One of the biggest decisions you will face as a parrot owner is in selecting the right avian veterinarian. Here, in Austin TX, there are a large number of parrot owners, so we are graced with several avian vets allowing us the freedom to choose among them. Other states have relatively few, and I have a number of friends who drive hours to get to one.
Why an avian specialist? A birds physiology largely differs from that of our cats and dogs. Testing for and treating disease and injury in our companion parrots must be suited to a bird’s needs and vulnerabilities. A vet who is inexperienced in avian care might not be qualified to handle your case due to lack of knowledge of ailments specific to birds or the products available to treat them. Further, handling a sick, grumpy parrot who is being manhandled by a stranger is tricky business.
When Linus, my umbrella cockatoo, became ill last spring his attitude changed for the worse and his droppings were runny. This is the norm for him during what was a very hormonal spring, but when it continued for days I became concerned. I could tell something was wrong, although he showed no outward signs of illness.
I made an appointment. When the doctor came in the room she said: “You’re in here for ADR, right?”. Um, ADR, what the heck is ADR? “Ain’t doin’ right” she said. This is a doctor who gets it. I did indeed bring him in because something wasn’t right, but nothing was clearly wrong either. We did blood and fecal testing among other things. He was, in fact, a sick little bird. He had a fungal infection that, even though caught early on, still took the better part of a year to beat. I trust my vet implicitly and she has earned my respect over the years.
If you don’t have an avian vet nearby, you will not want to drive your critically ill bird several hours away to get it the help it needs. Carefully select a regular vet that is aware of his limitations on the subject of birds and who isn’t afraid or too proud to ask for the assistance of his avian certified peers. It is completely acceptable to ask what percentage of his clientele is avian. Be aware, of course, that there are also so-called avian vets out there who slept through med school.
Find a DIFFERENT Avian Veterinarian if:
- He/she is uncomfortable handling your bird and has no idea what the species is.
- After a physical exam, he/she tells you to bring the patient back once symptoms start occurring (by which time birds are usually VERY sick) or if he/she is unsympathetic to your concerns.
- They weigh your bird in pounds instead of grams.
- They do NOT ask probing questions about your bird’s diet and environment.
- They don't take the time to explain illnesses and procedures to you.
Tip: What you should expect to see during The Well-Bird check up.
When to Call The Vet:
After battling an illness for years, my cockateil could barely stand upright. She died shortly after this was taken.
In the wild, a bird will mask its illness until it can no longer. A sickly bird is quickly singled out by predators, putting itself and flock in mortal danger. A flock will often shun the sick and injured in order to protect itself as a whole. A smart bird, knowing its survival depends on the flock, will try to keep things under wraps until it recovers or can hide it no more. The parrots in our homes do the same. As with Linus, it took only slight changes in him to alert me to suspect a problem. Had I missed these signs, or continued to put them down to hormonal behavior, I don’t know if he’d be alive today.
Some signs of illness in a bird include:
- Change in the appearance or frequency of droppings
- Weight loss
- Drooping wings
- Fluffed up feathers
- Perching at the bottom of cage
- Lack of talking, singing or whistling
- Presence of blood
- Discharge from eyes or nose
- Loss of appetite
- Labored breathing
- Food or fecal matter stuck to feathers
Since they aren’t able to tell us when something is wrong, it’s our job as their caregivers to be watchful and aware. If you suspect there is something wrong with your bird, make a call to your vet for reassurance. Catching an illness early will save you and your parrot a lot of pain, trouble and money.
Take a look at our Parrot Ownership Guide as it includes information on:
- How to capture good behaviors your bird offers naturally. Capturing a behavior means putting that behavior on cue so you can get your bird to perform it whenever you ask.
- How to interview a vet.
- An easy-to-read, color coded guide telling you which foods are healthy, which should be only given in moderation and which are unsafe for your bird to consume.
- Safe metals guide.
- Safe produce guide.
- Information on how to use spices in your parrot's diet.
- A guide on vitamin A deficiency.
- How to make your own training t-stand at home.
- Safe cookware guide.
- Critical emergency and first-aid information.
- What you should know about produce and pesticides.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.