HELP! My Bird is Sick!

Birds have established protective mechanisms to hide or mask symptoms of disease until they are very ill. In order to survive in the wild birds must keep a normal appearance or they will be preyed upon. As bird owners we must be able to recognize early symptoms of illness. Any change in appetite, vocalization, activity and droppings should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian.

Keeping the cage clean daily allows the pet owner to observe the number and consistency of their droppings daily. Lining the cage with newspaper, paper towel or butchers paper allows the droppings to be easily examined. The dropping has three components: feces, urine and urates. The feces should be formed and green if on seed or brown if on pellets. Urine should be clear. The urates should be white to cream color. Changes in color, consistency or amount should alert the owner to a potential problem. Diets high in fruit or vegetables will have softer feces and more urine. Keeping water and food bowls clean is imperative. Feed only the amount of food that you know your bird will eat in one days time. Discard any food remaining at the end of the day. Do not leave moist foods in the cage for more than two hours.

Examine your bird for abnormalities. The eyes should be clear, without swelling or redness. The nostrils should be clean, without any discharge, redness or swelling. Feathers should be smooth and shiny. If a bird is regurgitating, the feathers around the face will stick together in small clumps. Check the vent feathers for collection of feces or urates. The vent area should be clean. Skin should be light pink, smooth with very little flaking. Watch for redness or loss of pattern on the underside of feet.

Serious signs of illness would include a fluffed bird standing with eyes partially or fully closed at an active time of day. Labored or noisy breathing from your pet requires immediate veterinary attention.

Emergency care at home should include heat and food. Place a heating pad or heat lamp on one side of the cage so the bird can seek the warmth. Wrap the cage in towels. Try to maintain a temperature of 85-90 degrees F. If the bird becomes too hot he will hold his wings from his body and breath rapidly. Make sure wires are out of beak reach. Place food bowls with favorite treats in front of the bird. Warmed corn kernels(frozen or canned) will often be accepted. Baby rice or oatmeal cereal mixed with warm water and a pinch of sugar can be used. Place a very small amount of this on the outside of the beak. Do not ever try to force feed unless you have a feeding tube and know how to use it. Do not give antibiotics, alcohol or other “miracle cures”. Get the bird to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Antibiotics sold in pet stores generally will kill off the normal intestinal flora (healthy bacteria) but will not destroy the pathogenic (harmful) bacteria. These antibiotics will however interfere with testing that your veterinarian needs to do to diagnose the true problem.

Transport your bird to the veterinarian in a small travel cage or carrier. Place the heating pad or a hot water bottle on the outside of the carrier. Then wrap the carrier and heating pad with a towel. Check the bird frequently to make sure he is not becoming over heated. Bring with you cage papers from the last 24 hours so that these may be examined.

We recommend that you take your bird for yearly veterinary check-ups just as you do your dog or cat. Most people are amazed that their seemingly healthy bird has worms or yeast infections. Detecting problems early is the best way to avoid losing a bird. Careful observation by the pet bird owner can greatly reduce the number of life threatening emergencies.