These 6 tips are something every bird parent should commit to memory so that when you have what may be a medical emergency with your pet, you know exactly what to do quickly and calmly.
#1. If you have any doubt about the health and well-being of your bird, get it to your avian vet straight away for a thorough examination.
First, let’s take a quick review of a healthy bird’s body and what you won’t see if your bird is ill or injured.
Your bird’s eyes should be bright and clear with no discharge, no inflammation or thickening of the eyelids, and no sores around the lid or on the skin of the face if your bird is of a species with this characteristic.
The nares, or nostrils, should not be blocked and, like the eyes, should also be free of drainage. Any feathers around the nares need to be clean of any staining and/or matting.
Your bird’s beak should be smooth and defect-free. It needs to be well formed, so that your bird can acquire and swallow its food properly. The beak should be free of the scaliness that indicates the presence of mites.
Glossy and full feathers are indicative of a healthy bird. Bald patches and areas where the undercoat of down shows through suggest parasites, feather picking, or illness. During molting, a healthy bird loses no more than a few feathers from any one area of its body.
Your bird should possess all of its toes and each toe needs to have a toenail. There needs to be no scabbing, drainage, or flakiness on the skin of the feet indicating injury or mite infestation. The healthy bird will tuck one or the other of its feet up off the perch when resting or relaxing. Reluctance to use a foot, or any sign of limping, needs to be seen by your vet.
The vent, that external opening through which feces and uric acid are excreted, should be clean, with no discharge, dried matter or urates present on the surrounding feathers. Subsequently, your bird’s cloaca, the opening for your bird’s intestinal, reproductive, and urinary systems, also needs to be free of any dried material.
With its porous, light bones, prominent, vascular beak, tiny heart, and slender legs and feet, your feathered friend’s physiology is very fragile, and even the simplest matter can send it into shock and a swift decline in health.
“Shock” is a life-threatening condition that occurs when your bird isn’t getting enough blood flow through its body and can result in damage to the internal organs. The common signs of shock include rapid shallow breathing and a depressed, weak, “fluffed-up” look. A bird in shock can collapse and die in your hands, so any symptoms your bird shows constitutes a veterinary emergency.
To apply general supportive care, you need to check your bird over carefully looking for signs of illness or injury, move it to a hospital cage to keep it warm and minimize stress, and determine if you’re looking at an emergency situation. Once you have taken steps to make sure your bird is stable, you need to get your pet to its veterinarian so that he or she can treat your bird and return it to good health as quickly as possible. For more information, please click on general supportive care.
Do your research to find the best avian veterinarian in your area. Ask other bird owners for recommendations and check your state Veterinary Medical Association for the names of avian vets close to you. The national Association of Avian Veterinarians maintains a list of veterinarians qualified to take care of pet birds and offers an online vet locator to help you find a veterinarian near you. Right now you may be thinking about price, but in an emergency situation, you want the best possible care for your bird that you can get.
According to the by-laws of the AAV, certified avian veterinarians must have at least 6 years of full‐time, high‐quality practice experience with birds and be able to document a commitment to high‐level continuing education. They also must be able to communicate professionally and scientifically by following instructions and preparing written case reports. To pass the comprehensive examination, candidates often spend an average of one hour per day studying, reading textbook and journal articles, and taking courses and practice tests.We recommend getting a thorough wellness exam with recommended laboratory work-ups including an avian blood panel and fecal gram stain. Your vet will be much better prepared for any illness or emergency if she knows your pet’s baseline information. We also suggest keeping any new birds you obtain quarantined for at least 6 weeks from other companion birds until you get this “new bird” exam to make sure the newest member of your family is healthy and non-contagious.
It may seem like overkill, but having all your first aid supplies on hand in an Avian First Aid Kit during an emergency can save you stress and just may save your bird’s life! The last thing you (and your bird) need is for you to be running around the house trying to find everything in the moment. Keep everything in a re-sealable plastic tub and tape a list of the contents to the lid. Check off what you use when you use it and replenish the supplies regularly. If you keep the First Aid Kit in the same place all the time, you’ll know where to go immediately when you need it.
Here are some essentials that you should store in your kit:
Please Note: Home bandaging is discouraged except as a last resort because a traumatized bird will struggle, often worsening any injury.
A hospital cage is essential to have on hand when you have pet birds. You never know when your bird is going to get sick or injured or have some kind of life-threatening emergency where you have to stabilize it very quickly and get it to the vet.
We recommend using a Wingabago Bird Carrier because it is constructed of clear polycarbonate so you can see your bird at all times and your bird has easy access to food and water dishes. This type of cage has ventilation holes that allow for fresh airflow. Add some sort of warming device so that your bird uses all its energy recuperating, not shivering to stay warm. You can also use your hospital cage to observe birds with minor injuries, to isolate birds that are stressed out, and as transport for evacuation during natural disasters.
You want the cage to be small enough so that it restricts your bird’s movement. You also need to make sure the cage is kept in a warm spot away from drafts in temperatures between 95º and 100º F. Your hospital cage needs to have an outside heating source, whether it's a heating pad or some other sort of electrical warmer. We recommend using a Snuggle-Up Cage Warmer that attaches to the metal bars and is thermostatically controlled to heat the hospital cage to about 102º.
You’ll need to watch for the signs of your bird overheating, including panting, open-mouthed breathing, and moving its wings out away from its body to allow for cooler airflow. If you see these behaviors, take the hospital cage off the heating pad or loosen up the towel so that airflow is less restricted.
Your hospital cage needs to allow your bird easy access to food and water. You’ll want to attach food and water bowls low on the front bars of the cage because ill and injured birds won’t eat if they have to work hard to get to their food. Alternatively, you can purchase heavy ceramic dishes that your bird can’t tip over and place them at the front of the cage. You’ll want to have electrolytes on hand to put in the water to make sure your ailing bird doesn’t dehydrate.
You’ll need a heavy towel to place over the top of the hospital cage to keep in warmth and muffle any noises that can cause undo stress. The towel also works as a type of blind so that your bird is not easily startled or distracted by what it sees.
Place light-colored liners or towels in the bottom of the hospital cage to allow you to easily see unusual droppings or blood that require you to take immediate action.
In addition to the annual wellness exam that provides your vet with baseline information on your bird, your veterinarian is going to need direct information relating to the current emergency. To that end, we recommend that you create a template called a SAMPLE SHEET to provide your vet with important information. In a time of crisis, where minutes count, it's vital that you have all data at hand to give to your vet. This will save your vet from wasting valuable time asking you questions that they can then use to take care of your bird.
A pre-made SAMPLE sheet can be found here:
S - Symptoms - What symptoms does your bird have?
What is it that made you realize that there was something wrong with your bird in the first place? In the heat of battle, your vet might not notice everything, so write down exactly what it is that you've found, including cuts, broken, bleeding or damaged feathers, anything swollen, labored breathing, sitting on the bottom of the cage etc.
A – Air Intake & Allergies - Does your bird have any sensitivities or allergies?
Describe your bird’s breathing. Is it faster or slower than normal? Does the breathing appear labored? Has your bird shown to be allergic to certain foods or medications? Has your bird been near overheated nonstick cookware? What about fuel fired heaters such as kerosene heaters? Any information on any foreign substances that your bird may have ingested or breathed will allow your vet to make a proper diagnosis and suggest a treatment protocol.
M - Medications - Is your bird currently on any medications?
If your bird has been sick before, or has a chronic condition, then it's important that your vet knows what medications are being taken currently. In the worst case, if your vet doesn't know, she may prescribe a medication that is contra-indicated and your bird could get toxic shock. If possible, bring any current medications in the proper bottles or tubes along with you to the vet.
P - Pre-existing Conditions - Does your bird have any current conditions or illnesses?
Very similar to the last one, but focusing on what illnesses your bird has had in the past, or any chronic illnesses that your bird currently has. It may be that the new issue is an extension of the current illness and it's important that your vet is aware of this.
L - Last Meal - What was the most recent meal that your bird has eaten? How long ago and how much did your pet drink? Your veterinarian will also want to know what your bird’s basic long-term diet is.
You'd be amazed at how sensitive birds are to a change of diet. Knowing what your bird regularly eats and also what they have eaten in the last 24 hours can be a huge time saver. It'll also help the vet to make sure that any medications that they prescribe won't counteract with any substances already in the body.
E - Events - What were the events leading up to the issue that your bird has?
What happened? Were there any other animals involved? Did you hear any strange sounds, either around, or from your bird? Were there any kids involved? Try to think of any details you can, and don't filter. Write everything down you can think of, and let the vet decide what is, and isn't, important. Also include information about your normal routines or husbandry. If the emergency is due to your pet either ingesting or inhaling some type of toxin or poison, take the item with you to your veterinarian if at all possible, i.e. pills, plant leaves, etc.
Your job is to make sure that you are as thorough as possible so that your veterinarian can make a correct diagnosis and institute appropriate treatment.
First things first, practice doing the “4 Cees” to make sure that you’re ready to go and take care of your sick or injured bird.
C-leanse your hands! : Cleanse your hands well with antibacterial soap to prevent spreading germs.
C-heck for danger: Is there any immediate danger to you or the bird such as fire, electricity or a dangerous animal? If so, make sure that you nullify the danger before grabbing your bird. You'll be no help if you're taken out of action because you failed to take care of a dangerous situation first.
C-all the vet: Let your vet know what has happened, and that you'll be in straight away. That will give your vet a chance to finish whatever he or she is doing and prepare for the arrival of your bird. They can also give you on-the-spot advice about what you should do now.
C-alm yourself and your bird: Birds are very sensitive to their surroundings. The more stressed you are, the more you are going to stress out your bird, and the more likely it is to panic and incur further damage. Take a couple of deep breaths, center yourself, and mentally promise yourself that you’ll take the time to feel bad later. Right now you have a job to do, and you need to be calm to do it right. Likewise, calm your bird to reduce chance of further injury by placing it in a hospital cage. This should be a darkened, enclosed solid bottom and sided carrier. Use a towel on the bottom. The cage should not contain perches or toys.
What do you look for if you suspect your bird is injured or ailing? These tips on observing your pet bird’s overall health and demeanor can help you evaluate problems in time to get the bird veterinary care.
Weight loss is often the first indicator that your bird is experiencing a health problem.
Birds hide their illness as a defense mechanism. You see, birds are prey animals, and if a bird becomes ill or injured in the wild, that is basically a calling card to predators for fresh food, putting the whole flock at risk. Your pet bird will go through great lengths to hide its illness or injury to its own detriment. That is why monitoring your bird’s weight is critical. If your bird loses 10% of its body weight then you know that something is wrong and should get your bird to the vet.
While it would be nice to just use your bathroom scales, on a 450-gram bird that means that a 45-gram drop can turn into a life-threatening weight loss. You’re going to need a more sensitive scale to detect smaller weights.
We recommend that you purchase a reliable, yet relatively affordable Bird Scalethat weighs precisely in 1-gram incrementsand keep a weekly log of your bird’s weight.
Perform a visual assessment of your bird’s entire body and condition to look for anything out of the ordinary. Those signs of distress may include:
Bleeding:Check for bleeding of any kind, from any part of your bird. Bright, red blood is indicative of recent injury, while darker blood may indicate internal issues or an older wound.
Symmetry or Asymmetry:Look for one side of your bird being lower or more droopy than the other. Is the head held upright and straight or is it leaning to one side? Is one wing higher or lower than the other? Both sides of your bird need to look the same; any difference needs to be seen by your vet.
Posture:A bird perching with its head turned toward its wing and its eyes partially closed is a general sign of illness or injury. A healthy bird sits upright, even when resting, and appears bright, alert, and responsive when approached by you.
Eye Discharge:A green, sticky discharge of the eyes may indicate conjunctivitis, some kind of infection, or even corneal injury.
Nasal Discharge:Both a clear discharge and nasty, green mucous can indicate a respiratory infection that will worsen without veterinary care.
Head Tilt:A bird tilting its head in either direction and unable to hold it straight may possibly be a sign of a concussion or possible neck injury.
Huddled on Bottom of Cage: Immediate care is needed.A bird huddled on the bottom of its cage, not perched or seemingly interested in what is going on around it, is a general sign the bird is ill, has a foot or leg injury or weakness, or has contracted some kind of abdominal disease. Birds that are lethargic and unwilling to eat or drink need to be seen by your vet as soon as possible.
Labored Breathing:This includes any birdbreathing with its mouth open or bobbing its tail when taking a breath. These signs may indicate anything from a respiratory infection to pneumonia
Feather Condition:How your bird holds its feathers can give you a clue as to what is happening with your pet.
o Fluffed:Fluffed feathers are a general sign of illness and indicate that your bird is trying to stay warm.
o Stained feathers, especially around nostrils:This is a symptom of a respiratory infection, usually meaning that your bird has drainage or blockage of the nares.
o Matted Around Beak Area:Seeing matting or discoloration of the feathers surrounding the beak indicates vomiting from some sort of digestive upset.
o Matted Around Vent: Discolored and matted feathers surrounding the vent and/or cloaca is a sign of diarrhea and intestinal issues.
o Feather Loss:Bald areas or patches where the downy undercoat shows can be a sign of feather picking, external parasites, or a wound. You’ll want to check the area carefully for even the smallest cut or scrape.
“Triage” is the medical term for determining the priority of patients’ treatments based on the severity of their condition; in other words, criteria that allows you to make a decision which injuries or illnesses to your pet bird are life threatening, which ones require medical care but may not be emergencies, and which traumas can be handled without veterinary care.
There are four basic physiological criteria to note when assessing triage of your bird.
The first step is determining if the injury or illness affects your bird’s breathing or heart rate and effect immediate CPR if either – or both – have stopped.
The second step is to check for major abdominal wounds, muscular or bone injuries, or head and spinal trauma.
The third step is to assess for minor wounds or injuries of the same areas.
The fourth step is determining if your bird is already dead or dying during your initial assessment with mortal wounds not compatible with continuing life. It is at this stage where euthanasia needs to be considered.
In order to ensure that you are assessing your bird’s injury or illness correctly and methodically, you’ll need to stay calm. So take a deep breath…and focus on examining your bird for these symptoms and signs that will tell you if – and what kind of – veterinary care is needed.
We’ll start with the issues that require urgent care and can constitute a medical emergency.
In any true emergency, your top priority is to administer immediate First Aid to stabilize your bird, call your veterinarian to alert him or her that you’re coming in with what appears to be a major illness or injury, and transport your pet to the veterinary clinic as quickly as possible.
Severe bleeding or blood flowing freely from a woundmeans that your bird has probably suffered some sort of puncture wound. Your pet needs immediate First Aid on your end and wound care, including possible stitching and bandaging, from your vet.
Blood showing up in your bird’s diarrhea or regurgitation is a sign of some kind of serious intestinal infection and, without immediate treatment from your veterinarian, can result in the worsening of the problem and possible death of the bird.
Any sign of your bird being imbalanced or collapsing on the floor of its cage indicates major trauma or injury. These are signs that your bird is in shock, and they may be suggestive of brain injury, cardiac disease, or serious respiratory and digestive issues. Without veterinary care, the prognosis for a collapsed bird is dire.
Symptoms of poisoning, whether ingested or inhaled, need immediate medical attention. Signs of toxicity in your bird include vomiting, diarrhea, blindness, tremors, excitability, depression or lethargy, a lack of coordination, falling off the perch, convulsions, and coma.
All burns should be seen by your veterinarian and viewed as a possible emergency due to the susceptibility of your stressed, burned bird to go into shock. Superficial burns, those of the first layer of skin (the epidermis) show as a redness of the affected area of skin or mucus membranes, peeling of the outer skin layer, and inflamed and painful tissue. Secondary burns that go down into the second layer of skin, or dermis, will exude a clear liquid called plasma, the result of the death of blood capillaries and skin cells. The site of the burn may be painful, but you may not notice any loss of feathers due to the depth of the feather follicle. Third degree burns result in the total destruction of the first and second layers of skin, and you may notice a swollen, leathery – and dead – layer of subcutaneous tissue. The feathers can be easily pulled, yet your burned bird will feel little to no pain due to the destruction of nerves in the burned area.
Labored breathing, often accompanied by tail bobbing, open-mouthed breathing, and a gasping, or clicking sound, is indicative of severe respiratory distress. Your bird can stop breathing at any moment and needs immediate care.
An inability to pass droppings by your bird signifies some type of constipation or intestinal blockage. This condition can result in the rupture or tearing of the intestinal tract or cloaca.
Uncontrollable scratching or itching whereby your bird’s skin is becoming damaged due to scratching or feather picking may be a sign of external parasites, stress, or allergies. Regardless of the cause, your bird’s skin is extremely fragile and can tear easily, resulting in wounds that may become infected and possibly septic.
If your bird is atttacked by another animal, consider this a veterinary emergency. Even if no injuries are visible to the naked eye, internal organ damage, spinal trauma, and broken bones are possible. Your vet can run the tests to determine if there is a problem and recommend a treatment plan, saving your bird from possible shock and pain.
Medical Issues Requiring Same Day Treatment
With some non-life-threatening illnesses or injuries, particularly those accompanied by severe pain, a same day trip to your veterinarian is required.
With this kind of ailment, you’ll want to avoid excessive handling as your bird could easily go into shock, worsening its chances of recovery. Your treatment concern here is to stabilize your bird in a hospital cage to prevent the injury from worsening and transport your bird to the veterinarian quickly. Your vet will be able to recommend a treatment plan that includes healing of the injury or illness and pain management.
Loss of appetite, accompanied by other signs such as labored breathing or diarrhea, is indicative of a number of diseases, including pneumonia and digestive upset.
Breathing difficulties, including rapid breathing with or without a cough, suggest an upper respiratory illness that may need antibiotic therapy.
Egg bound birds will show signs of abdominal straining, loss of appetite, depression, and sitting fluffed on the bottom of the cage. Some birds will be able to pass droppings, while others may be constipated due to the egg’s interference with normal defecation.
You may notice eye problemsin your bird if you see your pet squinting, with the eyelid partially or completely closed. You also may see a cloudy cornea or the eye may appear opaque or bluish-white in color.
If you suspect your bird has swallowed a foreign body, you need to take it to your vet before the crop has a chance to empty.
Most birds have a normal body temperature somewhere around 105º F. Birds with low body temperature, whether from illness or sitting in a cold, breezy room, will shiver, fluff out their feathers, and may tuck one foot under their body or squat on their perch to cover both their feet.
Any injuries involving cuts or puncture woundsneed veterinary attention to assess the depth of the wound and antibiotic treatment to prevent infection.
Many avian veterinarians and bird behaviorists believe that birds who self-mutilate have some kind of underlying physical problem. The red and inflamed skin of birds with this issue is a sign that you need to seek out an avian vet willing to search for the origin of the self-mutilation, including checking for viral infections, cardiac problems, and other disease processes affecting your pet.
Severe diarrhea can cause your bird to easily become dehydrated and affect every organ system in its body.
Any type of swelling or skin discharge is indicative of infection or some kind of health disorder. Without a proper veterinary diagnosis, there is no way for you to know how to treat the problem.
Less Threatening Complaints
These signs that something may be wrong with your bird are not life threatening and may only be a one-time occurrence. You can wait 24 hours before calling your veterinarian to see if the symptoms abate on their own. If things worsen during those 24 hours, or 2 or more of these signs are concurrent, contact your vet immediately.
Appetite loss with no other signs or symptoms may just mean your bird is not hungry right now. If your bird hasn’t begun eating after the 24 hours have passed, it is time to call your veterinarian.
Diarrhea with no indication of blood in the stool and no signs of straining or abdominal pain may simply be a sign of a bit to digestive upset. If you notice the other symptoms mentioned, call your veterinarian.
Moderate itching may be just that – your bird is just a bit itchy. If you notice any skin damage or self-mutilation, call your veterinarian.
Excessive thirst may be a signal that you bird is a bit dehydrated or that it needs to cool off. If the excessive continues into a second day, call your veterinarian.
The occasional episode of regurgitation is normal in birds. If you see more than 2 or 3 episodes during the 24 – or you notice any other signs of illness or stress – call your veterinarian.
How To Administer Medications
Learning how to physically handle your bird and restrain it during times of illness or injury can be one of the most stressful parts of bird ownership. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently injure your pet when you’re trying to move it from cage to cage, take it to the vet clinic, or administer any necessary medications.
In this chapter, we’re going to discuss handling and restraint techniques used by veterinarians so that you can learn and practice them at home. We’re also going to discuss the various ways birds are medicated and walk you through the steps on how to administer meds the correct way.
Here are some tips on how to prevent possible injuries and illnesses to your pet bird before they occur.
Always use a bird carrier when transporting your bird.
Cover electrical cords and outlets as free roaming birds are curious and have an instinct to chew items and explore holes in outlets.
Always use bird safe, natural insecticides like Control Bug Spray.
Purchase quality cages and bird toys from well know manufacturers to avoid metal toxicity.
Feed your bird a well-balanced complete diet to avoid malnutrition and boost the immune system.
Routinely clean cages, change cage substrate, and clean cage accessories.
Change water a minimum of once daily and insure pellets are fresh and free from droppings daily.
Remove cooked or moist foods after 3-4 hours to avoid bacterial infections.
Avoid extreme temperature changes.
Provide your bird with adequate full-spectrum lighting or sunlight.
Offer your bird a variety of natural branch perches.
Watch for loose threads or strings on rope perches and toys.
If your bird has an outdoor aviary, make sure that it has a shaded area to go to and water to cool down in the summer.
Do not keep birds in temperatures below 50 degrees F or above 90 degrees F.
Never sleep with your bird in your bed.
Always supervise a bird when it is out of its cage, more so if there are young children or other pets in the home.
All birds need appropriately sized bird toys, but lone birds especially need distractions to keep them from self-mutilating.
Routinely inspect bird toys for fraying fabric, broken or sharp pieces, exposed hardware, etc.
Take your bird in for a veterinary wellness check on an annual basis.
We sincerely hope this information has given you better insight into taking care of your pet bird during emergency situations. If you have further questions, feel free to visit our blogs at blog.birdsupplies.com. You can also contact us through either email or by phone with your questions. We’ll always answer your questions, even if we’re off-line. Watch for our upcoming book on complete Avian First Aid coming to you in the next several months.