Cancer in Birds


The incidence of cancer in birds is somewhat high. Causes and treatment often depend on the species of bird. Birds can suffer from a variety of cancers – lymphomas, melanomas, carcinomas. Parakeets, budgies and cockatiels appear to be more prone to cancer than other species of bird.

Budgies under 5 years old can have kidney, pituitary gland and testicular cancers. A virus is suspected of being the cause. While these cancers often strike young birds, older birds are victims too.

Parakeets and finches are prone to ovarian and kidney tumors. Surgery for these conditions can be life-threatening. They are particularly risky as the birds tend to have heavy loss of blood.

Genetics and trauma are thought to be two of the culprits causing cancer. Xanthomas (yellow to orange thickened, dimpled patches of skin made up of lipids and cholesterol) develop from birds beating their wings against their cages causing trauma. This is often found in budgies, cockatiels and cockatoos. Usually breast, wing tips and thighs are affected.

Liver cancer is common in older Amazon parrots.

Fibrosarcomas (connective tissue tumors) are seen mainly on legs and wings. These tumors are likely to metastasize to lungs, liver, bones, etc. Budgerigars, cockatiels, macaws and other parrots are prone to this type of cancer.

Birds that are overweight, are fed a diet of only seed mixtures and have little exercise are more likely to get cancer.

As with all illnesses, early detection improves chances of survival. Surgery for removal of tumors is the suggested treatment. Birds adapt well to the amputation of a leg or a wing. Another option is chemotherapy which must be administered by someone knowledgeable about cancer and birds. Chemotherapy and radiation and other procedures are available, but there are limited places that offer them for birds. Veterinary universities can help with information.

You can help strengthen your bird’s immune system with proper diet, enough sleep, exercise, playtime and a stress-free environment.

NOTE: There are conflicting ideas about budgies (budgerigars) and parakeets. Some believe they are the same bird. We’ve discovered that Budgies are a species of parakeet found only in Australia. Other species of parakeet are found throughout the world. Budgies are the common pet parakeet. They have smaller beaks and are more domesticated. In the U.S. they are called parakeets.

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