This chapter not only addresses many of the urgent medical situations that bird owners are likely to encounter, but also explains how to prevent them; the reasons they are medical emergencies; signs of illness your bird may exhibit; recommended at-home treatments for the problem; and what course of treatment your avian veterinarian is likely to follow once the bird arrives at the clinic or hospital.

The following information suggests safe and simple guidelines for you to follow when your bird is injured or ill. However, they are not intended to replace veterinary medical care. In medical emergencies that concern your pet bird, always consult your veterinarian first. If his or her advice is contrary to the recommendations we suggest.

follow your veterinarian's advice—he or she has the advantage of conducting a hands-on examination of your pet, as well as having the knowledge of your bird's physical condition and her medical history.

The Physical Examination

When you first arrive at the veterinarian's office, let the staff know immediately if your bird is in critical condition. The veterinarian will likely perform a rapid initial exam to determine the extent of the injuries or illness and then begin life-saving treatment that includes fluid and/or oxygen therapy. Once the bird has received this initial treatment, the veterinarian will want to conduct a complete physical exam and to take a history of the bird's health. Be prepared to tell the veterinarian the following information:

• how long you've had the bird and how you acquired her

• any prior medical problems the bird had

• what the bird has been eating

• what the bird's activity level has been like

• the reason the bird is at the clinic

• what home treatments you've tried before bringing the bird to the clinic

• what signs of illness you have seen in the bird

• what changes in the bird's behavior you've noticed

Note: If you think your bird ingested or inhaled some type of poison, bring the product and its manufacturers' container along.


Shock is a critical situation that occurs when the cardiovascular system fails to supply adequate blood to the organs of the body. As a result, low blood pressure develops and the cells in the body do not receive adequate amounts of nutrients and oxygen. Shock may

-k. follow any serious insult or trauma to the body, includ ing bleeding, severe infection, dehydration, prolonged First Aid for .. . ■ ■ • • ,r i r j p< | nll(|v diarrhea, vomiting or poisoning. If left untreated, shock frequently results in death.

Birds that are in shock will appear weak, act depressed, breathe rapidly and have a fluffed-up appearance. If your bird displays these signs, shock should be suspected.

If you believe that your bird is in shock, keep her warm, cover her cage and transport her to your veterinarian's office immediately. Be sure to call your veterinarian's office first. Make sure they are open, that there is a veterinarian on duty and give them time to prepare for the emergency.

Although this /tint's feathrrs are fluffed, she isn 'I in shock. "Shorky " birds are u<eak and act depressed in addition to having fluffed feathers.

Once your bird arrives at the veterinary hospital, your veterinarian will immediately examine the bird, get a brief history and begin treatment This will include administering fluids to hydrate the bird and oxygen to ease difficult breathing, warming the bird, administering "shock-specific" drugs as needed and closely monitoring the bird.

Once your bird is stable, diagnostic tests will likely be recommended. These can be very important to better assess the extent of the injuries, offer a realistic prognosis and monitor the response to ueatment

Loss of Appetite

Birds usually lose their appetite when they are sick or injured. lx>ss of appetite is not a diagnosis. It is simply the result of a medical problem and serves as an indication that there is a problem with your bird. Remem-18 ber, healthy birds have healthy appetites!

When a bird suddenly loses her appetite, it's easy for an observant owner to notice. However, when a bird gradually loses her appetite, it may be more difficult to notice, especially if the decrease in food consumption is not a significant quantity.

If you suspect your bird isn't eating as much as she normally does, weigh her at home. Bird owners should make a habit of weighing their pets regularly and keeping this information in a written record. Weight loss can be a good early indicator of a medical problem. Concerns should arise when weight loss approaches 10 percent of the normal weight for your bird. It is essential to purchase a reliable scale that weighs in grams, not ounces. Gram scales are much more accurate at detecting small, but significant, changes in weight.

Birds have rapid metabolic rates and as a result require many calories in relation to their small size to maintain their optimum body weight. Therefore, if small parrots, such as budgies and cockatiels, go for more than twelve hours, and larger parrots go for more than twenty-four hours without food, an emergency situation may be developing.

If you notice that your bird eats less food than usual or refuses to eat altogether, try to tempt her with a variety of favorite foods. Warming your bird's food may make eating more appealing. You can also try to feed your bird by hand or with a spoon. If after a short period of time, there is no improvement in appetite, call your veterinarian.

Your veterinarian may need to "force-feed" your bird by gently passing a feeding tube into her crop and instilling a liquid diet that is high in quality and in calories. Once the bird is stabilized with nutrients, fluids and possibly medications, it is important to try to

Periodically weigh your bird on a gram scale—a loss of weight may indicate an underlying health problem.

A. determine the underlying cause of the loss of appetite.

After this is done, more specific therapy can be admin-Pci Birds istered. In addition, there are medications that can be used to stimulate your bird's appetite.

Common Diagnostic Tests

Birds cannot communicate with us, and generally hide or cover up signs of disease very well. As a result, veterinarians have to depend not only on a thorough history and complete physical exam, but also on diagnostic tests to uncover the actual cause of the medical problem.

There are a few commonly performed diagnostic tests that can be especially useful in an emergency situation and will be mentioned throughout this section of the book. Brief descriptions of these valuable and informative tests are included here.

Complete Blood Count and Differential

Your avian veterinarian ma\ draw Mood from your bird to screen for infection, inflammation, anemia, blood parasites and protein levels.

A complete blood count and differential is an excellent initial screening test for the presence of infection, inflammation, anemia, blood parasites and protein levels. It obtains packed cell volume (also known as PCV or hematocrit), plasma protein concentration, total white blood cell count and includes a blood film examination for the differential white blood cell count, blood cell appearance and a platelet count estimate.

Blood Chemistries

Evaluation of chemical components in the blood provides important information that helps to formulate an accurate diagnosis, prescribe proper therapy and monitor response to therapy. These assays look for imbalances in certain biochemical functions, which when present could point to the possibility of organ 20 dysfunction.

Radiographs or "X-rays" 2

The ability to "see" inside the body is one of the most First Aid valuable diagnostic tools available. Bone abnormalities, size and appearance of most internal organs, presence of foreign bodies or soft tissue masses, such as tumors, and much more can be evaluated with radiographs.

Bacterial Culture/Sensitivity and Fungi/Yeast Culture

Our ability to identify and even prevent many infectious diseases is greatly enhanced by this group of diagnostic tests. a sterile cotton-tipped swab is used to carefully collect a specimen for gram stain and culture from an infected area. These tests used together identify the specific bacteria, fungi or yeast present and their approximate numbers. The bacterial sensitivity portion then identifies which antibiotics would be most effective in treating the infection, if it's bacterial in origin.

General Supportive Care

A commonly used medical term and one that appears throughout this section is "general supportive care." This simply means basic medical care from which most sick birds will benefit, regardless of the illness. This term can apply to care administered both at home and in the veterinary hospital. However, the breadth and scope of general supportive care administered in a hospital setting is much more sophisticated and beneficial for the patient.

At home, general supportive care should include keeping the bird warm, making sure she has easy access to food and water, keeping her quiet and calm and watching the bird for signs of improvement or deterioration in her condition.

In the veterinary hospital, general supportive care could include warmth, oxygen therapy, fluid therapy, "force-feeding" and nebulization therapy (a mist or 21

-I, spray of water that may contain medication). In addi tion, this care would also include close monitoring by First Aid for , „ . , . .

Pci Birds t'le attending veterinarian and the trained support staff.


The signs that indicate an avian medical emergency, home treatment, follow-up care and prevention of the most common emergencies that can affect pet birds follow.

Animal bites

Bites can be life-threatening emergencies. Animal bites not only cause the obvious puncture wounds but also the potential for the not-so-obvious serious internal injuries and fractures resulting from the "crush" of the animals jaws. Serious infections can develop from being bitten or from being scratched. Once bacteria gain entry into the body from even a very small puncture wound, they can spread via the bloodstream and develop rapidly into a life-threatening situation.

The first forty-eight hours after an animal bite is a critical time period. Even if your bird appears bright and alert immediately following an attack, within this window of time, serious infection could develop.


Sometimes bite marks can be seen, but often they are hidden by the feathers. Look for general signs of trauma, which could include blood, matted feathers, lameness, "droopy" wing, unsteadiness on the perch or an unusual increase of feathers in the cage or on the house floor.

Home Treatment

There is really no effective home treatment. Call your veterinarian's office and transport the bird there immediately.

Veterinary Treatment

Your bird will first be checked for stability, and if she 22 appears severely injured and in shock, treatment will begin immediately. On the other hand, if your pet appears stable, a complete physical exam will be given first and this will be followed by appropriate treatment which will invariably include the administration of antibiotics. Diagnostic tests may include radiographs to examine for bone and internal injuries and a blood test.


Be careful and use common sense when keeping birds with other pets, especially dogs and cats. If you do have your bird out of her cage when other pets are around, supervise them closely.

Beak Injury

A beak injury is an emergency because a bird needs both her upper and lower beak to eat and preen properly. Infections can also set in rather quickly if a beak is fractured or punctured.

Beak injuries often occur after a bird has been attacked by another bird, after the bird flies into a win-dowpane or a mirror, or if she has a run-in with an operating ceiling fan.


An injured beak may be cracked, punctured or partially missing. Blood may also be noted coming from the beak or the skin adjacent to the injured area.

To prevent injury due to aggressive behavior, always closely supervise your pets when they are interacting.

First Aid for Pet Birds

Preiient your bird from flying, and possible injury, by regularly trimming her wings.

Home Treatment

Control the bleeding (refer to the section below on bleeding to learn how to do this). Keep the bird calm and quiet. Contact your avian veterinarian's office.

Veterinary Treatment

A complete physical and thorough exam of the beak is necessary before any recommendations can be made. Minor injuries can be cleaned and medicated and you will probably need to follow up at home with antibiotics. More serious injuries could require surgery to repair the damaged beak.

A bird with a beak injury is usually reluctant to eat. This could last for just a few days or for up to a week or even longer. Try offering softer foods, food cut into very small pieces or warmed food. In some instances, some form of "force-feeding" may be required.


Keep your bird's wings properly trimmed to prevent her from flying into walls or windows. Turn off fans when your bird is out of her cage. Birds have been known to occasionally attack one another, so be careful when birds, especially larger parrots, are kept together. Also be careful when other household pets, especially dogs and cats, come in contact with your pet bird.

Preiient your bird from flying, and possible injury, by regularly trimming her wings.

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