Bird Talk

I thought I would wax on about birds for a bit. Birds are one of the most pop­u­lar pets to own after cats and dogs. This includes every­thing from canaries/finches, bud­gies, cock­atiels, lories, eclec­tus par­rots, African greys, ama­zons, and macaws. And of course an occa­sional pet chicken or quail. What many bird own­ers do not real­ize is what can be done to extend the life and health of their bird. I highly rec­om­mend doing some research about the type of bird you have or plan to have since this could impact how you set up the cage, type of food you feed, and the type of enrich­ment you need to pro­vide. I also highly rec­om­mend that you talk to your vet to help you weed through all of the infor­ma­tion pro­vided by breed­ers, web­sites, and books to make sure every­thing is pro­vid­ing a con­sis­tant mes­sage in tak­ing care of your feath­ered friend.

From a vet­eri­nary per­spec­tive, there is a lot of pre­ven­tive med­ical care options as well as diag­nos­tics for an ill bird these days. It is some­times hard to know that a bird is sick because they hide it so well. In the wild, if birds do not hide signs of ill­ness, they will be eaten by oth­ers or picked on by the rest of the flock. So their innate nature makes it hard to know that some­thing is going on. Often, by the time they make it obvi­ous, they are so sick that aggres­sive med­ical treat­ment is needed–and some­times it can be too late.  A yearly phys­i­cal exam (and twice per year exam on senior birds) is very help­ful in mon­i­tor­ing their weight, check­ing for heart dis­ease (lis­ten­ing for murm­ers), catch­ing res­pi­ra­tory infec­tions early on, look­ing for gas­troin­testi­nal infec­tions before they are clin­i­cal and mon­i­tor­ing the birds nutri­tional sta­tus and organ health. Blood­work that can be per­formed on a rou­tine basis includes com­plete blood counts (CBC) and chem­istry pan­els. For new birds to a house­hold, I highly rec­om­mend psi­ta­co­sis test­ing, and con­sider psitacine beak and feather dis­ease (PBFD) testing.

Now what if your bird is sick? I often hear of peo­ple being afraid to take the bird out of the house because the stress of travel and a new place may kill it. I find that this is rarely the case. If the pet goes with­out med­ical treat­ment, there is very lit­tle chance of the bird get­ting bet­ter so I have to rec­om­mend that we attempt to help it. Diag­nos­tics like blood­work, radi­ographs (x-rays), fecal test­ing can help to fig­ure out what is wrong with the pet. I also often have peo­ple tell me that even if their bird is sick,what can I really do for it? Well there are options for treat­ments as well. Fluid sup­port, antibi­otics, pain med­ica­tions, nutri­tional sup­port, heart med­ica­tions, hor­monal con­trol for chronic egg lay­ers, sur­gi­cal treat­ment for wounds and tumor removals, med­ica­tions to sup­port birds with liver dis­ease, kid­ney dis­ease, and other chronic ill­nesses. Some­times you have to get a bit cre­ative in the treat­ment plan at home and real­ize that their will be more phys­i­cal hands on time with the bird. But this can be well worth it if it pro­vides an improved qual­ity of life and extends the health of your pet. When peo­ple ask me if it is worth doing some of these treatments–there is no sim­ple answer. First, you just don’t know until you try. I have seen some amaz­ing turn arounds in the health of the bird. Some­times the med­ical plan doesn’t help and you need to reassess and decide where do you go next. The plan needs to be tai­lored to the indi­vid­ual pet and owner, and that may mean all treat­ments are done in the hos­pi­tal or it may mean the owner is pro­vid­ing most of the care at home. It may mean sur­gi­cal inter­ven­tion, or it may mean the owner feels that euthana­sia is in the best inter­est of the pet so it doesn’t suf­fer through a dif­fi­cult ill­ness. I always like to pro­vide options for peo­ple. I feel if a client has options and can help in the deci­sion process, then they are empow­ered and they have some con­trol the med­ical care of their pet. But to have options, we need to start with an exam and some­times diag­nos­tics. So please do not for­get to uti­lize your avian vet if you are con­sid­er­ing pur­chas­ing a bird or cre­at­ing a well­ness plan for your feath­ered friend.

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