Avian Health

birdBasic Bird Care

Owning a pet bird can be a fun and rewarding experience. However, many birds require a lot of attention, great nutrition, and an owner who is familiar with their common illness, grooming needs and early signs of disease.

When you acquire a new bird it is important to schedule an examination with a veterinarian. Bring along a fecal sample and any questions you have about bird care. In order to prevent the spread of illness, keep your new bird isolated from other birds in your household until the new bird is examined by a veterinarian. Psittacosis is a disease carried by some young birds that is transmissible to other birds as well as humans and causes flulike symptoms.

Bird-proofing your house when your bird is out is a very important aspect of being a bird owner. There are several common household dangers that can result in serious injury. Windows and mirrors should always be kept covered if/when you bird is allowed to fly around a room. Doors and windows should be kept shut and all family members should be alerted that the bird is loose in the house to prevent an accidental escape. Other pets (dogs, cats or other birds) should be carefully supervised if they have access to your bird. Pots of boiling water, toilet bowls, and any other source of water should be covered since they may attract a bird who wants to bathe. All overhead fans should also be turned off. If your bird gets covered in Vaseline or any other oil or grease it can become chilled and die as this grease affects the ability of the feathers to insulate the body.  Since birds are so sensitive extra caution needs to be taken around smoke, fumes, or gas: birds can die of exposure to even a small amount of carbon monoxide, paint fumes, smoke, or toxic fumes from a dry, hot Teflon pan. They are also very sensitive to insecticide sprays, pest strips, and several varieties of household plants.

Birds are very sensitive to temperature and generally need a warm environment but should be kept away from direct blowing from a heating vent. Drafts or too much cold can cause illness or death. Birds should also be kept out of direct sun on hot days to avoid illness or death from overheating.

Birds lose their feathers and grown new ones approximately once a year- this is called molting. It may happen suddenly or gradually over a longer period of time, depending on the bird’s environmental temperature and exposure to light. Keep the temperature warm during molting, and be aware that prolonged molting or changed from normal molting behavior can signal illness.

A sudden dropping of feathers can also happen when the bird is under extreme stress. Plucking feathers is not the same as molting and the underlying cause should be identified with the help of a veterinarian. Usually it is some form of stress such as boredom, crowding, separation from its owner, etc. but it can also indicate an underlying illness, which should be ruled out first.

Trimming the primary flight feathers keeps a bird from flying around the house and possibly injuring itself, or escaping out an open door or window. There is some evidence that keeping your bird’s flight feathers intact and allowing them to fly regularly in a safely enclosed and bird-proofed area can be extremely beneficial for their physical and mental health. If this is not a possibility then trimming your bird’s flight feathers can help to keep him/her safe. A veterinarian can clip your birds wings or teach you how to do it. Do not try clipping the wings without seeking instruction first. Some feathers have a blood supply and will bleed severely when cut.

Birds’ beaks and nails grow continuously and will normally stay worn down without intervention. If overgrowth of the beak occurs, take the bird to a veterinarian who can trim his/her beak but also help determine the underlying cause of overgrowth, which is sometimes illness. The veterinarian can also trim toenails. Owners are not advised to trim beaks or nails without proper instruction.

There are several common ailments that develop in birds. Paying close attention to your bird and recognizing symptoms of disease early is important because birds are very fragile creatures that can become quite sick very quickly. It is important for owners to pay close attention to their birds in order to identify early signs of illness.

Some things to watch for in your bird include changes in food or water intake, changes in weight or appetite, changes in the quantity, size, color, or texture of droppings, regurgitation, changes in activity (refusal to get on a perch, falling off the perch, or decreased movement talking or singing, droopy look, fluffed up feathers). Changes in respiration (heavy breathing, wheezing, sneezing, open-mouth breathing, discharge around the eyes), prolonged molting, feather pulling or broken/chewed feathers, injuries or a head tilt can also signal that something is wrong. Convulsions in cockatoos are usual caused by a vitamin B deficiency and are indicative of an emergency. If this happens to your cockatoo he’she should see the veterinarian immediately.

Birds are also prone to developing eye problems. Symptoms can include swollen eyelids, frequent blinking, rubbing the eye or face, discharge, or cloudiness. Even a minor abrasion can quickly deteriorate into a serious situation. Early diagnosis and treatment minimize chances of permanent damage, so a veterinarian should examine your bird as soon as possible.

Respiratory distress in a bird is very serious and veterinary care should be sought as soon as possible. Symptoms include sneezing, discharge from the nostrils (at the base of the upper part of the beak), coughing, loss or change in sound of talking or singing, increased or labored respiration. Any bird with respiratory problems should be kept very warm (85-90F) and away from all drafts.

Colds and sinusitis (inflamed sinuses) are common in birds and the causes can range from bacteria, virus, fungus, or vitamin deficiency and are exacerbated by cold, wetness, drafts and stress. Sinusitis is more common in large parrots, cockatiels, and canaries. It may be evidenced by a firm swelling near one or both eyes, redness of the eyes, sneezing with watery discharge, or lethargy, and should be treated by a veterinarian. Pneumonia is less common, but serious, and the bird should be seen by a veterinarian.

Scaly-face or scaly-leg mite affects all birds but especially Budgies; watch for white honeycomb-like crusts around the beak, eyelids or legs. Feather mites (red mite) and lice can affect all birds but are uncommon; watch for scratching, skin irritation, and restlessness, or feathers that look moth-eaten. Canaries and finches are also susceptible to air sac mites, indicated by difficulty breathing, coughing, or gasping. All birds are susceptible to internal parasites of the digestive system, including roundworms, threadworms, tapeworms (especially African greys), giardia (especially budgies) and trichomoniasis (especially canaries and finches). A veterinarian can identify digestive parasites with a fecal sample.

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