet (and by coincidence happened to mention the usual vet I go to). I've been reading about yeast infections following antibiotic treatments, though, and I was wondering. Tomorrow makes seven days I've been giving my budgies a probiotic. Would that maybe help mitigate the possibility of a yeast infection?

Edit: One question that's been on my mind since this started. Every illness or injury I read about with birds lists lethargy and lack of appetite as a possible symptom. Every time I read posts where people talk or ask about illnesses their birds have, almost always people mention sleeping all day and not wanting to eat. So that's why I've been at once hopeful because Napoleon eats so much, but also confused as to what he could have that's not affecting his appetite. Then again, loss of appetite could just be a possible or frequent symptom, not a necessary symptom.
 
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OP
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I think the appointment with our regular vet went well. He examined Napoleon in front of me. Before the vet took Napoleon out of the carrier, he noticed Napoleon was breathing hard. The vet listened to his chest, checked Napoleon's legs, weighed him, and took some samples for a fecal exam. I explained everything to the vet. I told him Napoleon had been 33 grams when he was weighed Oct. 4. The vet said Napoleon was 32 grams, but he wondered if that might be due to a difference in the scales being used. There were several poops on the paper towel I put in the bottom of the carrier, and when I told the vet Napoleon ate more than my other budgies, the vet said he believed Napoleon had to be eating and not playing with or picking at the food, because he said that a bird that wasn't eating wouldn't have pooped that many times in the short while Napoleon had been in the carrier.

He said that, if Napoleon were older, he'd be concerned about tumors, but with a younger bird infections were a more likely problem. He didn't think the wobbliness was neurological or due to a fall. The vet said he pinched Napoleon's toe while examining his feet and Napoleon immediately responded, which was a sign that the nerve there was functioning correctly. The vet said this all could be due to heavy metal toxicity, but he thought that was very unlikely in this case, or that it could be a congenital problem with the brain. The vet seemed mostly to think this was an infection. The vet said that Napoleon did seem to breathing hard when the vet listened to his chest. The vet mentioned the possibility of a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection. He thought an infection might be causing Napoleon to breathe harder. He said to try the Baytril, and if I didn't see any improvement by Tuesday, to call him. He said the clinic would call me later with the results of the fecal exam.

Today was kind of a failure to actually administer the Baytril. I was unsure about my ability to give the Baytril to Napoleon with the dropper in his beak, and even more afriad of the Baytril getting into his lungs, so I put the drop on a small piece of millet. He did eat most of the millet, but I could still see about one seed of the millet shining with Baytril. He immediately seemed to notice a difference and did not want to eat the millet with the Baytril. By the end, he was actively running from the millet, so I'm not happy about stressing him out anyway. I got him to relax a little with a piece of millet without Baytril afterwards, but I don't think it'll work to give him the Baytril on millet tomorrow. I'm still nervous, but I want the best chance of recovery for Napoleon, so I'll try to be calm and focused to give him the Baytril in his beak.

I emailed the vet to ask since I forgot to ask while I was there, but is it okay to continue the probiotic & vitamins while giving Baytril? I did tell the vet about the probiotic and vitamins early in the visit, and the vet said these were fine to give. However, when the vet much later said to give Baytril, I forgot to follow up by asking if I could continue the probiotic and vitamins with the Baytril.

All this while I've been wondering if Napoleon has been molting, whether his being unwell was caused by a particularly bad molt or whether his illness was itself causing a molt. Today I was watching him and he does seem to have some spiky feathers on his head.
 
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Laurasea

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Sounds like you have an excellent avian vet.!
I would call back and ask if you can doxycline in water instead. Budgie often have parrot fever( Chlamydia psittaci) and doxy is about the only antibiotics that works to treat it. It also is broad spectrum.
And works well when added to water and comes in a mix that can be added to water.

Burds burn 3x the calories when sick. So its great he is try to eat enough . I would offer high quality millet as its high in calories. And wonderful that you have them on pellets. Lots of fresh leafy greens too.
 
OP
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Thank you very much. Right! I'll ask about doxy.

Yesterday was a difficult day. Napoleon was just so weak and tail bobbing quite a bit. Thankfully he was still eating and even chirping. I live with my parents and they love the budgies so much. My father has owned birds before, so together we managed to give Napoleon the Baytril. Today Napoleon is still weak, but tail bobbing less.
 
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OP
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It's hard to say how Napoleon is doing. We've given him the Baytril three times now: Friday, Saturday, and today. Friday he was the worst day of all. He was eating from his food bowls, but a bit less than usual, and when I offered him millet he showed no interest in it. Saturday and today he's been eating more normally. Saturday he seemed much better, far from normal but better than Friday. He was sleeping a lot, but more energetic and more interested in everything around him. Saturday he was interested in millet and ate for a while. He even tried to climb on my hand like he used to while eating millet, but he quickly lost his balance. Today he was better than Friday, but less energetic than Saturday. I keep going back and forth. On the one hand, he's only had Baytril three times, it might not be showing the effect yet, and to the extent it might be having an effect, Napoleon is better Saturday and today than he was on Friday. On the other hand, the vet told me to call the clinic if Napoleon wasn't better by Tuesday, and while it's not Tuesday yet, Napoleon is far from his usual healthy, active, playful self. I still need to call the vet to ask about the probiotic, vitamins, and doxy anyway. But for the moment, I don't know how to analyze this weekend. My other budgies haven't been sick before (thank goodness), so I'm not sure: should I give the Baytril more time to show if it's being effective?

On a related note, I haven't been able to find a flat perch, so I bought a thick perch from a local pet store and my father sawed part of the top of the perch off and sanded it down. The perch looks really nice, with the top of the perch being half flat and half rounded. Unfortunately Napoleon was spooked when I put it in the cage. I didn't want to make him stressed, but I genuinely think this perch should be more comfortable for him. I'm hoping the stress of seeing something new in the cage won't make his condition worse.
 

Kitekeeper

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Hi,

Are you providing a heat source for Napoleon? Normal bird temperature is a little higher than ours so it is costlier for them to keep themselves warm than it is for us.

A heat source is always welcome, it should release his body to use energy to keep stable temperature and use that energy to combat an infection or any other health issue.

Just put it in the side of the cage to give Napoleon the option to approach or to distance from it.

Good luck!!
 
OP
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Thank you very much! Definitely. I have a small heater I normally use near my desk but since this started I've had it near Napoleon's cage, but to the side instead of directly at the cage to prevent overheating.

I've already emailed the vet this same video. Just in case, here's a short video of Napoleon eating some millet before I covered the cage tonight. Ever since Friday, I've been thinking his beak looks way too long. I can't believe it took me this long to notice. I've been reading that sinusitis could be a cause of overgrown beaks, which would go along with it being an infection like the vet says (would it be an infection Baytril can treat?) Then there's fatty liver disease, and Napoleon does have trouble breathing and a loss of balance, but I really hope that isn't the case. One side of his beak also seems to have a white thing? I'm not sure if it's peeling or a bit of food or what it could be.

 

LaManuka

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Thank you very much! Definitely. I have a small heater I normally use near my desk but since this started I've had it near Napoleon's cage, but to the side instead of directly at the cage to prevent overheating.

I've already emailed the vet this same video. Just in case, here's a short video of Napoleon eating some millet before I covered the cage tonight. Ever since Friday, I've been thinking his beak looks way too long. I can't believe it took me this long to notice. I've been reading that sinusitis could be a cause of overgrown beaks, which would go along with it being an infection like the vet says (would it be an infection Baytril can treat?) Then there's fatty liver disease, and Napoleon does have trouble breathing and a loss of balance, but I really hope that isn't the case. One side of his beak also seems to have a white thing? I'm not sure if it's peeling or a bit of food or what it could be.

I'm very sorry I can't be much help to you with what may be ailing sweet little Napoleon, but just wanted to say I think you are doing a tremendous job with him and that he is just gorgeous. Sending feathered hugs to you and wishing your little man a full and speedy recovery! 🙏
 

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