Etiquette When Visiting A Vet With Your Bird

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My Rainbow Lorikeets, Lori & Dori caged and ready for an annual vet checkup.

I have spent more time sitting in a vet’s waiting room than I would have liked recently. Three of my birds needed a vet in seven days. Naturally, none of them managed to time it for the same day. That seems to be a rule for veterinary emergencies in my house. It’s cheaper and easier for me to combine birds into one consultation so naturally, my flock seem determined to avoid combining and instead produce symptoms on different days.

Spending so much time in a vet’s waiting room lately, I’ve begun to see a pattern in people’s behaviour that has worried me. I thought it was a worth a blog post.

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My Galah/Rosebreasted Cockatoo Morgy - recently diagnosed with a serious liver issue that seems to be cancer.

My first sick bird was my Galah Morgy whose illness I described in my last post. It would be fair to say that I was fairly stressed when I first took her in for tests. I was confident it wasn’t something contagious or an easy fix due to her past tests and medical history being healthy/all clear. I had a gut feeling that she was hiding some sort of chronic liver condition and the later diagnosis of “most likely liver cancer” was pretty much what I was anticipating. It’s reasonably safe to say that I wasn’t in the best mood when I went to the vet because I was preparing myself for the worst possible outcome. Like most anxious bird owners – it meant I was feeling very protective of my bird.

As I was entering the waiting room with Morgy, someone was exiting the vet’s consultation room with a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo in a travel cage. My inner voice instantaneously started to helpfully list every possible contagious illness that the sulphur might have that would make my situation with Morgy worse if the Sulphur cared to share its germs. My stress levels rose significantly as I noted the scruffiness of the bird and I immediately went to the far end of the waiting room in order to avoid it. 

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My Blue and Gold Macaw Fid always draws a crowd at the vet as Macaws aren't common pets in Australia.

To my horror, the owner of the Sulphur followed me trying to place his bird’s cage right next to Morgy’s. Snatching Morgy up, I crossed the room again to get away. This time the Sulphur’s owner followed me, leaving his bird behind. He was completely ignoring me and desperately trying to pat Morgy. Morgy meanwhile was frantically waving, bowing and fanning her butt feathers at him. She loved the attention – admittedly she didn’t look sick but still… I planted myself firmly between Morgy and the man and I snarled: “Back OFF!” He looked at me in surprise and mistakenly assumed I was trying to protect him, he asked me if she bites? I said: “No, but I DO!”

The man was completely confused by this and I found myself wondering if I was the only one who could see a problem with his behaviour? I found myself pointing out to him that I wasn’t at the vet’s for fun. She might not look it, but Morgy was sick and as her owner I couldn’t honestly say I was 100% sure with what? I couldn’t guarantee that if he touched her, he’d be safe to go back to his own bird. Nor was I rapt about the idea of him bringing something from his bird to Morgy. He protested that his bird was only in for an annual checkup and wasn’t carrying anything so he was fine to pat my bird… I was standing there wondering why he was arguing with me? I ended the conversation abruptly by saying: “My bird = my rules, leave her ALONE!”

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My galah Cocky Boy, in hindsight this pic shows the start of his arthritis worsening. The ruffled feathers on the wing are just above the joint that will be swollen in few week's time after this pic was taken.

I dismissed the incident as one of those times when you come across an idiot who just doesn’t get it. That was until a couple of days later I found myself back at the vet with my elderly galah Cocky Boy. Cocky Boy was having issues with one of his wing joints – a slight worsening of his arthritis was causing swelling and some pain. He needed the joint checked and his meds slightly re-adjusted. Annoyingly he’d only had a checkup a few weeks ago but this issue hadn’t shown then.  However, it was not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things (I knew it was treatable) and again I wasn’t worried about him giving an illness to someone else, but  in the meantime I didn’t want him catching anything in the waiting room.

As it wasn’t a planned checkup, I was waiting for the vet to have a gap in appointments. In the meantime, I found myself fending off a young couple with budgies, a woman with a cockatiel, a man with a very sick-looking corella and an irritating woman who had a yappy dog that likes to bark at birds. None of these people seemed to think anything of trying to touch someone else’s bird or of putting their bird close to a bird that for all they knew was highly contagious. As I was onto my second sick bird for the week, I was stressed to begin with. By the end of my wait, I was struggling to maintain basic politeness.  I found myself explaining over and over again why you shouldn’t handle a strange bird at the vet’s – especially without asking for permission from the owner.

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Cocky Boy in the waiting room at the vet's. Note he even has a disabled travel set up. (Platform under the perch to stop him falling.)

Then a couple of days later I woke up to a new emergency. My Eclectus Pepi had somehow spontaneously lost the ability to walk. He’d been walking the night before but now while he was still able to perch – he couldn’t even manage a single step. I was at a loss, because as far as I could tell he had no broken bones – he hadn’t had a fall or an accident that I knew of. I wondered if I’d missed a spider on his foliage the previous day? But I was cynical about that because I’d washed the fresh foliage very thoroughly. Off to the vet again!

There were three other birds in the waiting room when I walked in with Pepi. One had a cockatiel whose face was covered in bird snot. “Psittacosis?” my inner voice suggested. “Would probably kill Pepi in his current state!” it added helpfully. To my horror, the snotty bird’s owner stood up to try and pat Pepi before I could even check in or take a seat. I felt like I was a cactus whose skin was erupting in sharp spines that would stab anyone that came near. For one desperate moment I wondered why no one else could seem to see those spines?

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Ironically, it wasn't a weight change that told me Pepi was sick but his inability to step onto the perch on the scales. He looked fine perching in his own cage - until you realised he couldn't move.

By now my stress levels were off the charts. Three sick birds – it was safe to say my nerves were seriously frayed. My temper had got lost somewhere back in the traffic jam I’d had to navigate through to even get to the surgery. I no longer had the patience to explain to people why they shouldn’t touch another bird in a vet’s waiting room. I’d surpassed my dumb people quota for the week. I informed the nurse that I’d wait outside in the car park. I was afraid that I might kill the next person that tried to touch my bird without permission and I said so. The snotty bird’s owner froze mid-step with her hand still outstretched towards Pepi. “You’re first on my kill list!” I snapped at the woman as she hastily retracted her hand. I spun on my heel and walked out the door with Pepi’s travel cage clutched protectively to my chest.

Ok, in hindsight that might have been a little on the harsh side. I certainly scared that last woman enough that she couldn’t even look at me on her way out. I have to say though, I find it really depressing that with the number of people I’ve seen with birds at the vet in the last week – not one of them seemed to even remotely consider that they might contaminate another bird with their own bird’s illness or what their own bird might in turn pick up. Nor did it occur to any of them to check and see if it was ok if they tried to handle someone else’s bird. I had people trying to unlatch my travel cages without asking and they looked at me as if I was the crazy one when I stopped them? I don’t believe for a second that I’m the only one who sees how crazy that is.  I doubt I’m the only one who has been frustrated like this?

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Pepi outside in the vet's carpark. Doesn't look sick, does he? The vomit on the cage floor is due to travel sickness (he consistently doesn't travel well).

On the bright side of the week, Morgy still isn’t acting sick despite her terrible diagnosis, so treatment is still ok there. Cocky Boy’s wing has improved and he has accepted his medication dosage change without complaint. Pepi’s tests all came back clear for illness. I’m still not 100% sure what happened there? Spider bite is a possibility but the vet wonders if Pepi had a night fright and strained something? He regained full movement within 2 days of treatment.

In fact, if it weren’t for my awful credit card bill and this lengthy rant on etiquette at the vet– you’d never know my birds had been sick.

Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.

10 comments

colin60@hotmail.co.za

Dolly,1st of all, don’t critter size others, give an opinion if need be, 2nd," why you so silly even reading this",well to know you need to read,I see you reading the article,,,hello,,,!!!!!, +by the way, check your spelling, we here to learn + share info,we go to the vet, you go to english teacher.

colin60@hotmail.co.za
Hailey

One time this annoying girl came over and out of politness (and lack of an excuse) i allowed her to come hang out with me for a half hour before dinner. She very much wanted to pet my budgies, but I told her she could’nt because they were still adjusting to the new house and it was mid-day so it was power nap time. She asked if she could fed them, their dishes still had seed in it so they were definitely not going to be hungry, I explained this too her and about monitering your birds weight, about 20 minutes later I left to go to the bathroom while she was on her phone. I came back and she had found my fox-tail millet stash, and was corning my budgies in their cage with it(they are afraid of strangers which I ALSO explained to her earlier) She got quite a mouthfull from me.

Hailey
Robyn TWR

I’ve taken my birds to avian vets in Sydney for several years and never once had anyone attempt to touch my birds. Interested conversations, sure, and I never mind having polite chats with other bird owners in the waiting room at the vets, but no-one has ever, ever tried touching my birds, put their cages too close or otherwise invaded our personal space. The closest a person has ever coming to this was asking a general question “Do they bite?” I truthfully say “they don’t bite me, but that they bite strangers” therefore even if they intended to ask if they could touch, this stops them. I’m not you and I wasn’t there when you were, so it can be hard to judge, but even the first encounter with Morgy and the man where you snarled: “Back OFF!” – wasn’t there a politer way to let him know how you felt? Seems that on all 3 vet visits there were lost opportunities to educate well meaning, but silly people. Polite education, rather than alienation, seems a better option to me. I like the idea about a cover on the travel cage. Whilst I’ve never had a problem, I think I will make one my travel cages.

Robyn TWR
Tamara Switzer

I would never think to just go up to someone’s pet of any kind and handle it. I have also trained my daughter to always ask the owner’s permission before touching an animal. To me, that is just common courtesy… the animal could bite, be sick, or just be very timid. Furthermore, even if the owner gives permission, I’ve trained my daughter to watch the animal for permission as well and if the animal seems too shy or distracted, to leave it alone. We also learned about taking germs home to our birds in a scary way…. We always would visit the birds at our local pet store and would often talk to and give “scritches” to those who wanted. We’d go home and think nothing of interacting with our birds. Until one bird at the store was thought to have a very contagious disease. It really made us rethink about what we could have carried home to our birds. Fortunately, it ended up being something not contagious, but we learned our lesson!

Tamara Switzer
Eric

I get so mad when someone tries to pick up my handicapped Indian Ringnecks without asking. They are terrified of hands to be begin with, but they also have foot handicaps so they can’t get away very quickly, they just fall over or sometimes they fall entirely off their cage, and they can’t flap their wings so they just fall like a rock. I am VERY selective about who I allow near them, but I’ve had a few incidents where I’ve had to give someone an earful, so I can completely understand your feelings at the vet with those rude people!

Eric
Ryan

It seems like your birds are always sick…. It scares me to go to the vet too bc I am always worried they will catch something. I usually wait outside & my vet is really nice so she calls my cell when she is ready for one of my fids to help protect them from catching something from a strangers bird & having someone else touch them but I am very strict. No strangers can play with my flock & company must wash their hands. If my friends want to have a play date we try to make it after a bird visit so we know are fids are healthy!

Ryan
Merv

So to recap then the correct vet etiquette means you yell at other people trying to be friendly, tell them they are on your kill list, refer to your fellow humans as idiots and irritating, and refer to other peoples sick animals as yappy dogs and snotty birds. I will try and remember this next time I visit the vet. The oxford dictionary translates the word etiquette as follows…..“the customary code of POLITE behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group”

Merv
dolly

why would you use an open carrier to take a bird to a vet I use a closed carrier I also leve my bird in the car till I make sure when I bring him in he goes right to exzam room when leaving room I have his cage in front of me as I pay my bill also at my vets a sign says do not touch outher animals or birds they can contaminate yours is big bold letters so ask your vet to do same also take some precautions on your self like closed carring case stop showing off your birds when you go remember your bird is breathing the same air in there as other sick birds so don’t sit in waiting room with it the les time its in vets the better I do hope your vet changes gown and disinfects room befor your bird enters yes I pay extra for good vet severice clean gown and washed befor handling my bird room wiped down with disinfectitint so many ways not to get stressed out just common sents you brought it all on your self sorry your so silly just reading it showed how silly you are

dolly
Freada Dillon

My little grad niece may have inadvertently solved this problem. Her little parrotlet tells anyone who comes near “I BITE”. That should do it!

Freada Dillon
Sherry

hmm I thought it was a bit harsh to yell at people like that without them even knowing why…But then I’m not you & wasn’t there so I can only say how’d I’d feel if I was on either side…. I love seeing other birds but I would never be so agressive as others in your story to come up & try to touch or open the cage. I DO like suggestions on here about covering the cage, signs etc. Fortunately I live in a small town, and the vet waiting room may have 1- 2 others at the most so I have never had this happen..

Sherry

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