Candida in Birds and Holistic Therapies to Treat the Condition
Candida albicans is a yeast (similar to a fungus) that commonly grows in a bird's digestive tract. Very small numbers of Candida are probably not harmful, and may even be normal. However, if a bird becomes sick, develops a weakened immune system, is fed an inappropriate diet, or is living in substandard conditions, Candida can increase in numbers and become a real problem.
Besides reading this article, these other articles might help:
- Undecylenic Acid
- Douglas Multi-Probiotic 40 Billion
- Abscesses in Birds
- Aloe Vera Juice
Signs of a Candida Infection
There are a large number of problems Candida causes, including:
- Poor digestion of food
- Poor functioning of the intestinal immune response
- Secondary overgrowth of other microbes (usually bacteria that can cause problems on their own)
- Slowdown of crop emptying, "crop binding"
- Diseases of the mucosal lining of the proventriculus and ventriculus, which can cause enlargement of the proventriculus, passing whole seeds, abnormal feces
- Allergies to food and the environment
- Tendency towards chronic disease, weakness, and poor growth
- Decreased fertility
- Thin birds
As you can see, there are no specific signs of Candida, and a variety of other disorders can cause everything on this list.
Usually, an avian veterinarian will look for the yeast in the feces, using a Gram Stain test. If the yeasts are "budding yeast," meaning that the Candida is actively growing and dividing in the intestinal tract, the level of concern increases. Candida is not just passing through the intestines, and it is growing there. Although it is helpful to find budding yeast, the mere presence of budding yeast does not assure us that there is a chronic problem that needs vigorous therapy. Small numbers of budding yeast can easily be treated with herbs and diet changes, and are often removed by the body's own immune system.
There are times when the Candida is in low numbers in the intestinal tract, or it has become systemic, meaning it has spread to other areas of the body besides the intestinal tract. There is no accurate diagnosis for systemic Candida and the therapy is more difficult.
Birds can have severe systemic Candida infections and there will be no yeast in the intestines. Thus, not finding Candida in the droppings does not eliminate Candida. The Candida may have left the intestinal system and gone to other parts of the body. The Candida is present, but not found in the droppings.
Further, Candida can be shed intermittently, so you might miss seeing it on a Gram stain. One often must suspect the presence of Candida and treat with herbal antifungal therapies to see if the bird improves.
Making the diagnosis and treatment for Candida even more difficult is the fact that many veterinarians will mistakenly diagnose Candida when they happen to see a few Candida organisms in the droppings. Candida is very common in the environment, so birds will often ingest small numbers of the yeast, but never develop any problems due to their natural immunity. A much more thorough exam, history and other diagnostic tests are often needed to assure the doctor that Candida is indeed a problem. One really needs to demonstrate a persistently high number of yeast in repeated samples to assure the diagnosis.
The presence of Candida is always a secondary problem (a symptom of other problems); for successful therapy, look for the underlying disorder.
Simply finding a few yeasts may not even mean that there is any problem at all. As previously stated, the yeast may only be "passing through" the intestines, and the body's own defenses will eliminate the organism before it becomes a problem.
Even if there are significant numbers of yeast present, and it has been shown to be a persistent infection, Candida is almost always a secondary problem. In other words, there is some other disorder also present that is adversely affecting the bird, allowing the secondary yeast problem to flourish. Finding the primary concern is the key to getting your bird healthy.
The primary causes of Candida include:
- Inappropriate antibiotic use (oral, food-based and water-based antibiotics are indiscriminately used, as well as the frivolous use of injected antibiotics)
- Feeding commercial, "pelleted" diets as the primary source of nutrition
- Feeding diets high in sugars and simple carbohydrates
- Feeding diets that have foods that can spoil easily
- Fruits, beans and legumes
- Especially when these foods are left in the food bowls longer than two to three hours
- Crowding and stressful environments
- Including housing birds together that do not get along well
- Spoiled water
- Water bowls should be changed two to three times daily
- Water should be changed routinely after meals since birds often add food to their water bowls, which makes the water a perfect environment for microorganisms to grow
- Use of disinfectants (see our article on the use of disinfectants).
Candida is a common finding in the environment. It grows easily on food, food preparation areas, and is even carried to our birds by our hands. A few yeast found in the droppings one week can often be gone the next. Do not worry about these low levels of Candida in the environment or the bird. It is normal, and trying to remove them by using disinfectants will only worsen the problem. You may eliminate the yeast but will often reduce the number of beneficial microorganisms in the environment.
Simply stated, all birds will ingest a few Candida organisms from time to time, and eliminate them when the bird's immune system works. Treating this innocuous yeast by using antifungal drugs is not necessary and usually leads to worse problems down the road.
Ultimately, we make the diagnosis based on a common theme of chronic symptoms, possible poor hygiene or diet, and we perform several gram stains. Even if there is no yeast in the droppings, the combination of the above symptoms might mean that an occult or hidden infection is present. Then we can start doing the program of Candida elimination discussed below.
Where to Begin
First, try to decide if the infection is confined to the digestive tract or has become systemic. By systemic, we mean that the organism has passed through the intestinal lining and spread throughout the body. This will require a consult with a competent avian doctor, hopefully, one with knowledge of complementary therapies. In general, the continual presence of Candida in Gram stains and symptoms of chronic disease should lead the doctor to suspect systemic Candida.
Then, follow our four-step program to eliminate the Candida. Candida is tough to eliminate once it has become systemic, so a persistent and effective therapeutic program should be used.
Some Words of Caution
Do not "prophylactically" medicate for Candida using Western pharmaceuticals such as nystatin and ketaconazole. This rarely works, when not used as a part of a comprehensive plan to treat your bird, and usually worsens the problem for several reasons:
- NO Western drug will ever eliminate fungal and yeast infections, including Candida (note the lack of success in "eliminating" athlete's foot, for example). Fungal and yeast infections require a multiple approaches including immune stimulation
- These pharmaceuticals are toxic, always, and should only be used with extreme care (they often produce damage to the liver)
- Candida easily becomes resistant to Western drugs, making therapy even harder
Also, do not use disinfectants as part of your routine cleaning practices:
- They do not work to eliminate infections
- Even in hospitals, where the strongest disinfectants are routinely used; nosocomial ("hospital caused") infections involving highly resistant bacteria routinely infect patients during their stay at the hospital
- These hospital caused infections are at an all-time high. Hospitals are finding that they are breeding "super germs" that are resistant to effective therapies
- Disinfectants leave toxic residues behind
- Disinfectants are, themselves, poisons and can, over time, injure your bird(s)
Don't use disinfectant hand soaps, either. They produce the same problems, and they do not kill any Candida. Even the conservative American Medical Association (AMA) recently recommended against the routine use of disinfectant hand soaps.
Do not routinely use antifungal therapy while using antibiotics.
- It is not needed when antibiotics are appropriately employed, especially when they are given by injection
- They rarely work to eliminate the secondary yeast or fungal infection
- Most concerning is that these antifungal drugs help produce dysbiosis (the permanent alteration to an abnormal and dangerous intestinal microflora). Why? There are beneficial bacteria that are being eliminated by the antibiotic and with the use of antifungal drugs
- The beneficial yeast are also eliminated, leaving no beneficial organisms behind, just the disease-causing ones
Four Steps to Eliminating Candida from the Bird
ONE: Reduce The Numbers Of Intestinal and Systemic Candida
- Consider using pharmacological antifungals, but only in the worst cases
- In mild or earlier cases, always use diet modification and natural remedies
- In severe cases, one or more of these drugs may be needed. However, in our opinion, some doctors commonly overprescribe them:
- Nystatin is only effective on contact with yeast. It is very safe, as it never crosses into the bloodstream, and cannot hurt any body organs or cells. It is not especially effective because of the need for it to come in direct contact with the yeast.
- Under a doctor's advice, it may be the drug of choice in certain situations, especially when systemic Candida is not a problem
- Ketaconazole is poorly distributed throughout the body, as it requires a very acidic environment for its absorption through the intestinal tract
- It can cause problems with liver toxicity as well. It is less expensive than other antifungal drugs and will help in some cases
- The need for long term therapy to eliminate chronic Candida combined with ketaconazole's toxicity makes it a poor choice for systemic or chronic Candida therapy.
- Itraconazole also requires an acidic environment of the intestines for absorption but is better absorbed than ketaconazole. Absorption is improved by feeding a fatty meal (e.g., Sunflower or Safflower seeds and various nuts) at the time of administration.
- Itraconazole may cause anemia and decreased white blood cell counts, loss of appetite, and liver disease.
- It is certainly safer than ketaconazole
- Other Pharmaceutical Antifungals
- There are several other antifungal drugs, but they are either not widely available, extremely expensive, more toxic than Itraconazole, or less effective.
TWO: Use Herbals and Nutraceuticals To Strengthen Immunity
Whether the bird is on antibiotics or antifungal therapy or not, if you have a sick bird, you should treat with products that enhance immunity. Unfortunately, there are no products that work in all situations for all birds. The immune booster must be targeted at the specific area of the immune system that needs support. General "immune boosters" rarely work, and there are no "magic bullets" or "miracle remedies". The most appropriate therapy is available only from a qualified veterinarian that is also informed on the use of nutraceutical and herbal medicine.
However, there are some general products one can consider:
- Aloe Vera - Aloe is considered a tonic, a moistening agent, an anti-yeast and antifungal agent, and has reasonable immune-boosting properties. See the article on Aloe Vera, to read the information on its use. (If you are having trouble finding information on this site, remember that there is a search engine at the top of most of the pages of this web site.)
- Six-Flavor Tea drink (a Chinese herbal combination, also called Rehmannia Six
- Larch Arabanogalactans or perhaps Medicinal Mushrooms can both boost immunity
THREE: Use Antifungal nutraceuticals and herbs
There are a number of nutraceuticals and herbs that have antifungal and anti-yeast properties. These include:
- Undecylenic acid
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Pau d'Arco (Lapacho colorado)
- Cat's Claw (Uncaria tomentosa)
- Douglas Multi-Probiotic 40 Billion
- Aloe Vera - 2 drops of the juice for each 100 grams of body weight twice daily. Aloe is not only an immune booster, but it has been shown to inhibit the growth of yeast. Read more about aloe vera.
• 1-2 tablespoons in 6 ounces of drinking water (honey can be added for flavoring)
• See the information on Phone Consults by calling us at (303) 702-1986
FOUR: Modify The Diet
Diets high in carbohydrates promote the growth of Candida. This is particularly true with simple carbohydrates, including sugars. Many commercial or "pelleted" diets for birds have simple sugars. They are processed under high temperatures, which break down complex carbohydrate bonds, making the sugars more available to Candida. They also simply add sugars to enhance taste, again enhancing Candida growth. So, if you feed a pelleted diet to your bird with Candida, examine the label closely for sugars. Even if there is none added, it is best to eliminate the formulated diet until the Candida is cleared up. Alternately, one could feed a few pellets (not more than 10% of the total diet).
Next, feed whole grains and seeds. Whole seeds and grain mixes are a natural part of the parrot diet. Feeding 30-50% of the diet daily as seeds and grains are healthy for your bird, and Candida will not be "fed" by this diet.
Feed raw vegetables to make up 30% of the diet. Most birds will accept finely chopped carrots and broccoli. Leafy green vegetables will benefit the bird as well. All of these products are high in antioxidants and do not promote the growth of Candida.
Remove all "soft foods" from the cage within two hours of feeding them. This will minimize any reintroduction of Candida into the diet.
Feed very few fruits. Fruits are healthy, but if there is a problem with Candida, they will enhance its growth.
Don't feed cooked beans, legumes, or pasta. Rice seems to be much less of a problem.
Don't feed "table food", especially if it has been cooked and contains high carbohydrates.
Don't feed cookies, crackers, or breads. That includes the recipes for "birdie breads" which usually start out by recommending a commercial bread or muffin mix that is filled with harmful ingredients.