The Avian First AID Kit

One of the most important items a responsible bird owner should have is a special First Aid Kit just for your bird.

Having a well stocked avian First Aid kit handy can prepare you to handle minor emergencies yourself or enable you to stabilize your bird’s condition while getting your bird to your avian veterinarian. A sturdy, medium sized, plastic or metal tool or tackle box makes an ideal Avian First Aid Kit. Decide before hand where you wish to keep this kit. Any easily remembered place….kitchen, bathroom or the bird room itself are good locations.

Write your regular avian veterinarian’s name, address and telephone number taped in the lid of the First Aid Kit, along with at least one 24 hour emergency hospital, clinic or doctor’s name and number. Also keep a copy of your bird’s medical records, particularly any chronic diseases or recent injuries/illnesses the bird has been treated for in the kit.

Basic First Aid Kit

There are some “musts” for your kit. The following are items we suggest for inclusion in a Basic First Aid Kit, with a brief description of their uses.

  • Towel – for wrapping and securing your bird
  • Scissors – for cutting tape, bandages…..and strings which can wrap on birds toes
  • Quik-stop and/or Styptic Pencil (silver nitrate stick) – to stop bleeding from broken blood feathers or cuts. Avian blood has very few clotting agents in comparison to human/ mammal blood. A bird can literally bleed to death from a broken blood feather.
  • Hemostats and tweezers – for removing broken blood feathers, and/or splinters
  • Plyers, needle nose – for pulling blood feathers or unbending chains and quik links which birds are known to injure themselves with.
  • Wire cutters – once again, birds are known to wrap themselves in chain and/or wire.
  • Gauze pads – for covering wounds, burns
  • Cotton balls – for cleansing
  • Q-tips – for cleaning out small wounds, getting stuff out of a bird’s mouth or throat.
  • Vet wrap (cut into strips and rolled) – for wrapping broken bones, wings, or binding gauze pads to wounds.
  • Micropore tape (paper surgical tape) – for holding gauze in place
  • Penlight or small flashlight (A head-mounted light is even better.)
  • Magnifying glasses or “jewelers loop” – especially necessary for those of us at “that certain age”….but since birds are so small and delicate, a pair of magnifying glasses can come in handy for anyone trying to do detail work.
  • Sterile water – for flushing wounds or mixing with food
  • Pedialyte (or generic equivalent)– for rehydrating a dehydrated bird. Can be mixed with food. Pedialyte contains sugars and electrolytes which avians quickly lose when dehydrated or sick. Must be discarded within 24 hours of opening since it is a wonderful media for bacteria to grow in. An alternate to Pedialite such as Gastrolyte, Rappolyte powders can be used. These should be mixed with sterile water. Both are available through veterinarians. Pedialite, however, is readily available at any grocery store in the baby food section.
  • Hand feeding formula, jars of human baby food such as veggies, cereals or squash. Often sick or injured birds will be too weak to eat on their own for a few days. During this period of time we may find ourselves having to spoon or syringe feed the bird to help keep their strength up.
  • Feeding syringes, spoon with bent up sides to facilitate feeding (for above.)
  • Pellets/seeds – If your bird needs to stay at the hospital, they may not have the type/kind of food your bird is accustomed to. It is a good idea to have several baggies of fresh seed and/or pellets available to take with you.
  • Betadyne or hibitane (chlorhexidine) – as non-irritating disinfectant. Avoid hydrogen peroxide which is caustic to skin
  • Aloe Vera – for very minor burns. Many creams and lotions made for humans are toxic to birds, so make sure that you get 100% pure Aloe Vera

Additional Supplies

For those who are more experienced you may want to add:

  • Popscicle sticks – for immobilizing broken legs
  • Ophthalmic ointment – for scratched eyes, minor conjunctivitis
  • Suturing materials (surgical needles and thread)
  • Gelfoam – stops bleeding from flesh wounds. Available from your veterinarian.
  • Tegaderm dressing – helps healing for burns and certain open wounds. Encourages granulation (healing/scabbing.)
  • Lactated Ringer’s solution – used for IV rehydrating of dehydrated avians and flushing wounds.
  • Syringes – for injectable medications and irrigation of wounds.

Danger Signals and Emergencies

There are many problems which you should be prepared for. We do not intend to list them all. Any time a bird has any of the following symptoms: stops eating, sits fluffed on the bottom of his cage, is bleeding from mouth or vent, has uncontrollable bleeding, has runny eyes, can’t breathe, sneezes with discharge, has diarrhea, has constipation (straining to defecate), has loss of balance, depression, lethargy….do not wait! Take your bird to the veterinarian!

Birds do not have much clotting agent in their blood. A broken blood feather, or a minor cut can be life threatening. The blood feather must be removed, or bleeding stopped by use of Quik-stop or a styptic pencil. If bleeding does not stop, apply pressure and rush the bird to the veterinarian.

Books

A small Red Cross type first aid booklet may be kept in the avian First Aid Kit. An avian book with descriptions of first aid procedures may be even more handy.

For the more experienced bird owner, a copy of Avian Medicine; Principles and Applications by Ritchie, Harrison and Harrison, (1995), Wingers Publishing Inc. , which is considered the standard of avian veterinary care, is a “must” for the aviculturist’s library.

Traveling and Carrying Your Bird

Even if you only are traveling an hour away, take your First Aid kit with you. Bring additional water and food. If your car breaks down, or worse, you are in an accident, the first aid kit and additional supplies may save your bird’s life!

A safe, traveling cage or carrier is also necessary. Covering the carrier minimizes stress on the bird as well as keeping the bird out of drafts.

Brooder

All bird owners need a brooder (a warm enclosed environment for a sick or injured bird.) If you can not go to the expense of a professional hospital brooder, a temporary one can be made using an aquarium with wire lid and heating pad. Line the aquarium with several layers of toweling. Cover that with paper towel (for ease of cleaning.) Set half to 3/4 of the aquarium over the heating pad set on “low” and pre-warm before placing the bird in the brooder. You want part of the aquarium OFF the heating pad, so if the bird feels too warm he has a cooler spot to get to. You will need an accurate thermometer to ascertain the temperature of the brooder. The interior of the aquarium should be between 85 to 95 degrees. A sick or injured bird cannot maintain its body temperature, so warmth, either to prevent shock, or to maintain a sick bird, is necessary. Place a small dish of water in a corner of the brooder to help maintain humidity. Cover the top, back and three sides with another sheet or towel, leaving at least part of the front uncovered for observation.

Antibiotics

The question of antibiotics has been raised on many occasions. Should the bird owner administer antibiotics without having the bird seen by a veterinarian? The answer must be a resounding NO! The reason for this is that not every antibiotic can eliminate every bacteria. And, of course, antibiotics do not work on viruses. It is most important that the bird is seen, that blood work or cultures are done by the veterinarian before any antibiotics are given. Most antibiotics need to be taken for specific amounts of time, with varying dosages not only by weight of bird, but by species, since some birds are far more “sensitive” to drugs than others. Also, most veterinarians will wish to administer an anti-fungal medication along with the antibiotic. Avian internal systems are extraordinarily susceptible to yeast and fungal infections, which can sometimes do more harm than the original bacterial infection!

There are antibiotics available over the counter at pet stores. Do not use them. The most common antibiotic available “over the counter” is tetracycline which is of value in very few, and only very specific, avian illnesses. Tetracycline can cause severe fungal infection if not used with systemic anti-fungal drugs and should be avoided unless under veterinary care!

Toxins

Zinc – Zinc is one of the heavy metals which are toxic to birds. Like lead, it can accumulate in a bird and eventually cause death. Common symptoms are lethargy, depression, not eating and eventually the inability to stand properly – a bird will literally fall from its perch. If you suspect zinc poisoning immediately take your bird to a vet. There are treatments available. Common sources of zinc are:

  • Paints and paint removers (especially rust protectors – even some which are lead free)
    Brass
  • Chrome
  • Galvanized wire (often used for aviaries)
  • Nuts, bolts and nails

In closing

We are sure we have not covered every possible emergency which will arise. The suggestions we have made are based on our experiences as well as the experiences of other bird owners, breeders and avian professionals. We hope that in an emergency, the information we have provided you is helpful.