This is a horrible topic and I hate to even put these thoughts and images into your head, but it is important and I ask that you bear with me and read this short post.
When a bird dies unexpectedly, if the unthinkable happens and you should find your bird dead or if there was an illness that claimed you bird’s life that had yet to be diagnosed, it is wise to have a necropsy done.
A necropsy is the term used for autopsy when performed on an animal. The procedure includes an external examination and the internal testing of tissue and fluids in the hopes of determining a cause of death.
It is an important step for anyone who has multiple birds because discovering the cause of death could save the lives of the other birds in the home if it turns out to be disease or an environmental toxin. It can also save the life of a future bird should it be an owner’s mistake in the bird’s diet or in general care. Sometimes it simply offers closure to a grieving owner.
Recently, someone we know here at Birdtricks lost their parrot to an unknown cause and they made a common mistake that prevented them from getting a necropsy done. They stored the bird’s body in the freezer. Commons sense (as well as several online sources) will tell you that this is the best method of preserving the bird’s body for testing. However, it is not true.
In a slow freezing process (like that which would occur in a typical home freezer), large ice crystals form in the cells. As the body thaws, the cell membranes burst and the tissue needed for testing breaks down. This will seriously interfere with the accuracy in interpreting almost all of the most revealing tests. Birds are not fleshy animals and that limits the availability of samples under the best conditions.
Wrap your bird inside a towel or paper towel and then inside a ziplock or other plastic bag. Place the bag in an area the refrigerator where the contents will not freeze. Closing the door and leaving your bird inside will be very difficult. Try to direct your thoughts to the best possible necropsy outcome.
Depending on the time of travel when you transport your bird to the vet or the lab that will do the necropsy, you will want to use a cooler to preserve the body. However, don’t rest your bird against an ice pack inside the cooler as this could cause freezing. You should place several thicknesses of towel between your bird and the ice. For a shorter trip, you could keep the cooler cold by placing a ziplock bag or two of refrigerated water inside.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.