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.
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.
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!”
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.
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?
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?
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.