Inhaled toxins:
Birds are highly sensitive to toxins in the air.  Many products which are safe for people to breathe can kill a bird in seconds.  A partial list of toxic products that should not be used around birds:  any aerosol sprays, including air fresheners, hair spray, etc; non-stick cookware or any other object with a non-stick coating like ironing board covers and self-cleaning ovens; cleaning products, including fabric fresheners, bleach, and other sprays that can be toxic when still wet; cigarette smoke in large quantities; insecticides and pesticides;  If your pet seems to be breathing abnormally, always think of whether any substance in the air could be causing the problem, and remove your bird to a safe location with fresh air.  Unfortunately, it may be impossible to save a bird that is poisoned in this manner, but always call immediately for veterinary advice. 

Abdominal Swelling:
A variety of abdominal disorders can cause the bird to have difficulty breathing.  Tumors, egg-binding, or fluid accumulation can all cause pressure on the air sacs and lungs, resulting in rapid shallow breathing.  It is good to become familiar with your bird's normal anatomy so that you can recognize the appearance and feel of a swollen abdomen.  All of these conditions should be treated as rapidly as possible.  It is important not to cause the bird additional stress by handling it too much.  For swelling caused by problems other than an egg, leave the bird in the cage and contact a veterinarian as soon as possible.  For suspected egg binding, see the "Egg Laying".

Respiratory Infections:
Bacterial infections in the sinuses are extremely common.  Mild infections may cause repeated sneezing, redness of the nostrils, or mucus discharge that stains the feathers just above the nostrils.  More serious infections may cause tail bobbing, congestion, and plugged nostrils.  Long term infections may result in permanantly deformed or obstructed nostrils, requiring the bird to breathe thru the mouth, or swelling on the face or around the eyes due to pressure in the sinuses.  Although pet birds will not catch our cold and flu viruses, they can get bacteria from humans even when we are healthy, because our normal germs are much different from theirs.  Kissing your bird or sharing food with it can lead to illness.  If your bird is showing any symptoms of repeated sneezing, mucus from the nostils, swelling around the eyes, or making noises when breathing, call your veterinarian for an appointment.  Over the counter antibiotics from a pet store are usually not effective for clearing up these infections.

Choking on Food:
Unfortunately, many small birds can easily choke on the seeds they eat which are about the same size as their trachea or windpipe.  Larger birds may get a piece of nut or other food caught in the throat.  Do not attempt to do any sort of rescue method like a Heimlich manuever if the bird is able to breathe at least a little.  Get emergency help from an experienced veterinarian.  Do not stress the bird by holding it if it is not wanting attention.  Leave it sitting in the cage while you locate help, and transport it as calmly as possble.  If the bird chokes and cannot breathe at all, you can try hoding it upside down and pumping on the chest, but it is likely that there will be no way to save it.
Updated On: 10/15/2007
How to help a bird at home with breathing problems
and when to call your veterinarian.
Burge Bird Services
Julie Burge, DVM
13833 S. 71 Hwy
Grandview, MO  64030
(816) 356-4700