Q: The closest avian veterinarian is three hours away! What should I do if my parrot gets sick?
Brandi V, Chattanooga, TN
Why an “avian” veterinarian?
A: There is a very good reason for all the fuss about avian veterinarians. Dogs, cats and other mammals have physiology that is entirely different than that of birds. There are diseases which confront only avian species and the medications for an illness must be geared specifically toward the treatment of birds.
Even the most routine examination of a parrot requires proper handling, the right questions asked and the knowledge of what abnormalities to look for in order to diagnosis illness and devise a treatment plan.
The avian veterinarian has this knowledge as well as a broad understanding of avian behavior and their environmental and dietary needs, which, as we know, are altogether different from those of mammals.
Having the long distance support of an avian veterinarian
Avian medical practice is growing in accordance with the popularity of birds as pets, but there are still relatively few avian veterinarians at hand. I know people who have to cross a few state lines to transport their bird to an avian vet. However, if there is a medical emergency with your parrot, you will not want to be traveling to a vet that is hours away.
Your bird is currently in good health and can withstand the long trip to your nearest avian vet. Make an appointment for a “new bird exam”. During this check up, the vet will examine your bird physically, take blood and a fecal sample, as well as other cultures, to arrive at what is called a “baseline”.
As your bird is determined healthy, the weight and the test results go on record as that which is appropriate for your bird. Should your bird deviate from the baseline, your avain vet will know that something is not right.
Be sure to make your avian vet aware of your circumstances and let him know that his assistance and advice might be required in the event of an emergency. It isn’t the perfect arrangement, but with Skype and cell phones that now take great photos and video, it’s the next best thing in an emergency.
For those of you who live near a university, check to see if they have a veterinary department that deals with exotic pets. This could present a great option as an alternative to a local avian veterinarian.
Prevention is the very best medicine!
Even if your vet is just a few miles away, you can count on it being an expensive trip – and the cost rises with the severity of your bird’s condition.
Keeping your home bird-proofed and the cage and bird dishes clean will go a long way in preventing disease and accidents, but the most important contribution you can make to your bird’s health is by providing a great diet.
The vast majority of illnesses can be traced back to a poor diet. Nutritional deficiency is one of the most common ailments faced by companion parrots today. If it goes undetected for any length of time, as it ususally does, the organs that have been struggling to do their jobs without the support of vitamins and minerals begin to deteriorate and lose function.
Malnutrition is the leading cause of premature death in parrots. When many people hear the term “malnutrition” they think the sufferer has not been fed enough, that malnutrition comes from a lack of food. Practically speaking, unless you are simply not feeding your bird, the latin definition of mal is “bad”, so malnutrition refers to poor or inadequate nutrition.
I was once put in contact with lady who had brought her quaker parrot to the vet where several problems were diagnosed as caused by malnutrition. Like so many small birds, it had been raised on a seed-only diet. The bird’s coloring was dull and rough, its skin was dry and it had begun plucking its upper chest and beneath its wings. Most concerning were the signs of liver disease determined during testing.
The vet, completely derelict in his duties, had allowed her to leave from the follow-up visit with medications but none of the vital instruction she should have received on proper diet. In her mind, malnutrition equaled starvation and, to her, the obvious solution was to beef up her bird’s existing diet with an array of snacks. It was no big surprise that her quaker’s condition continued to worsen.
After a lot of discussion, we outlined a dietary plan that slowly phased out the old foods and replaced them with new, healthy foods. One of the most important steps of that plan was in offering them in an inspiring way to ensure they would be eaten. Within about six weeks, the change in her bird’s health was visually apparent. The plucking had completely stopped and the plumage was restored to the vibrant green of a healthy quaker parrot and its activity level had increased enormously.
I introduced her to my avian veterinarian and tests showed a marked improvement in liver function. With the proper diet, her quaker went on to make a full recovery. There is no doubt that her bird would not have survived the failings of the previous diet. The good health of any bird is reliant on nutrition.
Feeding your bird right has been made complicated by all the conflicting information found online. We have watched a lot of conscientious owners struggle trying to find answers to their questions about food safety and preparation. Since diet is the most important aspect of the care you give your bird, it shouldn’t be a struggle.
Birdtricks has produced a book called Cooking For Parrots so that bird owners would have a single source to reference for all those looming questions. It is essentially a course about proper feeding. It includes 73 original recipes (and pictures!) which are all bird tested and avian veterinarian approved. And it’s packed with feeding tips and practical nutritional information:
- How to use diet to overcome medical conditions
- How to avoid nutritional deficiencies
- How the different foods effect the many parts of the body
- How to tailor the diet to your bird’s individual needs
When the Womach’s galah, Bondi, was diagnosed with fatty liver disease, we used our diet to completely reverse the condition. We share all of our secrets to great nutrition so you won’t find yourself on a first name basis with the reception staff at your vet’s office. Our Natural Feeding System.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.