In the ideal world, you would start with a healthy bird and then maintain its environment and diet in such a way as to keep it healthy. In the real world, it does not always work that way. By familiarizing oneself with what is normal, one can determine what is abnormal. The owner is in the best position to determine that the bird is not right. You may not know what is wrong (that is what your veterinarian spent years at school learning), but you know something is wrong. Some basic information will give you a starting point for determining when your pet bird needs to see the veterinarian. If you have any doubt about your bird's health, consult with your veterinarian who can help diagnose and treat the problem.
Birds can hide illness for a long time. In the wild, they would become someone's lunch if they showed signs of weakness or illness. In our homes, birds still hide their illness. One of the easiest ways to monitor the bird's health is to
weigh the bird on a monthly basis. If the bird is losing weight and you don't have it on a diet, it is probably ill. Some of the most common injuries or illnesses are listed below with at-home care instructions which buy time to get the bird to the veterinarian.
Broken blood feather
Broken blood feathers can cause what appears to be a lot of blood loss. They are relatively easy to treat. At home, pack the broken shaft with
styptic powder or flour. Apply minimal pressure with a gauze or telfa pad while traveling to the veterinarian. At the clinic, the veterinarian will probably pull out the bleeding shaft. If you have been shown how to do this, it is something you can do at home. The bleeding stops after the shaft has been removed.
Cat or dog attack
Handle the bird quietly and calmly to avoid adding to its stress. Keep the bird quiet and warm (to help prevent or treat shock).
If the wound is bleeding, apply direct pressure with a gauze, but do not restrict breathing. Transport the bird to your veterinarian immediately.
Check for broken bones. If a wing is broken, wrap both wings loosely to the body with gauze and then tape to prevent further injury from flapping the wing. Do not tape tightly or the bird will not be able to breathe. If other bones (skull, leg) are broken, do not attempt to treat at home as further damage may occur.
Anytime a bird is attacked by an animal, it should be taken to the veterinarian as soon as possible for an examination and treatment of wounds. Mouths and teeth carry a lot of bacteria which can cause nasty infections if left untreated.
Small wounds or abrasions
If bite wounds are small, superficial, and not bleeding, clean with betadine or hydrogen peroxide. Use a tweezers to remove any dirt or feathers. Then apply a small amount of
antibiotic ointment. It should heal within a couple of days. Do not allow the bird to pick at it. In case of deeper cuts or wounds, seek veterinary advise as further treatment may be necessary.
Bleeding from the tongue
The tongue contains many blood vessels and if injured, may bleed profusely. Seek veterinarian attention immediately.
Apply a styptic stick or
powder to the toenail. The bleeding should stop within a minute or so. If the bleeding does not stop, take the bird to the veterinarian.
Check the nostrils for blockage. If an external blockage is noted (such as with mucus), wipe with a damp cloth. Look for any other blockage such as seeds or dirt. The operculum, a small part of the birds anatomy inside of the nostril could be mistaken for a foreign body, so have your veterinarian examine and remove any suspected blockage. If the bird has other signs of illness, seek veterinary attention.
Panting or open-mouth breathing could be caused by overheating due to fright, exercise, or environmental temperature. Overheated birds can develop heatstroke. In these cases the bird may also hold its wings outstretched from his body, pant heavily, and collapse. Allow the bird to remain quiet in a cooler place. Mist the bird with cool water and have it stand on a cold wet towel. Don't cool the bird down too fast. Contact your veterinarian to determine if further treatment is needed.
Shortness of breath can also be caused by illness, and the bird should be seen promptly by your veterinarian.
Run cold water over the affected area for several minutes. Then dry the area gently with gauze and apply cold compresses. If the burn is severe or extensive, take your bird immediately to your veterinarian or emergency clinic. Such birds may go into shock and need prompt care. Typically, antibiotics will also be prescribed to prevent infection.
Provide a warm environment by supplying heat with a heat lamp or hot water bottle wrapped in a towel. Take extreme care to not burn the bird. Keep the temperature about 85-90º F. Monitor the air temperature to avoid overheating. Determine the cause of the chilling. If it is due to illness or injury (shock), seek veterinary attention. If it is due to environmental conditions such as power outage or drafts, fix the problem or relocate the bird.
If the toxin is inhaled such as fumes from a Teflon pan, remove the bird to a well-ventilated area.
If the bird had external contact with a poison such as insect sprays, bathe the bird immediately.
If the bird ingested a toxin such as a plant or a household cleaner, get the name of the toxin. Your veterinarian needs to be called immediately in all cases of possible poisoning. Any time poisoning is thought to be a possibility, the veterinarian or Poison Control Center will need to know the name of the toxin, the active ingredients, the weight of the bird, how much was consumed, when the exposure occurred, and any symptoms the bird currently is showing.
First aid kit for birds
A pet first aid kit should be in every home stocked with items which may be needed by the pets in the household. A basic kit for a bird would include:
- Veterinary clinic number and directions to the clinic. If you need to take your bird to your veterinarian for an emergency, call first so your veteriarian will be ready for you when you arrive.
- Emergency clinic number and directions if your regular veterinarian is unavailable.
- Poison control phone numbers.
- Scissors to remove string caught on the bird or to cut bandage material.
- Sterile gauze/telfa pad place over cleaned wounds to prevent contamination.
- Q-tips to clean wounds and apply ointments.
- Roll of gauze for wrapping an injured wing.
- Triple antibiotic ointment to apply to cleaned wounds.
- Betadine or hydrogen peroxide to clean wounds.
- Styptic powder/sticks to help stop bleeding.
- Pliers or hemostats to help remove wire, string, or other foreign objects that may be caught on the bird. Also used to remove blood feathers.
- A gram scale to weigh the bird. Birds should be weighed monthly to monitor for weight gain or loss.
- Heating pad/bottle/lamp to help maintain the bird's body heat.
- 'Home' thermometer to measure the temperature of your bird's environment.
- Towels of appropriate size for the bird to provide padding or restraint. Can also be used as a cage cover.
- Medicine dropper or syringe.
Any time an injury or illness occurs, the first thing to do is to prevent further injury. Then consult with your veterinarian or emergency clinic to determine what type of further treatment is necessary. Be prepared for emergencies by having a first aid kit for your bird readily available.
Rich, G. DVM. Handling Avian Emergencies at Home. Bird Talk. March 1998.
Rupley, A. Manual of Avian Practice. W.B. Saunders Company. Philadelphia; 1997.
Spadafori, G; and Speer, B. Birds for Dummies. IDG Books Worldwide. Foster City, CA; 1999.