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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 properly caring for a sick or injured bird. Please always follow your vet’s advice and do not use this article as a means to avoid a veterinary examination. The main idea of this article is to reduce any stress on your recovering bird.
1. HEAT: Sick birds will sit with their feathers down in an attempt to conserve heat. Trying to save heat puts additional burden on the already weakened bird. Your veterinarian will determine if your bird needs 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, anywhere from 103F-106F. Therefore, what often feels warm to us can be cold to them, and this is especially true in sick birds. A simple way to provide heat is to cover 1/2 of the cage with a blanket and place a heat lamp on the other side as a heat source. We generally keep our sick birds at ambient temperatures ranging from 85-95 F. This will vary greatly by individual bird, so it is important to monitor your pet to ensure you are providing the correct temperature and of course seek advice your vet. A bird that is too hot will have very sleek feathers held tightly to its body, will hold its wings (shoulders) slightly away from its body and may pant. If you see any of these signs, your bird is too hot and the ambient temperature should be reduced accordingly. For nighttime warmth I suggest using a red light. Sick birds, like sick people, need rest and being kept under bright light all night 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 pads because it is very difficult to regulate the temperature. If a bird does not perch and sits directly on the pad, it can easily overheat or burn. And in my experience, baby birds raised on a heating pad quickly dehydrate and re-burn.
2. STRESS: Debilitated birds should be kept in a stress-free condition. Often what seems normal to us can cause anxiety in our feathered friends. I suggest taking a close look at your bird’s environment with a critical eye to determine what might be stressors. 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, small children, too many visual stimuli (cage directly in front of a window), competition from cage mates, too much handling, poor nutrition 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 distressed when separated from the colony, so you should seek your vet’s advice on how to house your sick pet. However, generally removing the bird from the group will reduce the stress of competition for food and allow for easy medication and better monitoring. Of course, if an infectious disease is suspected, then the pet should be transferred to an isolation cage and at least to a separate room – preferably to a separate house without other birds.
3. DIET: If your doctor has made dietary recommendations, now is not the time to implement changes. Changes in the type of diet will cause enormous 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 perish from starvation. If your bird is usually sparring but not currently eating, try putting millet spray in the cage that most birds enjoy. The important thing to remember is that it took months to years for the bird to become malnourished and this cannot be fixed in a day or a week. Slow changes are necessary for the sick bird. If you cannot get your pet to eat they will need to be hospitalized for tube feeding and further care. Birds have a high metabolic rate and can quickly starve. So a pet bird that stops eating should always be considered seriously ill, there is certainly a possibility of fatal death. Finally, if your bird is a hand-reared 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 rearing formula should be used. The formula should be mixed with warm water according to the instructions 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 tremendous stress on your bird. Returning to hand feeding is only useful for those birds that willingly accept syringe feeding. Also, if hand feeding, formula should be properly warmed (follow the advice on the formula bag and your vet’s) to avoid food burns from too hot formula and culture stoppage from formula fed to very cold temperature.
4. PHARMACEUTICAL: Routes: 1. Injectable, 2. In water or food, 3. Topical, 4. Oral I prefer not to medicate the pet’s water or food. Medication administered in this way often causes a change in taste and can potentially cause the bird to reduce its food and water intake. Also, when the medication is placed in the food or water it is very difficult to determine how much of the medication the pet has actually ingested. So, in my opinion, the best routes are injectable and oral. Topical medication is often not helpful for the pet and causes greasy feathers.
Before you take your bird home, the doctor or technician should show you how to properly treat your bird. Briefly, the patient should be held in an upright position and the syringe containing the medication should be gently inserted from the left side of the mouth and angled to the right side. Most birds will try to bite the syringe allowing it to be easily inserted into the oral cavity. Slowly push the plunger on the syringe to dispense the medicine into the lower part of the beak. If the pet struggles during the medication, stop for a few minutes and then try again. You should notify your veterinarian if you are unable to treat your pet. The drug can be mixed with a flavoring agent (FlavorX), which will help reduce certain resistances. Occasionally, depending on the reason for treatment, your doctor may give a long-acting injection instead of oral medication, but this has limited uses and is therefore not available for every pet.
5. FOLLOW-UP EXAMINATIONS: Once disease was detected in your pet, he was taken to the veterinarian for a physical examination and diagnostic testing, including laboratory testing. Unfortunately, many people will see their pet improve and not realize that further testing is necessary. I always recommend rechecking the patient at varying intervals depending on the state of impairment. The review allows your doctor to assess the patient’s response to treatment and the owner’s compliance with instructions. Many times during the treatment of an exotic pet the treatment must be changed somewhat to ensure the best response. These rechecks are also used as a way to reinforce the changes needed to keep the bird healthy. In addition, laboratory values can be rechecked to ensure that the patient is truly recovering and not just feeling well enough to continue to mask any weakness. I cannot stress the importance of this monitoring enough, 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 is required of you to nurse your pet back to health.
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