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Is Your Bird Sick?
Dr Bob Donely
Although we like to think of birds as domestic pets, they are
only a few generations descended from wild birds. In the wild, a
sick bird is easy prey for a predator. Hence, birds have learnt
to hide signs of illness in order to survive. This instinct,
known as the masking phenomenon, is just as strong in pet birds
as it is in wild birds.
This has lead to a belief that once they look sick, they die
quickly. In fact, birds are very tough, and are often ill for 1
to 2 weeks before their owner even realizes it.
The key to successful treatment of birds is the early recognition
of warning signs that a bird is actually ill:
Other signs of illness,
Seriously ill birds,
What to do if your bird is ill
A bird's droppings are an easy thing to monitor, and can reflect
the state of a bird's health. Normal droppings are composed of
three fractions. The dark green brown portion is the feces,
coming from the bowel. The white is urates, the end product of
protein metabolism, comes from the liver and is excreted by the
kidneys. The liquid in the droppings, usually around the edge, is
urine from the kidneys. Bird owners should familiarize themselves
with what normal droppings look like, and monitor droppings daily
for any changes as listed below:
increase or decrease in the frequency of defecation;
change in consistency of the fecal portion, especially if it
becomes unformed or very black;
the white urates or the urine becoming green, red or orange;
increase in the urine portion; or
gas bubbles in the droppings;
presence of blood.
If you see a change in your bird's droppings, it is important
that you bring your bird to surgery as soon as possible. Make
sure you bring in a fresh sample of droppings placing a piece
of aluminum foil under the perch overnight can allow the
collection of a good sample.
Other signs of illness
The following are signs of poor health in birds. Birds showing
these signs should be brought to the Surgery for a thorough check
up, but it is usually not urgent. However, if these signs are
ignored, serious illness may quickly follow.
prolonged moult or continual presence of pin feathers
broken, bent, picked or chewed feathers
unusual or dull feather colors
stained feathers around the nostrils or vent
loss of feathers around eyes
crusty material in the nostrils
flakiness of skin or beak
abnormal feather loss
loss of skin pattern, red sores or bare patches on the soles of
overgrowth of beak or toenails
minor changes in talking, biting or eating habits.
low reproduction in breeding birds.
Seriously ill birds
The following are signs of seriously ill birds, and urgent
attention must be sought if your bird's life is to be saved:
significant changes in number and appearance of droppings
decrease or increase in food and water consumption
change in attitude, personality or behavior
change in breathing, or abnormal respiratory signs
change in weight or body condition
enlargement or swelling on the body
any bleeding or injury
vomiting or regurgitation
discharge from the nostrils, eyes or mouth.
What to do if your bird is ill
Ring your veterinarian for an appointment or referral to an avian
specialist. Do not wait till tomorrow to "see if he gets better"
tomorrow might be too late.
Put a light or heat source beside your bird's cage. Putting him
in the sun is not enough. You need to get the temperature around
your bird up to about 30ēC.
Try and encourage your bird to eat & drink, but do not stress it
in order to do so.
Do not give antibiotics from the pet shop, alcohol or oil.
Bob Doneley is the principal of the West Toowoomba Vet Surgery.
He graduated from the University of Queensland in 1982 with a
Bachelor of Veterinary Science (BVSc). After graduation he worked
in small animal practices in Bundaberg, the United Kingdom,
Brisbane and Toowoomba before opening the West Toowoomba Vet
Surgery in 1988. In 1991 he passed his examinations to be
admitted as a Member of the Australian College of Veterinary
Scientists (MACVSc) in the Avian Health Chapter. He is currently
undertaking a study program for Fellowship in the College, which
will allow him to be registered as a specialist in bird medicine.
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