This article is aimed specifically at pet bird owners and is intended to be used 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 way to avoid a veterinary exam. The key idea of this article is to minimize any stress on your recovering bird.
1. WARMTH: Sick birds will sit with their feathers down trying to keep warm. The effort to conserve heat places an additional burden on the already weakened bird. Your veterinarian will determine whether your bird needs hospitalization, but if home care is acceptable, I recommend setting up a tent to keep the bird warm. A bird’s 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. An easy 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 a temperature between 85-95F. This will vary greatly depending on the bird, so it is important to monitor your pet to make sure you are providing the right temperature and of course seek the advice of your vet. A bird that is too hot will have very fine feathers held tightly to the body, the wings (shoulders) may move slightly away from the body and breech. If you see any of these signs, your bird is too warm and the environmental temperature should be reduced accordingly. I recommend using red light for warmth at night. Sick birds, like sick birds, need to rest and if they are kept under bright lights all night, they lose sleep. In addition, it is important to provide light during the day so that eating can be encouraged and controlled. Therefore, the entire cage should never be covered during the day. I do not recommend a heater because it is very difficult to regulate the temperature. If a bird is not present and does not sit directly on the cushion, they can easily overheat or burn. And in my experience, broilers raised in the heater quickly dehydrate and burn again.
2. STRESS: Weakened birds must be kept in a stress-free environment. What often seems normal to us can cause stress to our feathered friends. I recommend examining your bird’s environment with a critical eye to determine what the stressors may be. Some common ones include a bird in the middle of household traffic with no chance to rest, cigarette smoke or aerosols in the bird’s environment, no darkness/lack of time to sleep at night, other pets, small children, too much visual stimulus (right in the cage). in front of a window), competition from cage mates, excessive handling, poor nutrition and temperature extremes (such as birds kept in kitchens). I recommend leaving sick birds in the cage and allowing them to recover peacefully. Think of this as bed rest for your pet! Excessive handling can stress the bird and require the bird to use extra calories. If the bird is housed with other birds, it is usually best to move the bird to a single cage. Some birds can be very stressed when separated from the colony, so you should seek the advice of your veterinarian before caging a sick pet. However, generally removing the bird from the flock will reduce the stress of competition for food and allow for easier and better control of the drugs. Of course, if infectious disease is suspected, the pet should be moved to an isolation cage and at least to another room, preferably a separate house without other birds.
3. DIET: If your doctor gave dietary recommendations, this is not the time to implement a change. Changes in the type of diet will cause a lot of stress to the bird and should be started when the bird has recovered. Always discuss how and when to make dietary changes with your pet’s doctor. I generally recommend offering the bird’s favorite foods when disease is present, as many sick birds become anorexic and may perish from starvation. If your bird is normally a seed eater, but is currently not eating, try placing millet sprays in the cage that most birds like. It must be remembered that it took months or 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 your pet is unable to eat, it may need to be hospitalized for gavage feeding and further care. Birds have a high metabolic rate and can quickly starve to death. Thus, a pet bird that stops eating should always be assumed to be seriously ill, the potential for death is certainly present. Finally, if your bird is a hand-raised baby and won’t eat due to illness, you can often return to hand-feeding (syringe feeding) during the convalescence 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 (breathe in food) and develop pneumonia and force feeding causes tremendous stress to the bird. Returning to hand feeding is only effective for birds that willingly accept syringe feeding. Also, if hand-fed, the formula should be properly warmed (follow the formula bag’s instructions and your vet’s) to prevent food burning from too hot formula and to stop cropping from formula fed at too cool temperatures.
4. MEDICATION: Routes: 1. Injectable, 2. In Water or Food, 3. Topical, 4. Oral I prefer not to cure 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 food and water intake. Also, when medication is placed in food or water, it is very difficult to determine how much of the medication the pet has actually ingested. Thus, in my opinion the best ways are injectable and oral. Topical medications are often ineffective for pets and will cause greasy feathers.
Before you bring your bird home, the doctor or technician should show you how to properly heal your bird. Briefly, the patient should be kept upright and the syringe containing the medication 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 so that it can be easily inserted into the oral cavity. Gently press the plunger of the syringe to dispense the medication into the lower part of the beak. If the pet struggles while taking the medication, stop for a few moments and try again. You should notify your veterinarian if you are unable to treat your pet. Medications can be mixed with a flavoring agent (FlavorX), which will help reduce resistance a bit. Sometimes, depending on the reason for the treatment, your doctor may prescribe a long-acting injection instead of oral medication, but it has limited uses and is therefore not available for all pets.
5. FOLLOW-UP EXAMINATIONS: As soon as your pet was diagnosed with the disease, he was taken to the vet for a physical examination and diagnosis, including laboratory tests. Unfortunately, many people will see that their pet is improving and do not realize that a follow-up examination is necessary. I always recommend rechecking the patient at variable intervals depending on the state of weakness. A revalidation exam allows your doctor to assess the patient’s response to treatment and the owner’s compliance with instructions. Often when treating an exotic pet the treatment needs to be modified slightly to ensure the best response. These reviews are also used as a way to reinforce the changes needed to keep the birds healthy. Additionally, lab values can be rechecked to ensure that the patient is truly recovering and not feeling well enough to start hiding weakness. I cannot stress enough the importance of this monitoring, it is very important to the health of your bird.
Most importantly, follow your vet’s advice and ask questions to make sure you fully understand what is needed from you to nurse your pet back to health.