This is one of those posts that I hope you never have a need for, but I encourage you to read it thoroughly so you know what to do in the event of an incident that requires this particular skill. When your bird has stopped breathing, you will not have the time it will take to locate and read this, or any other, set of instructions.
People are always surprised to learn that CPR (CardioPulmonary Resuscitation) can be done on animals. When you think about it, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Animals breathe and have a heartbeat and can have accidents that could cause either or both to stop – just like humans. The principals behind the techniques used to resuscitate them are the same.
- I know that’s asking a lot of you when your bird is not breathing, but it is important that you act swiftly and be clear-headed at this time.
Determine your bird’s condition
- Watch for visible signs of breathing by observing a rising and falling in the chest and stomach area (sternum). It is not always possible to detect exhalations.
- Put your ear to your bird’s chest and listen for a heartbeat. Take a look at the diagram above and locate the heart. You will notice that it is lower and more centered in the chest cavity than our own is. You may need to listen to both sides of your bird’s chest in that area to find the heartbeat.
- A bird that needs CPR will be unconscious, not breathing and will have no heartbeat.
- Sometimes a bird may have stopped breathing, but still has a heartbeat. In this case, you will only administer the breaths and not the compressions. Keep checking for a heartbeat, however, because the heart could stop while you are giving your bird air.
- Check your bird’s airway to make sure there is no obstruction and clear a path for air if there is blockage. The photo below will show you the opening to the trachea, which is the airway. You may find it necessary to reposition the tongue until the trachea is clearly open and ready.
Breathing for your bird (if there IS a heartbeat)
- Hold your bird on its back, supporting its head.
- With a small bird, place your mouth around the beak and over the nares – or nostrils, which are the holes in the fleshy area where the beak meets the head. With a large bird, seal your mouth around the beak and cover the nares with your finger. This will prevent your breathes from diverting out of the body before they enter the airway.
- The amount of air that you blow into the bird and the force that you use to do so will depend on the size of the bird. There is no way to give you exact instructions. Obviously, a larger bird will need more air, but a larger bird also requires more force in delivering it so that it is effective. The best way to determine amount is to watch for an adequate rising and falling of the sternum as you offer each breath.
- Take a breath, and deliver 5 short puffs of air in succession. Pause to check to see if the bird has started breathing on its own. If not, deliver two more breaths and pause again to reevaluate. Continue to administer two breaths until your bird begins to breathe on its own and stop often to check that the heart is still beating. If you discover it has stopped, begin CPR.
Administering CPR (if there is no respiration and NO heartbeat)
- CPR requires chest compressions which are delivered to the sternum – which is over your bird’s heart (refer to the diagram above – #4 is the sternum). Compressions are done with your fingertips (one for a small bird, and up to three for a larger bird). The pressure used will vary according to your bird’s size. The compressions should be brisk and rhythmic – keep a heartbeat in mind while you are apply gentle pressure. You should see movement of the sternum when you are doing it effectively.
- With your bird positioned on its back and its head supported, start CPR by giving 5 breaths, followed by ten compressions and continue from there with 2 breaths followed by 10 compressions…2 breaths, 10 compressions…2 breaths, 10 compression and so on. Stop after each minute of CPR to check for heartbeat and respiration. Be sure to re-evaluate your bird’s condition frequently throughout this process.
- Continue with rescue breathing or CPR until your bird is resuscitated or until you can get to the vet. Personally, if I had someone available to drive, I would be doing this on the way to the vet.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.