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.
Big big thanks for your page.Ive a 7year old pigeon i rescued as a baby after he got kicked out of nest .If any little thing or big that could hurt him im now more reasurred that hes got more of chance now that Ive read this. There should be more education like this everywhere. Thank you.
Not two weeks ago my hen was chocking, and sneezing, I didn’t know what to do, so I did the first thing that came to my mind, CPR. I put pressure on her chest, and from then on she’s remembered how to eat her food :)
I had to perform CPR on a rooster once, and sadly he did not revive. It is an extremely useful skill, though. Anything can happen, from asphyxiation to strangling, smoke inhalation to drowning, electrocution and so on. Imagine worst case scenarios & prepare for them. Practicing is perfect. Watching videos of CPR on birds helps too. Being ready helps prevent a panicked brain from forgetting steps or losing hope. Thank you very much for this article. Ia have it bookmarked for reference.
I am thankful for finding out how to do cpr on my 2 parakeets.my husband and i have a male parakeet and a female parakeet.we love them both equally.we have a stuffed parakeet to practice cpr on.
I lost my umbrella cockatoo while giving a bath he started breathing heavily and open his wings away from his body and I couldn’t understand what was he trying to do and next thing he put his head in the water and food came out I got him out but he had stopped breathing and I tried to move him get him up he did not . I wish if I would had known this prior I could have saved him as I miss him dearly now tears don’t stop but he is not going to come back
Great information! I will review this periodically. Hope I never, never have to use this. I will practice on a stuffed animal.
Thank you so much for this information. I always wondered what I would do, or how to go about doing it. I have a Congo African Grey and she likes to get into things, especially wires. She’s 25 now and I’ve bird proofed the house, but sometimes I catch her and I have to take things from her. I feel better now that I have this information.
I hope I never need to do this, but glad I Have this information if someday I could need it ! Thank you . .
Thanks so much Guess I would have been afraid of hurting the bird, but if they’re not breathing….sure worth a try!
I lost one of my darling babies to a freak accident that led to aspirating. I was lucky enough to have read about how to do the breaths earlier, and that definitely prolonged her life. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it once we reached the vet. I am glad to see this article because I believe it would really help others in times of need like this.
Please understand that ambulance services are thrilled when they get resuscitation rates (where people leave the hospital) over 15%. If your bird needs CPR, odds are the bird has died, even uf you do CPR perfectly. Doing CPR is a long shot. Do not blame yourself if it doesn’t work. Even with humans, you’re more likely to kill the EMS personnel, the patient, anyone else in the vehicle and possibly people in another vehicle if the ambulance is driven recklessly. A calm drive to the vet also allows better CPR. Knowing how to do human CPR will help you do CPR on a pet better. What you see on television and in the movies is, at best, grossly inaccurate. If you ever need give a human CPR, it’s most likely going to be someone you are close to and care deeply for. So it’s a good idea all around. One difference: In human CPR, mouth-to-mouth is not nearly as important as mouth to beak a bird. The best shot for helping your bird is that the heart hasn’t really stopped and you’re assisting respirations. I’ve seen cardiologists who can’t find a pulse on someone talking to them; it’s quite easy to miss a pulse in a bird. Knowing how to do CPR is good. Proper diet; avoiding strangulation, toxins or electrical hazards; and recognizing illness early are things you can do to give your bird as long a life as possible.
Be careful NOT to blow like you would for an adult human or you could blow out an organ. Just tiny puffs like for a baby…key is to detect the rise and fall of the chest for proper air amount. For compressions, I would only use a tiny push with one finger or you can kill them by crushing their insides. With a baby you only use two fingers lightly so with a birdy, that’s why you only use a single finger and very light compressions.
I lost my dove she was my right hand buddy I did not bird cpr so now she is gone home to the lord
I have this article at the top of my bookmarks bar and I review it constantly. I’d consider this one of the most valuable Bird Tricks articles.
Wish I’d known this 3 years ago.
i hope very nice time with you & my nice parrot KAKO
Great information as always. I had a lead poisioning issue a few years ago with my sun conure and my avian VET taught me how to do this just in case. It is always valued information just in case we need it. Thanks for all you do for the birds. Oh, and us bird parrents.
I saw my nan do this to our budgie & it worked, I will never forget it in all my life, I’m talking 40 years ago now!
In my experience, my baby Love Bird had hypothermia, and while giving chest compressions and breaths, I was warming it slowly until there were signs of life. Little Miracle survived, and of course I am glad I didn’t give up when he was seemingly cold and dead!
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