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by Diane Burroughs April 14, 2016 5 min read

Did you know that it's possible to give your bird CPR in an emergency? It seems obvious to me now in retrospect, but when I first found out that it was possible I was both surprised and a little reassured. While it's not something that I ever want to have to do, just like human first aid, it's nice to know that in an emergency, I'd be able to take care of my bird. SO LET'S GO AT IT! Just like you learn in Red Cross CPR training, you must quickly assess the following:

  • Breathing.
  • Airway.
  • Pulse.

Plan ahead on how you would do that!  Practice these steps in your head.  Again, remember your Red Cross CPR training.


Stop Look Listen

  • Is the breast or abdomen rising and calling?
  • Is anything stuck in your bird's throat? Open the beak and look! It could be a bell jinger or a toy part.  Get it out quickly!
  • Put your birds chest up to your ear and listen to BOTH sides of it's chest.  A birds heart is almost mid-line with the keel - (The bone in middle of the chest from throat to tail.)

Have you ever heard of Dr ABC? It's an acronym that will help guide you through this procedure, and applies to humans as well as birds. (D)anger: Is there any danger around your bird?  Animals still waiting to attack? A chewed up electric cord? Is the source of the injury, such as an open wire with a live current present?

Take care to make sure that you yourself are in no danger before you go to the aid of your bird. Worst case is that you may end up needing resuscitation yourself!

Also, call your vet and let them know that you have an emergency and that you need IMMEDIATE treatment.

You can also ask them for any specific advice. (This is a great scenerio where it is critical that your avian vet has personal experience and baseline health information on your bird).  As Vet's are increasingly using cloud based, digital medical records, your vet can quickly access your bird's health records.

(R)esponse: Is your bird conscious? Call out his or her name a few times, and tap lightly on the wings and feet to see if there is a reaction. If there is no reaction, then you need to move on. (A)irway: Is your birds airway clear? Gently tilt the neck back and open your birds beak. You may need to gently move the tongue out of the way with your little pinkie, and then check to make sure that there is no obstruction that could be stopping your bird from breathing. If the airway is obstructed, gently remove it and then check again for a response.

If your bird is not breathing, but still has a heart-beat, begin rescue breathing. While holding the bird’s head in one hand and supporting the body in the other, tilt the patient slightly away from you. With your head turned a quarter turn to the right or left, begin respirations. For small birds, seal your lips around the beak and nares. With large birds, seal your lips around the beak only while placing the index finger over the nares. Take a breath, and blow five quick breaths into the bird’s beak.

(B)reathing: Is your bird breathing at all? Look closely at your bird's chest and tail to see if there is movement. Birds don't have a diaphragm and use their tail muscles as an aid in breathing. If your bird is not breathing then you will have to perform CPR. If your bird is breathing, then you can be sure that his or her heart is beating as well, and should get your bird to the vet as quickly as possible. (C)ardio Pulmonary Resuscitation: Does you bird have a pulse? If you have a stethoscope use it, otherwise hold the chest of your bird to you ear and listen carefully. If you can detect no heartbeat then you need to perform CPR. HOW TO PERFORM CPR:

To start off with you will give your bird 5 rescue breaths followed by 10 chest compressions. After every 10 chest compressions you give your bird another 2 rescue breaths until your bird either regains consciousness or your vet arrives to take over.  Keep the breaths commensurate with what you envision your birds lung capacity to be.

A bird has a heart rate of around 60 beats per minute and you should try for the same number of chest compressions in a minute. Count "One-One Thousand, Two-One Thousand..." At the end of each and every minute you should pause and quickly check to see if the bird has regained consciousness, is breathing and a pulse has resumed. Once your bird has regained consciousness he or she should be transferred to a warmed travelling cage and taken to the vet immediately for further treatment.

HOW TO PERFORM A RESCUE BREATH ON YOUR BIRD: First, hold the bird in front of you with one hand supporting the body and one hand supporting the head. Tilt the head back carefully to open up the air way. Then cover your birds entire beak with your mouth (including the nares) and blow air until you see the chest cavity rise. A smaller bird will require a smaller breath and a larger bird a comparatively larger one. If the chest cavity does not rise then either the air way is not clear, you haven't tilted the head back far enough or you haven't covered the entire beak with your mouth. For larger birds you may have to use your index finger to cover the nares separately. Also, be aware that a bird that regains consciousness may well panic and attempt to bite you on the face, so keep an eye out and pull away quickly. Your bird doesn't know that you are performing CPR and will assume that you are a predator. How to perform chest compressions: Using 1 finger for smaller birds, and up to 3 fingers for larger birds such as large parrots and macaws, depress the sternum to simulate the beating of the heart, trying to maintain a rhythm of 60 heartbeats per minute. Each depression will compress the heart, moving blood around the body and distributing the oxygen that has been added to the blood by the rescue breaths you have performed. And that's it! That is the basic procedure for performing CPR on your bird.

It may sound a little silly, but buying a cheap stuffed bird toy that resembles the size of your pet bird and practicing resuscitation is a great way to embed the skills into your mind so that you don't have to try to remember everything in the actual event.

Take Aways:

  • Have your Avian Vet's day and night time emgency number on speed dial
  • Memorize BAP - Breathing - Airway - Pulse
  • Memorize Stop - Look - Listen






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