Air Sacculitis


David McCluggage, D.V.M., C.V.A.

A bird's respiratory system is quite different than our own. Birds have air sacs, which can be said to be storage tanks for air. The air sacs also help keep the bird's weight light, allowing them to fly more easily. When a bird inhales air, this first breath goes to the air sacs, not the lungs. With the second breath, the air from the air sacs is pushed into the lungs. Because the air first goes to the air sacs before the lungs, diseases of the respiratory system first develop within the air sac system. Any infection or inflammation of the air sacs is called "air sacculitis."

How would you know if your bird has air sacculitis? This is very hard, actually, since the disease can be quite advanced and the bird will often breathe normally. Any generalized sign of illness might be present. Abnormal breathing, including heavy breathing, accented abdominal breathing and becoming breathless with only a little exercise might indicate air sacculitis.

Ultimately, veterinary diagnostic tests are often needed to diagnose the condition. Your avian veterinarian might want to take radiographs. Blood tests should usually be done, looking for elevated white blood cell counts.

Air sacs have few blood vessels; they are essentially thin membranes. Antibiotics and other drugs move throughout the body within the blood stream. It is very hard to medicate air sac diseases with traditional western drugs. Antibiotics often don't reach the infected air sacs at high enough concentrations to be effective. Still, antibiotics do help to some extent and are often helpful for your bird. In addition, nebulization therapy (placing your bird in a chamber filled with an antibiotic mist that the bird will then breathe into the air sacs) might be recommended. The bird is usually nebulized two to three times a day for 15 minutes at a time. Nebulization is usually done in only the most severe cases.

Air sacculitis can become life threatening, so veterinary care is essential. We would recommend a visit to an avian veterinarian. To discuss your bird's problems with Dr. McCluggage, we offer a Phone Consult Service.

Air sacculitis is a good example of a disease that responds best to a combination approach of western veterinary medicine and holistic therapies. Here are some of the herbs and nutraceuticals that might benefit your bird: