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A Trip to the Veterinarian: Your Partner in Keeping Your Bird Healthy

A Trip to the Veterinarian: Your Partner in Keeping Your Bird Healthy

We know that your bird’s health is a top priority—a healthy bird is a happy bird and keeping your feathered friend fit, alert and fed right is important to your lives together.

You can check that your bird is in good shape by examining them carefully and thoroughly. Starting with your bird’s head, and working down through to the body, check for these signs of good health:

Bird Health Checklist

  • Nostrils- Should be clear, free of discharge and of equal size.
  • Eyes- Should be bright, alert and free of discharge. If you're considering a red-eyed bird, such as a budgerigar, look at the eyes even more closely because these birds are more prone to cataracts and blindness than their dark-eyed counterparts.
  • Breathing- Should be inaudible. Listen closely for wheezing, which could indicate parasites. You can get a good feel for the bird's breathing by watching their tail movements. You should see barely any tail movement while the bird is in a resting state.
  • Bill- Should be free of any deformities. The top and bottom parts of the bill should meet and open and close properly.
  • Face- Should be free of swelling around the sides of the bill and around the eyes. Look for face mites, which look like snail tracks and scar the upper bill area.
  • Plumage- Should be glossy and free of bald patches.
  • Alertness- Should be shown. Healthy birds are alert and should respond to you when you are nearby.
  • Breastbone- Should be barely noticeable, with pectoral muscles on both sides. The breastbone runs from the midline to the lower chest.
  • Wings- Should have no feather gaps or blood present when extended. Also check to make sure the bird does not pluck their feathers.
  • Skin- Should be clear and unspotted when the feathers are parted.
  • Feet- Should be smooth, not scaly.
  • Toes and claws- Should be paired. All the toes should have claws. Claws should be slightly curved, not curled, hooked or wavy. Look at how the bird perches. Usually two or three claws will rest on the front of the perch and one to two toes in the back. A healthy bird perches easily, without slipping or falling off.
  • Weight- Should be distributed so you aren't able to place your fingers on both sides of the keel (breastbone).
  • Vent (excretory opening)- Should be free of any fecal matter.

While your bird may be able to talk, they can't tell you if they are feeling well or not. In the wild, birds conceal signs of ill health in order to protect themselves from predators who pursue the sick and vulnerable. It makes your job as a pet parent even more important as you are in the best position to monitor your bird’s health. Keeping a close eye on their behavior and appearance, making a note of any changes, is your first line of defense in protecting your pet against disease.

Visiting the veterinarian

On top of keeping a close eye on your bird’s behavior, it is important for them to have regular check-ups with an avian veterinarian in order to really ensure optimal health. Schedule annual examinations with an avian veterinarian and tell them of any changes that you have noted when you take your pet in. Your vet will help you to catch diseases early enough for treatment and will also be able to notice any congenital problems—helping keep your cherished bird a healthy member of your family.

Questions and tips to prepare for the appointment:

  • Where did you get your bird? Whether your bird came from a breeder, a pet shop or a shelter, your bird will have certain medical risks related to the place of origin. The veterinarian will understand these risks and this information helps decide what tests or vaccinations might be necessary.
  • How old is your bird? If you don't know your bird's history, the veterinarian will try to estimate an age for you.
  • What vaccinations or tests has your bird had? If you don't know the complete history of your bird, your veterinarian may make recommendations.
  • Have you had any problems with your bird? Your veterinarian can offer advice on changing your bird's behavioral habits.
  • How is your bird socializing with your other pets? It can be tricky to bring a new bird into a household in which another pet already rules the roost. The last thing you want to do is banish one pet from your house because of incompatibility, so your vet can offer advice on encouraging the pets to live together in harmony.
  • Provide a fresh fecal sample: Don't clean your bird's cage for 24 hours before your appointment—lining the bottom of the cage 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.
At the veterinarian

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

Controlling and comforting your bird buddy

A trip to the veterinarian for a routine check-up can be a stressful experience. If it’s not your pet's first time at the veterinarian, there is a chance that your bird will remember the last visit and will be very reluctant to go and stand on a cold metal table again. Many pet parents find it easier to get through the trip to the veterinarian by constantly talking to and stroking their birds to offer comfort. If your bird is transformed into a winged-demon at the veterinarian, don't be embarrassed. No doubt your veterinarian has seen worse behavior, and knows just how to handle an angry or scared bird without harm.

To help make all other check-ups as quick and simple as possible, be sure to take along answers to the likely questions your veterinarian will ask:

  • Has your bird had any problems lately such as diarrhea, coughing or sneezing?
  • Is your bird passing urine and feces without problems? Problems with urination and bowel movements can signal a number of ailments.
  • Has your bird had a sudden weight gain or loss?
  • How much do you feed your bird and how often?
  • What types of food do you feed your bird?
  • Have you changed your bird’s diet recently?
  • Has your bird’s eating or drinking habits changed recently?
  • Is your bird active and getting exercise?
  • Where do you keep your bird’s habitat and how is it housed?
  • Are there other birds in the home?
  • What is the state of health of the other birds? Any problems?
  • What are your bird's sleep habits?

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 risks with your veterinarian.

Before you leave:

Ask your veterinarian to repeat the diagnosis or even write it down before you leave the practice. This way you can also do more research on the diagnosis at home later if you wish.

Write down any other important information or instructions you’ve been given, such as diet recommendations, including the brand name of recommended foods and the amounts to feed your bird; medication information, such as how much, how often, how long and how to administer it; recommended exercise level or any activities your bird should avoid; and when to schedule a follow-up visit.

“Remember, your bird’s veterinarian can help you with more than medical issues! Your veterinarian is your ally in preventing behavior problems, too.”