Armchair Warriors

I’ve seen several people upset lately that they can’t post anything fun online without being criticized. Here’s the thing: misinformation kills.

Last weekend I picked up two cockatiels from a woman. When I asked if she had any other birds, she told me that she had a blue & gold macaw, but it had died.

“What happened?”
“We poisoned it.”

Turns out they painted their house and left the bird inside. After a while the bird went into respiratory distress. She moved it outside for a bit and “tried to comfort” it, but then brought it back inside, at which point “she got so scared of going back into the house that she had a heart attack.” The bird didn’t have a heart attack out of fright, but died of respiratory problems caused by exposure to fumes.

A third cockatiel I picked up last weekend was in good condition. However, the seller also had an eclectus kept in a carrier barely big enough for the bird to turn around in. It was also on an all-seed diet (not great for any bird, but eclectus have specialized digestive systems and need a different diet). It had stress bars and black feathers all over its body from unintentional abuse.

DAILY I see posts about birds that flew away.

If you make a post and someone mentions something you’re doing that could potentially be harmful, please swallow your pride and think about why. Many people post fun things and DON’T know that what they’re doing is harmful. We don’t know if you know, and those of us with more experience have a duty to educate. But it’s not all about the OP. There are newbies everywhere reading these posts and THEY need to be educated. If nothing is said, if the risks aren’t brought up, then they will think everything is 100% okay and perfectly normal. This is why I try to add disclaimers to my own posts that could be taken the wrong way (eg. “this is a travel cage, not their actual cage”). Those of us with more experience can do better risk analysis when it comes to our actions, newbies cannot.

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Fry was on a safflower diet for years.

I know people can takes these criticisms personally, but it is anything but personal. The sad fact is that there are still so many uneducated pet owners out there. Those of us who work in the industry, be we breeders, rescues, veterinarians, or pet store owners, deal with the fallout when a bird has been cared for incorrectly. You may not see that side of it, but we do, and we try our best to prevent it through the dissemination of accurate information. We’re not trying to be killjoys.

© 2017 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Egg Laying in Pets

Ah, spring…sunshine, showers, flowers, and egg laying in pet birds.

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Not all female pets will lay eggs. My Goffin is 18 and has yet to lay a single egg. Others, often cockatiels, will habitually lay every year. So what do you do?

Remove anything that could be interpreted as a nest site– Happy Huts, boxes, enclosed toys/dishes, tents, etc. Also, do not pet your bird on the back or under the tail, as it simulates a male mounting. Head scratches are fine.

Provide lots of calcium and protein. Excess laying will deplete a hen’s calcium reserves, which can lead to soft shelled eggs (more likely to fracture internally) and brittle bones. Offer cuttlebone and/or mineral block, and cooked scrambled eggs with the shell. If this has been going on a long time, you may need to see a veterinarian for a quicker form of supplementation.

STOP REMOVING EGGS. Birds can count and usually have a specific clutch size that they are trying to reach. Removing eggs means that they never finish their clutch so they just keep laying more. Removing broken eggs is fine.

Once her clutch is complete she may try to incubate the eggs. Incubation lasts three to four weeks for most species. Eventually she should realize that her eggs are duds and abandon them. At this point they can be safely removed. Some hens will lay again, others will not. If she does lay again you can try leaving the eggs in longer. At the very least, leaving eggs in will space out the time in between clutches.

Pad the clutch. Don’t toss out the infertile eggs-save them for next year. If she lays again, add an extra egg in every few days. She should stop laying faster this way. You don’t need to buy fake eggs. Infertile eggs from the previous year work fine.

Decrease daylight hours (note–this does not work on all species). Most species are springtime breeders. Even birds that can lay year-round usually become more hormonal during the spring. You can try to shorten their breeding season by fudging their daylight hours. Covering the cage early at night may help.

Rearrange the cage, or move to a different cage. Disrupting the home environment can sometimes break the cycle.

If all else fails, you have two options: see a vet or give her a box.

If your pet has had issues with calcium depletion or egg binding, definitely see a vet about hormone shots.

If your bird is just determined to lay every year regardless of what you do, give her a nestbox in the spring. The idea is to get her used to laying in the box and only the box. That way when you remove the box, it signals the end of the breeding season for her.

For more information: Discouraging Breeding Behavior in Pet Birds

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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

Injuries
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.

When Your Bird is Sick

Posted by Kendra on January 04, 2002 at 12:41:12:

Hello all. I have some sad news, my little girl Luna passed away last night. I had taken her to an emergency vet on New Year’s Day after I noticed her constant fluffing, lethargy and diarrhea for nearly a day previous. I should have taken her in sooner. I have posted a memorial message in her honor on the memorials page. Please, please, please take your keet to see a vet without delay if he or she starts exhibiting these symptoms. The vet said that, had I brought Luna to him sooner, it might have saved her life. Please don’t make the same mistake I did. Take care of your little ones as though they are your own children.

Why every sick bird is an EMERGENCY

What is the first thing you do after buying a dog? You take it to the vet for vaccinations! Dogs and cats require more routine trips to the vet than birds do, yet most bird owners refuse to take their bird even once when their pet is critically ill.

BIRDS ARE NOT MAMMALS. People too often see bird illness like their own- just annoying symptoms that aren’t very serious. Birds can take injury quite well, but illness is another matter. In the wild an unhealthy bird can attract predators, spread disease and may be driven out of the flock. Because of this they do their very best to hide the fact that they are ill. Experienced breeders will notice illness early, but by the time a pet owner sees their bird is sick, the condition is very serious. Tack onto this the delay an owner makes before bringing the bird to a vet, and you have an animal at death’s door. Even worse, the owner may not seek veterinary care, thinking things will just get better on their own, and the bird winds up dead.

If a bird acts ill:

  1. Isolate it from your flock and keep it in a warm, quiet place.
  2. Take it to the vet as soon as possible.
  3. Do NOT try to treat it yourself.

Many owners are actually more likely to seek vet care if their bird is bleeding or injured than if the bird is sick. While injury can certainly be serious, it is usually not life-threatening (except for cat attacks). I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take a bird to the vet if it is injured, but that you need to view illness as being much more dangerous.

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How to Know if your Bird is Sick

Birds mask signs of illness. Usually the owner will sense something is “off” before they can point to actual symptoms.

  • decrease in weight
  • decrease in appetite
  • lethargy
  • not as interested in play
  • voice change or decrease in vocalizations
  • drastic change in poop that is unrelated to food change

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Choosing a Vet

Not everyone has the luxury of being able to choose their vet. Extremely rural areas may have only livestock vets to choose from, or none at all. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere like Southern California, you’ll have your choice of vets. Don’t be afraid to be picky. It is your pet’s life! Beware of vets claiming to be “avian specialists” or something like that. Not all vets are qualified to treat birds. Try to stick to vets that are members of the Association of Avian Veterinarians. Members of this organization are more likely to be up to date on current research, treatments, and other information. They may not be completely qualified either, but at least they’ll be working on it and have access to better information. See the AAV website for a list of members in your area.

Aside from being an AAV member, there is one other quality I require of my own vets: communication skills. They’ve got to be willing to talk to me about the problem itself and the options for treatment. Cost estimates are also important.

The Initial Visit

Ideally, the first visit should take place immediately after purchase, for several reasons. It gives you the chance to get a feel for the vet before really needing one. It gives the vet a chance to see your bird when it is (hopefully) healthy. The bird’s normal weight will be recorded and will help provide a reference point for later exams. The vet can talk to you about basic bird care. Do you know why exotic animal exams generally cost $10 more than cat and dog exams? It is because they typically take longer- the vet may have to spend an hour giving the owner a lecture on the proper diet. You might learn key information on the first visit that will keep your bird healthy and prevent further visits. There’s also the possibility that you bought a sick or unweaned bird. Most breeders are reasonable and give you 24 hours to see a vet and verify the bird’s health. Some places now offer a free vet exam with purchase. If something is wrong you can catch it right away and return the animal.

What to Expect

Most visits include only a physical exam. The vet will weigh your bird and look it over. They may listen to pulse/breathing, check the vent, mouth, etc. Depending on the problem they may send you away with medication or recommend that tests be run. All sick birds look pretty much the same. Unless tests are run, the initial diagnosis a vet makes for a bird is typically an educated guess. This does NOT mean that the vet doesn’t know what he/she is doing. In many cases this initial diagnosis is correct. Vets know we aren’t made of money and that most people are unwilling to pay the added cost for cultures or bloodwork. Many won’t even bring up the topic during an initial visit. However, if the first treatment fails YOU NEED TO LET THE VET KNOW. It’s not as if everything is settled once you leave the practice. Like I said, it is often just an educated guess. If it happens to be wrong how will the vet know unless you say something? Bring the bird back as many times as needed to fix the problem. My current vet has no extra charge for rechecks (additional procedures cost more, but the exam does not).

Lab work is always better when performed before any medications have been given. If a bird has been on antibiotics or other meds this can mess up the results. If you want the vet to do labwork before any medications are prescribed, ask for it!

    Common Procedures:

  • Antibiotics kill bacteria. Each antibiotic attacks only certain types. Most vets start out with a wide spectrum (common/general types) and move on to something more specific if that doesn’t work. Antibiotics do NOT work against fungi or viruses and should only be used under veterinarian supervision.
  • Anti fungals kill fungi. Antibiotics can promote the growth of fungi so many vets will prescribe this along with antibiotic treatments. If you have reason to believe that your bird has a fungal infection, demand that your vet provide an antifungal in addition to an antibiotic.
  • Lactobacillus (it may be called something else) is “friendly bacteria.” We need bacteria to live. Much of our digestion is aided by beneficial bacteria in our intestines. This bacteria also helps by giving bad species little or no room to colonize. If a bird is on long or harsh antibiotic treatments a vet will usually prescribe this to increase the good bacterial population.
  • Blood Panels are more for detecting if their is a problem. They don’t help much with diagnosis but a vet can look at a panel and see if anything is amiss. Certain problems will affect different parts of a blood panel. This procedure is best for annual exams and cases where the bird has been treated but nothing seems to be working (the panel may point the vet in another direction).
  • X rays are used to see abnormalities that might show up: masses, fractures, ingested metals, tumors, etc.
  • Cultures are used to determine what exact species is the culprit of an infection. Like I stated before, antibiotics each treat a specific range of bacteria. A culture will help the vet narrow down which bacterial/fungal species needs to be dealt with.

What you need to do

Animals can’t tell the vet what is wrong. You need to tell the vet everything. I’m dead serious- every little detail about their illness. You see the animal every day and you’ll notice tiny abnormalities that a vet couldn’t notice. Write down/type the answers to all these questions and bring them with you to the veterinarian.

  1. What are the symptoms?
  2. Behavioral changes?
  3. Breathing problems, voice changes or discharge?
  4. Decreased vocalizations, eating or play?
  5. Any changes in the animal’s environment?
  6. Has the animal been chewing on anything weird?
  7. Do the feces look any different than normal? If yes, describe.
  8. When did the symptoms first start? How have they progressed?
  9. List any weights you’ve taken, from older to more recent.
  10. Has the bird been treated for anything previously? (if at another hospital)

Start writing down the answers as soon as you notice something is wrong. Wait too long and you may not be able to remember subtle changes or when the symptoms first occurred. If you have a food scale, weigh your bird (in grams) and bring your records with you.

Detecting Early Signs of Illness

The best preventative medicine is quality care. A good diet is extremely important to keeping your bird healthy. There is absolutely no excuse for feeding your bird a seed-only diet. If you are having trouble getting your bird to try new foods, go here.

Buy a gram scale and weigh your bird monthly or even weekly. Weight loss is a good indication of illness and will show up before most other symptoms. Some fluctuation is normal but the weight should not be steadily going down. Drastic changes in weight suggest a serious problem. However, not all sick birds lose weight so don’t rely on this alone. If a bird acts sick and the weight is fine you still need to see a vet. The bird may have a mass/growth that makes it seem heavier when it is in fact losing weight.

If you only have a few pets take them in for annual vet exams. You’ll want a physical, weights taken and a blood panel done.

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