signs a bird is in pain

How To Tell If Your Bird Is In Pain And What To Do About It

Your bird can feel pain just like you do.  Bird’s might experience pain due to an injury, an illness, or due to chronic health issues.  A bird's pain can range from mild discomfort to  a debilitating level of pain. 
7 Reasons Why Is Your Parrot Is So Itchy Reading How To Tell If Your Bird Is In Pain And What To Do About It 19 minutes Next New Year's Resolutions For You AND Your Pet Bird

Revised November 8, 2023

Do birds suffer pain?

What exactly is pain? It is a really uncomfortable feeling that let's an individual know that something is wrong and that it's time to start taking better care of itself.  "Pain serves a protective function by warning the animal of real or impending tissue damage" (Miesle, unknown date).

Every person who was in the hospital once knows how to rate and describe their pain, so your doctor can get a better sense of what it is they are trying to treat. As humans, we recognize classic signs of pain like persistent vs intermittent, throbbing/stinging, burning sensations, pinched nerves, or any number of others.

There’s no secret that many people describe pain as “one of the most uncomfortable experiences you could have” (Mellor & Bayvel, 2011). Pain has both physical and emotional consequences. This goes for our pets too.

Your bird may experience pain the same way you do. Birds may experience pain from an injury, illness or chronic health condition. A bird’s pain may range from mild discomfort to debilitating levels of pain.

What are the signs of bird in pain?

Birds are pretty delicate and can really go off the rails quite quickly. As your bird’s caregiver, your pet depends on you to look after them when they’re not feeling well. Usually, birds won’t even appear sick or in pain until their illness is at its final stages.

Controlling parrot pain is an important part of responsible bird ownership, according to the Richard M. Shubolt Veterinary School at USC Davis. One of the root causes of difficult behaviors in our pets, such as picking up feathers, screaming, aggressive behavior and high levels of anxiety, is pain. Preventing pain and controlling pain are key components to controllable parrot behaviour.

A closer look at the picture. Birds have a tendency to stop eating when they’re not feeling well.  Birds are seriously fragile. They have such high metabolisms and digest their food super quickly. That means one bird can go downhill really fast, before you even realize it is sick. And the smaller the bird, the quicker health declines.

signs of a sick bird

A second issue with bird pain is that many painkillers have not been thoroughly tested on birds. And due to the high mortality rates among birds, vets are wary of prescribing any drug without FDA approval for use in birds. To add insult to injury, birds tend to be sensitive to more “aggressive” treatments like cancer care.

Bird pain management is a really important part of bird care. Get into the habit of checking on your birds subtle cues that indicate it's not feeling well each and every day.

I don't mean to be too sad, but I've already established how a bird can go from seemingly normal, healthy behavior to death in just hours. This makes it especially important for pet bird owners to be able to discern the subtle cues of

  • Pain
  • injury
  • Illness
  • Shock

Being in extreme, or chronic, pain is stressful, and it can put a bird into shock. However, since birds are known to cover up their symptom of pain and act like all is well, you could fall behind the eight ball if you don't know how to read the cues. It has been proven that managing bird pain accelerates recovery. (J. Paul-Murphy)

While it’s a little grim to think about, knowing the top 10 killers for pet birds can help you plan your prevention strategy.

What Health Conditions Cause Bird Pain?

One or more conditions could be causing birds pain. Birds can suffer acute pain (short, temporary pain) from accidents and injuries. And they can suffer chronic pain (long-term pain) due to ongoing health issues, such as arthritis.

According to Malik (2017), “Husbandry-related (pain) issues are frequent. Egg-binding, GI or respiratory conditions caused by inappropriate diet or environment and feather-destructive behavior are all conditions that have the potential to cause some discomfort or pain” in our pets.

A common problem that is seen in birds is joint pain, especially in their feet and backs as they age.

Birds which lack adequate exercise can develop stiff joints, strained muscles, ligaments and tendons. Also, a bird that has a history of experiencing trauma or injury could have pain in this one particular area of the body.

This is just part of the reason it's so critical to get into the habit of checking on your bird for any signs of pain, illness, or injury each and every day.

How do you comfort a sick bird?

Caring for a sick bird is a heartfelt responsibility, and showing them comfort during tough times is essential. Whether your feathered friend is feeling under the weather or nearing the end of its journey, your love and attention can make a world of difference. Here's a simple checklist with actionable tips to help you comfort a sick bird:

Birds often mask their illnesses, so noticeable behavioral changes are a critical indicator.

1. Keep Your Bird Stress-Free:
Birds can become stressed easily, which can affect their recovery. Find a quiet and peaceful place for your bird where it can rest undisturbed. Reducing stress is a top priority when your bird isn't feeling well.

2. Keep Your Bird Warm: Birds are sensitive to temperature changes, and maintaining a warm environment is vital. Make sure the room is at a comfortable temperature for your bird. You can use a heating pad placed under the cage or use a thermostatic bird cage heating device.

3. Easy Access to Food and Water: To encourage your bird to eat and stay hydrated, place food and water dishes within easy reach. Offer protein rich foods, like millet. Consider handfeeding if your bird refuses food and watr.

4. Provide Gentle Interaction: While your bird is sick, limit handling to avoid further stress. Softly talk to your bird to provide comfort and assurance. Monitor its progress

5. Always seek Professional Guidance: If your bird's condition doesn't improve or worsens, consult an avian veterinarian. They can diagnose the issue and recommend appropriate treatment to help your pet recover.

In times of sickness or end-of-life care, the most important thing you can provide your beloved bird is love and comfort. Remember that birds can hide their illnesses well, so keeping them stress-free, warm, and well-nourished can go a long way. Your unwavering care and the expertise of a veterinarian will help your feathered friend during their time of need.

What are the signs that your bird is dying?

As devoted pet owners, we understand the deep bond we share with our feathered friends, and it can be a heart-wrenching experience to witness them in distress. Recognizing the signs that your pet bird or parrot may be in critical condition is essential for providing timely care. In this guide, we will provide a quick checklist to help you determine if your bird is facing end-of-life issues or experiencing a health crisis.

1. Behavioral Changes: If you notice your bird becoming unusually lethargic, unable to perch, or reluctant to interact, it can be a sign that something is wrong. The Association of Avian Veterinarians explains, "Birds often mask their illnesses, so noticeable behavioral changes are a critical indicator." Quick action tip: Isolate your bird in a quiet, warm, and dimly lit room, which can help reduce stress. Consult with an avian veterinarian immediately.

2. Breathing Difficulty: Labored or open-mouth breathing is a concerning sign. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, "Respiratory distress is a common indicator of serious health issues in birds." Quick action tip: Ensure your bird has access to fresh air and is away from drafts. Seek immediate professional help to address any respiratory problems.

3. Changes in Droppings: The late
Dr. Peter S. Sakas, an avian specialist, emphasizes the importance of monitoring your bird's droppings, saying, "Changes in the color, consistency, or frequency of droppings can signal health problems." Quick action tip: Take note of any unusual changes in droppings and share this information with your veterinarian for a more accurate diagnosis.

To make critical care decisions during these challenging moments, it is vital to remain calm and composed. Keep in mind that birds are adept at hiding their illnesses, so early detection and professional intervention are crucial. The bond you share with your pet bird means being there for them when they need it the most, providing comfort and ensuring the best possible care during these difficult times.

Pain Assessment

Is my bird in pain?

Infographic by Diane Burroughs, LCSW, 2021

When a bird is in pain, some of its "normal behaviors" decrease. These include: 

  • Decreased social interactions: Perching away from other birds, decreased grooming activities, decreased interactions with owner.

  • Guarding behavior. Change in posture to protect a painful area or hide it from you, decreased activity

  • Increased aggression toward flock mates or owner

  • Grooming behavior at painful site or generalized, feather-destructive behaviors, self-mutilation.
Pain assessment in birds

Download the Pain Assessment For Birds Questionnaire Now!

Even when it looks like your bird is in pain, don't assume. Download this FREE version of the Bird Pain Assessment. It will help you know when to take action

Your step-by-step plan for dealing with bird emergencies

It's extremely important to learn how to rapidly stabilize a sick or injured bird before transporting them to the veterinary clinic. This is where a bird hospital cage comes in.

Why you need a bird hospital cage

I described earlier how birds tend to go downhill really quickly.  That's why it's important to have some equipment on hand that will help you quickly stabilize your bird.

bird hospital cage

Create a bird hospital cage so that you can provide important critical care for a sick or injured bird ASAP when minutes count. You’ll need a small, transparent  bird carrier or small cage. You'll want to be able to lower the perch since your bird may be weak and unsteady. You’ll also want the food and water dishes to be easily accessible. 

If the carrier has a wire door it will be easier to mount an infrared heating device, like K & H’s Snuggle Up to keep your pet warm. Otherwise, heating pad will help. Be sure to watch the video referenced above and practice setting up the hospital cage so that you can do so quickly in an emergency.

Supportive care for a bird in acute pain

If your bird is ill or injured but not bleeding it should receive supportive care immediately. If your bird is bleeding, try to stop the bleeding before administering supportive care. 

A supportive care program can literally save a bird’s life. It involves placing an unwell or injured bird in a heated hospital cage or carrier, a brooder or incubator with a warm (at least 85-degrees Fahrenheit) enclosure in a quiet, comfortable environment, providing water and food. Your goal is to stabilize your bird.

"The less energy a bird has to expend to maintain its body temperature, the more likely they are to recover.

Extreme pain caused by a traumatic injury can instantly put a bird in shock. A bird in shock is very fragile. Birds in shock appear weak, nonresponsive, puffy and breathe in slowly and out quickly. Place your bird in a calm, semi-dark, quiet environment and turn on the cage heater.

When the body goes into shock the blood vessels constrict and the body reacts with these symptoms:

  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Heart irregularities
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation
  • Potential for unconsciousness

Make sure you call your vet to let them know about the incident. The receptionist will probably ask you a bunch of questions to determine if it's an emergency. If they want to see your bird, make arrangements to get it to the clinic quickly.

Assuming you've been routinely monitoring your bird's health like the ones listed above, you'll start to notice subtle differences in your bird's behavior "early on," which is when a full recovery is most likely.

If you notice your bird over-preening a specific body part, changing its behavior to become more timid or aggressive, or starting to ‘shield’ certain body parts to avoid a painful encounter, you'll want to take action. Advocate for your pet. 

Grab a notebook and begin recording important information to include:

using a bird scale
CURRENT WEIGHT:  Record your pets current weight in grams. Remember that  birds have a tendency to stop eating when they're sick, injured, or in pain. Start recording your birds weight daily during its healing journey.

PRECEDING INFORMATION: Think back about what may have happened to bring about the symptoms that you're seeing.  Also, try to quantify the symptoms.  If you quantify the symptoms, it will allow you to determine if your bird is getting worse or getting better. Behavior can be quantified 
    • How frequently it occurs, 
    • The intensity each episode, and 
    • The duration, or how long each episode lasts.

    Next, grab your bird hospital cage / transport cage and accessories. 

    If needed, clean the inside of the hospital cage. Set the perch low in the cage, add some fresh food and water, and set up your bird inside. Try to create a warm, safe, comfortable and quiet area to house your bird.

    Get in touch with your Avian veterinarian or an exotic pet emergency clinic to discuss the situation. Follow the experts advise.

    Continue to monitor your bird every 15 minutes during waking hours and take your bird to the clinic should the situation worsen. 

    Your vet will have to identify the cause of pain so they can prescribe a treatment regimen that not only helps stop your pets from suffering, but reduces the long-term damage and complicating factors associated with chronic and intense pain.

    Take your bird to a reputable avian vet as soon as possible.

    It’s important for your vet to determine the exact source of the pain and how it has been caused so that you can alleviate your pet’s suffering. This can obviously be tricky when dealing with our exotic pets, who are sensitive, fearful and have a strong need to cover up their pain. But, drugs will help your pet get over these things:

    • The injury or causative disease
    • Decrease the peripheral pain signals to the brain (which makes things much worse)
    • Other associated disorders like anxiety

    Both acute and chronic pain activate immune system messengers in your pet and inflammatory process. The more intense the pain and the longer the duration, the worse the damage.  

    Can I give my bird Tylenol or aspirin for pain?

    Lots of people think that the best way to comfort their pet is to give them over-the-counter painkillers. This can be really dangerous. And it's probably not worth the risk of your pet accidentally dying.

    bird care for bird pain

    Never give your bird Tylenol, aspirin, baby aspirin or any pain medication without first talking to your vet.

    There are many medications that are not safe for our pets, especially birds. It usually takes a well-trained Avian Veterinarian who is familiar with the right dosages, administration techniques, and bird anatomy to determine the best course of treatment. Also be aware that most over-the-counter products, including antibiotics, bird respiratory supplementation, and diarrhea cures, are not FDA approved and are made according to unspecified quality standards.

    If you're concerned about how much it's going to cost to bring your bird in for a check-up and prescription of painkillers, remember that an exam and prescription usually cost around $100-200. Of course, diagnostics will add to the cost, but they’ll guarantee a proper treatment program and dosage. The treatment for giving human-grade painkillers on the other hand can easily run into the thousands or more.

    Don’t let your pet suffer unnecessarily. Your pet bird masks its pain more than any other pet does, so if it displays any of the above signs of pain, there's a good chance that she is in severe pain.

    Avian Veterinarians study bird-specific medicine and know which products to prescribe to ease pain and inflammation. But it’s not uncommon for the bird to need a prescription just to relax.

    What Can You Give A Bird For Pain?

    There are a few ways to support your bird if it is in pain.  The goal is to reduce inflammation and, if indicated, support the joints.

    bird pain help


    Two bird safe foods that support inflammation are hemp seeds and coconut oil. Aloe Vera has anti-inflammation properties, too.  You can support the painful area with Aloe Vera Spray. Tumeric is another bird safe support pain alternative. 

    According to Dr. Scott Echols, of Parrish Creek Veterinary Clinic, Inc., "The spicy, curry taste usually appeals to our feathered friends, and makes a nice, minced addition to fresh veggies, cooked oatmeal, birdie breads and the like. The key to serving any fresh herb or spice is to offer it in moderation and mixed in food. You wouldn’t offer an entire hand of ginger to your parrot; you won’t offer an entire finger of turmeric to him either."

    Many people these days are turning to Hemp Seed and CBD Bird Food for supporting chronic pain in their avian pets. Avian veterinarians get asked about these products frequently, so don’t be afraid to ask your vet if these supplements may safely support your bird’s chronic pain.

    Both Hemp Seed and CBD for birds can support minor pain and inflammation in pet birds. According to Calyx, "Humans and animals function best day to day in a state of homeostasis that ensures both the body and the mind are healthy. CBD oil is a natural and organic way to provide the body with nutrients and anti-inflammatory treatments that enable the body and the mind to remain in the states of well-being that they should."

    Ask your vet first before giving a food supplement or medication to your bird.

    Related Posts:

    How to help a sick bird

    Stabilizing your sick bird and when to see a vet

    8 ways to tell if your bird is sick

    References: (Jeffrey Jenkins, DVM)

    Malik, A. MSc RVN Cert VNES Cert VNECC & Adina Valentine , RVN C&GCertVNES, VNCertECC, Clinical Coach Pages 11-25 | Published online: 15 Dec 2017.

    Miesle, J. MA, AAV. 

    Miesle, J. MA, AAV.

    Miesle, J. MA, AAV. 

    Muir, W III. Pain and Stress. In: Handbook of Veterinary Pain Management. Ed: James Gaynor, Wm Muir III. Mosby Inc. 2009.

    Paul-Murphy J. Pain Management for the Pet Bird. In:Handbook of Veterinary Pain Management,Ed. Gaynor J and Muir W III. Second Edition, Mosby Inc., 2009. p. 467,-Pet%20birds%20often&text=Husbandry%2Drelated%20issues%20are%20frequent,cause%20some%20discomfort%20or%20painPain in birds: a review for veterinary nurses

    Lender, S."Toss In Some Tumeric."

    Lightfoot, T. L. (2020, January). Lung and Airway Disorders of Pet Birds. In Merck Veterinary Manual.

    Sakas, P.S. Essentials of Avian Medicine. 2002.

    Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. Diane has written a number of bird behavior books and she offers behavior consultations. She's developed a range of UnRuffledRx Science-backed Parrot Wellness Supplies.

    Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians. Her bird collars & supplements are stocked in avian vet clinics and bird stores throughout the US. With over 30 years in the field of behavior, Diane has created thousands of successful individualized behavior plans that help pets thrive.

    TAGS: #HowToHelpABirdThatIsHurt #CBDForBirds


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