Basic First Aid for Pet Birds
No matter how careful we are with our pet birds, accidents are part of life—and pet parenthood. Get prepared to react calmly and efficiently when accidents happen by learning basic first-aid skills and putting together a first-aid kit.
Be prepared for an accident
Here are the first steps:.
Identify an avian veterinarian
In an emergency, immediate action can make the difference between life and death. Take the time now to find a board-certified avian veterinarian near you and make an appointment so you can get to know each other and your bird can have an initial wellness exam.
This is also the time to discuss a first-aid plan specific to your bird. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend bird supplies to keep on hand and advise if/when to use topical treatments, as some can be harmful.
For minor injuries, you may be able to successfully perform first aid at home, though you'll still need to consult your veterinarian any time your bird is sick or injured. Some injuries, even ones that seem minor at first, can turn serious if not quickly and properly treated.
Keep your avian veterinarian's contact information (and that of the nearest 24-hour emergency avian animal hospital) handy at all times and pass these details along to anyone who cares for your bird in your absence.
Prepare a first-aid kit
Assembling a bird first-aid kit enables you to be better equipped to treat or stabilize your bird in the event of an emergency. Along with any recommendations from your avian veterinarian, your basic supplies should include:
- A towel
- Sterile gauze pads and bandages
- Elastic bandage tape
- Cotton balls
- Styptic powder
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Antimicrobial pet wound spray
- Nail clippers
- A hemostat
- Heating pad
- Bird carrier
Note that some items have a limited shelf life (for example, hydrogen peroxide can expire 30–45 days after being opened), so check your first-aid kit regularly and discard expired products.
Learn basic bird first-aid skills
From daily mishaps to grooming accidents, knowing the basic steps to treat or stabilize your bird before you call your vet can help ease the pain and stress on your pet.
How to treat minor cuts or wounds
The first thing to know if your bird experiences a minor bleeding injury such as a cut, beak chip or broken toenail is to stay calm to avoid upsetting your pet further. Anxiety causes the heart rate to rise, which can cause additional bleeding. To treat a small bleeding wound:
- Gently apply pressure to the small cut with a clean piece of gauze or a gauze pad
- Do not hold your bird by the chest or compress their chest as this can cause suffocation
- Apply pressure until the bleeding subsides. This can take up to 10 minutes.
- Allow your bird time to calm down and destress before taking any other action. Ensure they begin eating normally and seem to be getting back to their normal personality before moving forward. If your bird does not begin eating or still seems stressed, contact your veterinarian.
- While your bird will likely begin preening around the area of the wound themselves once they have calmed down. After the bleeding has stopped, you may help clean the surrounding area with water if needed. You will need to avoid the actual wound site as it may open back up with water and gentle pressure/rubbing. Remember your bird is likely still stressed after their accident, so only clean the area once they are calm and if they need assistance.
For broken toenails or chipped beaks:
- Apply styptic powder to the damaged spot
- Cornstarch, baking soda or flour can be used if you don't have styptic powder, although it may be less effective
- Apply pressure to the area with a clean cloth or gauze pad until bleeding stops
- If the wound is large or does not stop bleeding, call your veterinarian as soon as possible
How to treat broken blood feathers
A broken blood feather can be an alarming sight. These young feathers are still growing, and the shafts have blood inside of them. A blood feather can sometimes break on its own or when your bird's wings are being clipped. If your bird experiences a broken blood feather:
- Apply pressure with a sterile gauze pad to stop the bleeding
- When the bleeding stops, immediately contact your veterinarian to determine if the feather needs to be removed
- If a veterinary visit is required, carefully wrap your bird in a towel and put them in their bird carrier
- As removing a blood feather can be very painful and can result in further injuries if not removed properly, never attempt to remove a blood feather on your own unless you have been trained to do so. Always consult your veterinarian for their help.
How to treat heat stress
Birds can become overheated on hot days. Signs of heat stress, which can lead to life-threatening heatstroke if you don’t take immediate steps to cool your bird down, include panting and holding their wings away from their body. To cool your bird down:
- Move your bird to a cooler part of the house and mist them with cool water
- Avoid putting your bird in front of an air conditioner or fan
- Make sure your bird has access to clean, fresh water and closely monitor their behavior
- Contact your veterinarian and explain the situation and your bird's demeanor
Remember that seasons and weather change and the location of your bird’s habitat may have to change along with them. Avoid hot, direct sunlight, drafty windows in winter, and air that blows directly on them to help mitigate stress and keep their environment comfortable.
How to care for a broken wing
A broken wing requires immediate veterinary attention. Use elastic bandaging tape to lightly wrap your pet—not too tight—and prevent wing movement during transport.
When to see a veterinarian
While some smaller cuts and wounds can be cared for at home, there are many medical situations that require immediate veterinary attention. In addition to those mentioned above, these include:
- Respiratory issues
- Scratch or bite wounds inflicted by other pets
- Egg binding
- Eye infections
Keep in mind that the list above is not exhaustive and that one of the first signs of illness in birds—and most pets—is a change in behavior. Regularly observe your bird's normal behavior from a distance. If you see a change, contact your veterinarian. Be ready to answer basic questions about your bird's age, diet and behavior—as well as any information you have about your bird's behavioral change, illness or injury—to help your veterinarian make a diagnosis.