If you have chosen a bird as a companion, you probably know about the many joys and challenges of having birds as pets. Here are some general guidelines that you can follow to make sure your feathered friends stay healthy and happy over the course of their (often) long lives.
First and foremost, you must remember that by the time a bird shows any blatant signs of illness, that illness has usually become quite advanced. So, it is especially important that you keep a close eye on your bird and seek veterinary care at the very first sign of a problem.
Signs of good health in a bird include bright eyes, clean and shiny feathers, good appetite and lots of energy. Healthy birds are alert to their surroundings, upright, balanced and quite active. The bird’s droppings should be composed of a black or dark green solid, a clear part, and a creamy white part. Healthy birds eat a lot and make a lot of droppings! Birds should maintain an appropriate weight for their species. You should be able to feel your bird’s keel, but it should not be sharp and sunken or bulging on the sides.
As a prey species, parrots are naturally inclined to hide any signs of illness or weakness until it becomes severe. Therefore, watch carefully for any change in your bird’s normal attitude, well-being or behavior. Signs of illness include:
- Decline in appetite or water intake
- Increased aggression toward humans or cage mates
- A sleepy or lethargic appearance
- Huddling or sitting low on the perch or on the cage floor
- Fluffed feathers
- Weight loss (signaled by a prominent keel or breastbone)
- Open-mouth breathing or difficulty with breathing
- Any discharge from the eyes or nose
Also, watch for any change in the bird’s normal droppings: an increase or decrease in the amount, dryness, loose construction, color, undigested food or ratio of feces to urates. Remember, droppings are individual to each bird, so what may be normal for your bird may not be normal for another.
Veterinary care for birds
If your bird shows any of these signs, a visit to the veterinarian is essential. Try to establish yourself with an avian veterinarian in your area before an emergency occurs. Since birds are so unique, they do better in the hands of a specialist familiar with their treatment and care. If you can’t get to the veterinarian right away, keep the bird warm (a room temperature of at least 85 degrees). An ordinary heating pad wrapped around the cage is a good way to maintain temperature. Cover the cage and protect it from drafts.
Also, when you first get your bird, a veterinarian should give him or her a “well bird” exam right away. This exam will ensure that your new friend is free from disease. It’s also a good time to introduce yourself and your bird to the vet, and get instructions on diet and nutrition, housing and medical needs. After the initial visit, all birds should have yearly health exams throughout their lives.
A final note: Never give a bird medication without consulting with a veterinarian first. Many human or other animal medications are harmful to birds. You can waste valuable time trying to treat your bird yourself — and you can do more harm than good. It’s best to let your veterinarian prescribe the most appropriate and safest treatment.