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Sick Pet Bird Care
The article is aimed specifically at pet bird owners and is intended for their use as a basic guide to the proper care of a sick or injured bird. Please always follow your veterinarian’s advice and do not use this article as a means of avoiding a veterinary examination. The main idea of this article is to reduce any stress on your recovering bird.
1. Warmth: Sick birds will sit with their feathers down in an attempt to conserve heat. Trying to maintain heat places an additional burden on the already weakened bird. Your veterinarian will determine if your bird requires hospitalization, but if home care is acceptable, I recommend setting up a tent to keep your bird warm. Birds’ natural temperature is much higher than ours at anywhere from 103F-106F. Therefore, what often seems warm to us can be cold to them, and this is especially true for sick birds. A simple way to provide warmth is to cover 1/2 of the cage with a blanket and place a heat lamp on the other side as a heat source. Generally, we keep our sick birds at ambient temperatures ranging from 85-95F. This will vary greatly with the individual bird, so it is important to monitor your pet to ensure you are maintaining the correct temperature and of course seek the advice of your vet. A bird that is very hot will have very sleek feathers held tightly to its body, will hold its arms (shoulders) slightly away from its body and may pant. If you see any of these signs, your bird is too warm and the temperature of the environment should be lowered accordingly. For the warmth of the night I recommend using a red light. Sick birds, like sick people, require rest, and if kept under bright lights all night, they will be sleep deprived. Also, during the day it is important to provide light so that they are encouraged to eat and can be monitored. Therefore, the entire cage should never be covered during the day. I do not recommend heating blankets because it is very difficult to regulate the temperature. If a bird is not perched and sitting directly on the pillow, it can easily overheat or burn. And in my experience, small birds raised in heaters quickly dehydrate and again succumb to burns.
2. STRESS: Weakened birds should be kept in a stress-free situation. Often what seems normal to us can cause stress to our feathered friends. I suggest taking a close look at your bird’s environment with a critical eye to determine what the stressors may be. Some common ones include, the bird in the center of the house traffic with no opportunity to rest, cigarette smoke or aerosols in the bird’s environment, lack of darkness/sleep time at night, other pets, young children, too many visual stimuli (cage directly in front of a window), competition from cagemates, excessive handling, poor feeding and temperature extremes (such as birds kept in kitchens). I recommend that sick birds be left in their cage and allowed to recover peacefully. Think of it as bed rest for your pet! Excessive handling can stress the bird and will require the bird to use extra calories. If the bird is housed with other birds, it is usually best to remove the bird to a single cage. Some birds can become very stressed when separated from the colony, so you should seek your vet’s advice on how to cage your sick pet. However, generally removing the bird from the flock will reduce the stress of competition for food and allow for easier and better medication handling. Of course, if infectious diseases are suspected, then the animal should be moved to an isolation cage and at least to a separate room – preferably a separate house without other birds.
3. FOOD: If your doctor has given dietary recommendations, now is not the time to implement the change. Changes in the type of diet will cause great stress to your bird and should be started when the bird has recovered. Always discuss how and when to make dietary changes with your pet’s doctor. In general, I recommend offering all of the bird’s favorite foods during illness because many sick birds become anorexic and may starve to death. If your bird is usually a planter but is not currently eating, try putting millet spray in the cage, which most birds like. The important thing to remember is that it took months to years for the bird to become malnourished and this cannot be corrected in a day or a week. Slow changes are essential for the sick bird. If you are unable to get your pet to eat, he/she should be admitted to the hospital for feeding and further care. Birds have a high metabolic rate and can starve quickly. Thus, a pet bird that stops eating should always be assumed to be seriously ill, of course the potential for death is present. Finally, if your bird is a hand-raised baby and is not eating due to illness, you can often return it to hand feeding (syringe feeding) during the recovery period. A good hand growth formula should be used. The formula should be mixed with hot water as directed on the bag and offered to the bird. Do not force the bird to eat. Pet owners should never force feed their birds. A bird can easily aspirate (inhale food) and develop pneumonia, and force feeding causes great stress to your bird. Returning to hand feeding is only beneficial for those birds that willingly accept syringe feeding. Also, if hand feeding, the formula should be heated correctly (follow the advice on the formula bag and your vet’s bag) to avoid food burns from too hot formula and crops stuck from formula fed at a temperature very cold.
4. MEDICATION: Routes: 1. Injector, 2. In water or food, 3. Topical, 4. Oral I prefer not to medicate in the pet’s water or food. Medicines given in this way often cause a change in taste and can potentially cause the bird to reduce its food and water intake. Also, when the drug is placed in food or water, it is very difficult to determine how much of the drug the animal has actually ingested. So, in my opinion, the best routes are by injection and by mouth. Topical medications are often not helpful for the pet and cause oily feathers.
Before you take your bird home, the doctor or technician should show you how to properly treat the bird. Briefly, the patient should be kept in an upright position and the syringe containing the medicine should be gently inserted from the left side of the mouth and tilted to the right side. Most birds will try to bite the syringe allowing it to easily enter the oral cavity. Slowly press the plunger on the syringe to dispense the medicine into the lower part of the beak. If the animal has difficulty during the treatment, stop for a few moments and then try again. You should consult your veterinarian if you are unable to treat your pet. The drug can be mixed with a flavoring agent (FlavorX), which will help reduce some resistance. Occasionally, depending on the reason for the treatment, your doctor may be able to give a long-acting injection instead of oral medication, but this has limited uses and so is not available for every pet.
5. FOLLOW-UP EXAMINATIONS: Once the disease was detected in your pet, he/she was taken to the vet for a physical examination and diagnostic work-up including laboratory testing. Unfortunately, many people will see that their pet is improving and not realize that a follow-up exam is necessary. I always suggest reviewing the patient at variable intervals depending on the state of debilitation. Rechecking allows your doctor to assess the patient’s response to treatment and the owner’s compliance with instructions. Many times when treating an exotic animal, the treatment must be modified somewhat to ensure the best response. These reviews are also used as a way to reinforce the changes necessary for the bird to remain healthy. In addition, laboratory values can be reviewed to ensure that the patient is truly recovering and not just feeling well enough again to resume hiding any weakness. I cannot stress enough the importance of this follow-up, it is extremely important to your bird’s health.
Most importantly, follow your vet’s advice and ask questions to make sure you fully understand what you need to get your pet back to health.
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