First Aid

It always pays to be prepared for any emergencies, especially if you own birds. Chances are that if something goes wrong it will happen on Saturday night at 2:00 a.m. and you’ll have to wait until Monday morning before you can even try scheduling an appointment. This article is NOT meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. True, there are some things you can take care of at home. Most of us breeders would rather handle things ourselves unless we absolutely can’t, but unless you really know what you are doing you need seek out a qualified vet.

First Aid Kit

Every bird owner should have a first aid kit. In a crisis you don’t want to be running all over the house looking for this or that. You want everything to be in one accessible place. Things to place in your kit:

  • Syringes
  • Gavage feeder*
  • Vetwrap
  • Cotton balls
  • Q tips
  • Tissue paper
  • Nail clippers
  • Very small scissors
  • Flour or Kwik Stop

* ONLY if you are someone who KNOWS how to use it. A gavage can be a lifesaver in the right hands and an instant killer in the wrong hands.

Syringes and gavage tubes can be used to administer medication or feed birds unable/unwilling to feed themselves. Vetwrap is a very neat material that only sticks to itself- never skin, fur or feathers.


Hospital tank with lamp and under-tank heater.

The Hospital Cage
Everyone needs a good hospital cage. It will where you will be housing birds that are sick and waiting for a vet appointment or recouping from illness or injury. This cage should be small enough to restrict movement, yet larger than a carrier. Plastic animal cages (those cheap ones with the colored lid and handle at your local pet store), brooders and small aquariums work the best. There should be one perch that can be removed if needed, or no perch at all. There should be no toys. The water bowl should be small and shallow to prevent drowning and the feed bowl should likewise be small. There should be no bottom grate. The substrate should consist of paper towels changed twice daily. If you are not using a brooder the hospital cage will need supplemental heating. Tubs and tanks can be kept half on/half off a heating pad set to low or medium. A heating light works better if you are using a cage or if it has a perch.


While in the hospital cage, make sure you observe droppings and food intake. I would recommend taking pictures of droppings if they seem off. You can show these to the vet if need be. It’s always better to have too much information than not enough.


Still under observation, but out of the tank. Heat lamp above but no under cage heater.

With the exception of toe injuries and broken blood feathers, most injuries will require the bird to spend some time in the hospital cage.

Bitten toes and feet are usually not a problem unless the laceration is exceptionally bad. If a bird has a foot or toe injury with no apparent cause, try examining it closer. Birds can get tiny fibers, string or even human hair wrapped tightly around their toes. This can cut of circulation and cause severe damage. I recently adopted a cockatiel who lost its foot up to the ankle because its owner did not realize there was string wound around it (he thought it was just another bird bite). Close examination is always good with any ailment.

Broken bones require vet attention. Wings are very fragile so any injury to them requires a vet visit to make sure nothing is broken or torn. Keep the bird in a hospital cage until its appointment.

Beak, mouth and sinus injuries can allow infections to enter the brain. It is extremely important to seek a vet in these cases.

Broken blood feathers are not as horrific as they are made out to be. I know many people recommend the removal of any broken blood feathers. I do not, for several reasons:

  • By the time you find out a blood feather was broken, it has usually clotted up nicely.
  • Removing such a large feather is painful and can often cause more bleeding to occur.
  • I’ve never had a problem with one starting to bleed again.

Broken feathers are often caused by night frights. If you do catch one bleeding, I recommend holding flour onto in until it clots. Unless your bird is very skittish it probably won’t knock the feather hard enough to cause bleeding again. The same procedure goes for bleeding. Flour is a wonderful, inexpensive way to stop bleeding.

Splayed legs are easy to fix at home and require no vet assistance. Just use paper tape or vetwrap to bind the chick’s legs closer together (but not so tight that you’re cutting off the circulation). Do this for at least a one week, longer if needed (older chicks). Change the dressing every other day or if it falls off.

Remember, first aid can be a good tool in case of emergencies but for serious problems please consult a veterinarian.

© 1997-2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.