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YOUR BIRD'S ANNUAL EXAM

Your yearly pilgrimage to the veterinarian is vital for your bird's health and well-being. And despite some nervous attempts by less-cooperative patients to elude the veterinarian, your visit can be fun and informative.

In the wild, predators pursue the sick and vulnerable, so birds conceal signs of weakness. To the untrained eye, a sick bird may look completely normal. But annual beak-to-tail examinations will help your veterinarian detect and treat underlying medical conditions.

The Examination

First, your veterinarian will look for signs of illness, such as abnormal droppings, a runny nose, feather abnormalities, or breathing difficulty. He will take a thorough medical history and ask about your bird's health, behavior, habits and diet. Next, the doctor will restrain your anxious pet in a towel to check out his skin, feathers, eyes, heart, respiratory tract and other organ systems.

Additional Testing

Your vet may recommend blood tests to establish your bird's normal values and to detect any underlying medical problems. Blood tests help evaluate organ function and may reveal anemia and bacterial, viral or fungal diseases. The doctor also may collect samples from your bird's mouth and cloaca (or vent) to test for disease-causing bacteria, viruses or fungi.

Don't clean your bird's cage for 24 hours before your appointment - lining the cage bottom with waxed paper two hours before the examination will provide plenty of fresh fecal samples. The veterinarian will evaluate the amount and appearance of the droppings and may use fecal tests to check for internal parasites.

Vaccinations

Unlike dogs and cats, birds generally don't need annual vaccinations. However, the doctor may recommend a Polyomavirus vaccination or other specialized vaccinations for high-risk groups such as pets who attend bird shows and birds in large collections with frequent additions. Discuss your bird's risk with your veterinarian.

Now it's your turn to ask questions - and remember, your pet's doctor can help you with more than medical issues. So if you can't keep your restless parrot from picking his plumage, speak up! Your veterinarian is your ally in preventing behavior problems, too.