Something posted on Birdtricks Facebook page the other day prompted this topic. Thanks Chris Padgett for sharing your story about Lucas.
Aside from your expectation that your vet is armed with the medical know-how to save your bird’s life in an emergency, it is also your vet’s job to be a counselor, of sorts. Your vet must be the type of person with whom you are comfortable enough to ask questions and discuss fears. Your vet should be able to discern what kind of bird owner you are and know how to gently guide you into being a better one. Your vet should take your hand when the news is bad. Your vet should have the wisdom and compassion to say: “We’ve done everything that can be done. It’s time to let her go.”
Gone are the days when a doctor’s words are taken as gospel. It is no longer acceptable to go home with a bad feeling in your gut thinking: “Well, the doctor says I should do this, so this is what I will do”. Today, people are encouraged to actively participate in their treatment and that of their pets, rather than be subjected to it. Listen to your gut. If it is telling you that something isn’t right, get a second opinion.
That said, I strongly recommend that utilize an avian vet if one is available in your area. Not all avian vets need to be board certified to be considered qualified to be your vet. While board certification requires 6 years of documented hands-on experience with birds in practice or in residency, scientific papers written, exams taken, a non-certified avian vet who attends conferences, reads the medical journals, and has extensive avian experience can be just as valuable to you and your sick bird. Most avian vets are NOT board certified.
You will want to get to know your vet before an emergency occurs. This is not the time to discover that you don’t like him. In a non-critical situation, there are two types of bird exams: the well-bird exam, which is a complete physical examination of your bird which includes blood work, fecal analysis and other tests. These results will be compared to the previous examination on record.
The second is the new bird exam, which could also be called a new owner exam. It is during this meeting that your will discover your vet’s worth. Along with the examination given during a well-bird exam, YOU will also be given a battery of tests in the form of questions about your bird’s diet, environment, caging, daily activities, the bird’s background and perhaps even a subtle probe into your household and lifestyle. Even if you are an experienced bird owner, be patient with these questions. These are the actions of a competent, conscientious veterinarian. If your new vet does not touch on all of these questions, thank him for his time, and never return.
Know, also, that turnabout is fair play. You are equally entitled to quiz a potential vet about their practice and level of expertise, and I encourage you to do that. The questions I would ask are:
- How many years of avian experience does he/she have?
- How does he/she go about keeping updated on the latest advances in avian medicine?
- What avian diagnostic equipment does the clinic have?
- What methods of decontamination do they use following each appointment?
- Does he/she have trusted counterparts in the field to go to for advice and opinions?
Other important considerations when looking for a qualified avian vet are:
- Is he/she comfortable handling your bird?
- Is he/she familiar with the different bird species?
- Was your bird weighed in grams?
- Was the blood draw done quickly and with little trauma even in the very large and very small species?
Following this, consult your gut, and see what it says.
The best vet I ever had was Ginger Davis at the Westgate Pet and Bird Clinic in Austin, Texas. She held my hand through a serious illness my umbrella cockatoo, Linus, had a few years back. I grew to trust her, and the entire staff there, with Linus’ life and it was losing her as my trusted vet that gave me pause in my decision to move to Orlando.
She was known to spend at least part of her examination room time cuddling her client’s birds. I brought Linus and Theo, my goffins cockatoo, in for their well-bird exams before we left. She had never seen the two of them together. She had an umbrella of her own and was curious about the relationship between Linus and Theo. I remember her standing in the doorway to the exam room watching with awe as little Theo tried to comfort Linus, the big baby, who was tucked under my chin awaiting the dreaded exam. This is a person that clearly loves birds.
She had always spent a lot time answering my questions and explaining procedures to me, both on and off the clock. She would take me in the back and show me slides of Linus’ fecal matter under the microscope to help me better understand what was wrong with him. I felt very lucky to have her in my corner when I needed her.
Bird owners, in particular, take all matters regarding their beloved companions very seriously. I have never taken nearly the same amount of time to research all aspects of cat and dog ownership. I am aware that I live with a species that I know to be essentially wild, and acknowledge the need to be continually educated. As the avian sciences are new, it is crucial that your vet be abreast of the many new developments as they occur. Your vet needs to be forward thinking and leave behind the ways things were done back home on the farm.
To suggest that it is impossible for a flock mate to mutilate the feathers of another bird, as Chris’s first vet did, is simply ignorant. To further advise that a plucking bird is inadequate as a companion pet reflects his backwoods thinking. Chris listened to his gut, which told him that this vet was wrong for him, and he moved on. We can all learn from his example.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.