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.