I went to a bird club meeting today where the speaker, a long time vet technician, spoke about emergency critical care. I wanted to hone my skills. She offered ideas in splinting and portable heat sources that I was not aware of. This topic differs from basic first aid care in that these are instances where it is not a question of if you need to bring your bird to the vet, but how soon can you get there.
Prevention is, of course, the best practice in keeping your parrot safe and healthy. Weighing your parrot at least monthly is a way to monitor its health. A gram scale can be purchased at Office Depot for about $30. Never weigh your parrots in pounds – birds are too light. You can only accurately monitor weight if it is done in smaller increments of weight like grams. A parrot should never lose more that 10% of its body weight inside of a month, this is a sure sign of illness. Observe the droppings.
While they may change in color and consistency somewhat depending on what your parrot has eaten, they should for the most part remain typical for your parrot. Any droppings that are “off” for more than a few days may signal illness. Feed a variety of healthy foods and keep its environment clean. Keep your home bird-proofed to prevent accidents. And, for when the unthinkable happens, keep your first aid kit well stocked and handy.
NOTE: When you are transporting your bird to the vet in an emergency situation, you will almost always want to wrap it in a towel. A bird that is in pain will want to thrash around and may further injure itself – this is one way to keep it restrained and hopefully calm. Another thing you will want to bring is a source of warmth. Since a heating pad will not serve you well in the car, make a “rice-sock” or a “helping hand”.
A rice-sock is quite simply a sock with rice in it, tied off at the end. Put it in the microwave for 15-20 seconds. Be careful, because rice heats up quickly and will retain heat for a while. A helping hand is a latex glove filled with water and tied off at the wrist. When the water is heated in the microwave, it acts as a hot water bottle. Either can be put together in mere seconds.
Before you leave your house you will want to call your vet and let them know you are coming in and what the nature of the emergency is. Always have an emergency vet clinic number and address available should your primary avian vet be closed. The following are injuries that require IMMEDIATE veterinarian attention:
If your parrot is bitten or scratched by ANY animal, get to the vet immediately. Mammals have gram negative bacteria in their saliva. Birds don’t carry gram negative bacteria in their bodies and are unable to deal with it. It doesn’t matter whether the bite came from a cat, a dog, or a llama, or whether the bite seems minor – a infected parrot can go septic and die within 12 hours. Wrap your bird in a towel with a helping hand and leave immediately for the vet. If the bleeding is severe, put a pressure bandage on the wound. See Bleeding below.
Don’t try to stabilize the bird. Wrap it up in towel with a helping hand and leave for the vet. The longer the bird seizes, the more chance for irreversible brain damage.:
If there is blood in the stool it is an indication of internal bleeding. Medical investigation is needed to determine the source of the bleed. Wrap the bird in a towel with a helping hand and leave immediately for the vet.
If blood is coming from an orifice, such as the eyes, ears or mouth, don’t try to stabilize the bird. Transport immediately.
If the bleeding is external, and minor in nature – like a scratch, you can attempt to stop the bleeding before you leave for the vet. Apply corn starch to the wound (never apply styptic powder to skin wounds) and apply gentle pressure with a sterile gauze/telfa pad. If the bleeding doesn’t stop after a minute, stop trying. Apply a pressure bandage and go the the vet. A pressure bandage is made simply by taking a couple of gauze squares and folding them as needed to accommodate the size of the wound (or the size of the bird) and placing in over the wound.
Then take vet wrap and wind the tape around the gauze and the body part where the wound is located. Be sure that you don’t wind it too tightly around the body of the bird. Their air sacs require room for expansion to function properly. You should be able to slide three fingers underneath the vet wrap when it’s correctly applied.
If you successfully stop the bleeding, you will still need to get to the vet for an examination and antibiotics to avoid infection.
If the external bleeding is serious in nature, like a gash, apply a pressure bandage and leave immediately for the vet.
BLEEDING NAILS OR BEAK:
If you have cut through the quick during a nail trim or there has been an accident and the nail begins to bleed, apply styptic powder and hold in place for 30 seconds. When this has happened to me, I pour the styptic powder into the cap of the bottle and put the nail directly into the cap. Throw away the remainder when you’re done. If you have not successfully stopped the bleed try again for 30 seconds. If it is still bleeding, go to your vet.
Follow the same procedures for a bleeding beak. Pour a liberal amount of the powder onto a gauze pad and press it against the beak avoiding the mouth. You will need to go to your vet even if you stop the bleeding as a bleeding beak is likely to be the result of an accident or fight.
BROKEN BLOOD FEATHERS:
A blood feather is a feather that contains an active blood supply. You can see the blood running up the shaft of the feather. (New feathers also contain a blood supply that delivers nutrients as the feather grows. Once the feather is mature the blood supply recedes and it looks like the other feathers.)
If a blood feather breaks, there’s not enough clotting tissue in the feather shaft to effectively stop the bleeding and a bird can bleed out and die. Sometimes you can stop the bleeding with styptic powder or cornstarch, but the feather still needs to be removed. If you are too squeamish to do this, you need to go directly to the vet to have it done.
If you’re up to the task, it’s really quite simple: Extend the wing and pinch your finger on either side of the wing at the base of the blood feather. Use your hemostats (the locking ones that look like scissors) or needle-nosed pliers and clamp onto the feather as close to the base as you can without catching anything but that feather base in its jaws. Pull the feather out, in the direction that it grows, with a tug.
Don’t be tentative, just pull it out quickly and get it done. You are prolonging the ordeal as long as you hesitate. Keep your fingers on the wing where you held them previously to control bleeding. In this case, you will not need to see the vet unless the bleeding doesn’t stop, which is rare. Remember not to use styptic powder on skin to stop any bleeding.
These are the most common types of burns. You will notice that they all need to be treated differently. Burns become infected easily and need immediate veterinarian treatment. Before you leave for the vet there are some treatments to use to help lessen the damage of the injury:
Hot water or steam burns usually happen in the kitchen. This can be the result of your parrot falling into, or flying over, boiling water. Submerse burned area into lukewarm/slightly cool water. DO NOT USE COLD WATER. This will cause vessels to shrink and the skin around them will die. Towel you bird and leave.
Grease burns are best treated with corn starch. The corn starch will soak up the grease keeping you from having to touch the burned area. Apply it liberally, wrap up the bird in a towel and get to the vet.
Acid/chemical burns are best treated with baking soda. It will neutralize the effects of the acid or chemical. Wrap up your bird and leave.
Electrical burns require that you leave immediately for you vet.
Wrap your parrot in a towel with a helping hand and go directly to the vet.
If you suspect a broken wing, you will need to wrap it and secure it to the body of the bird before you travel to prevent thrashing that will cause further injury. To do this you will need your roll of vet tape and you will have to have the bird securely toweled. Put the wing into its folded position.
This is called a figure-eight wrap because it goes around the wing in a figure-eight. Take the end of the roll of tape and start underneath at the tip of the wing, where the feathers end. Roll it around from under the wing to the front and then up and across the wing to the shoulder joint.
Pass it over the top of the shoulder and under the wing (you are basically hooking it around the shoulder of the wing) till it reaches the front again at the bottom, and then back up across the front of the wing again till it meet the point where you started. Do this twice, just follow the same path again. Before you cut the wrap, wind a loop around the bird’s body to secure the wing to its body. Attach the end with a piece of medical tape. Wrap your bird in a towel and go.
NOTE: The purpose of the figure-eight wrap is to prevent further injury to the wing. If your are struggling with your bird to do this, STOP. It defeats the purpose. Put the wing in the folded position, secure him well in a towel and leave. This is something you will want to practice ahead of time, and it’s a good thing to know how to do.
Leg fractures need to be splinted. This can be done with Popsicle sticks. Break them off to the size of the length of the leg and wrap them in vet tape to protect the leg from splinters or loose pieces of wood. Securely towel your bird with only the legs sticking out. Place folded gauze pads on either side of the leg and wrap with rolled gauze tape to keep the pads secure. Put the splints on either side of the leg and wrap with vet tape.
Compound fractures are those where the bone protrudes through the skin. You will treat those in the same way. Be sure to never put your vet wrap in contact with the bone, always make sure you have a padding of gauze between the wound and the wrapping. Attach the splint to the foot (skin) with medical tape (never use waterproof tape on your parrot’s skin, it will pull the skin off when you remove it!) and attach the top of the splint with masking tape only because it is easily removed from feathers.
NOTE: The purpose of splinting is to stabilize the leg. You are not trying to set the break. Never move the bones or re-position the leg, pieces of bone crucial in the setting and mending of the leg can be broken off that way. More importantly, shards of bone can sever arteries.
GREAT TIP: Have your vet collect the cases that the syringes they use come in and pick some up from them. They are normally just thrown away. When cut in half lengthwise, they make great splints that are rounded and fit more naturally over your parrots leg. You would use them the same way as a Popsicle stick. Also, they make great foraging toys!
Do nothing. Go straight to the vet. Different poisons need different remedies and you may do more harm than good if you try to treat it yourself. If you are certain what has been ingested you can call the poison control hotline and they can help. There are two different hotlines: one for humans, and one for animals.
There is a charge for the animal hotline because it is the way that they pay for their staffing. It is not for profit. If you don’t have a debit or credit card, and they won’t bill you for their services, try the people hotline. They will be able to help to a point. The vet is your best choice.
If your bird is panting and holding it’s wings out, cool your bird slowly in room temperature water. Soak her right down to the skin. Don’t try to cool her down rapidly. A sharp drop in body temperature can kill or cause organ damage. If her wings are droopy and she seems like she might be in shock, give he a syringe full of Pedialyte to hold her over during the trip to the vet.
On the other end of the spectrum, hypothermia (from being too cold) is not considered a critical care situation unless you suspect frostbite or necrosis. Let your bird warm up slowly and naturally. Organ damage is not a concern because the body directs the blood flow to the organs to protect them in freezing temperatures.
Hopefully you will never need any of the instruction from this post, but you might want to print off a copy and keep it with your first aid kit for easy reference.
Here's a FREE GUIDE on how to help Bird-Proof your home too!
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.