Q: If a vet always has to take blood to know what is wrong with a bird, then why do they do a physical exam at all? Drawing blood is fast, but the exam just stresses my bird out so much.
–Connor N., Bowling Green, KY
A: Vet visits can be stressful for a bird, but all parts of it are necessary to really determine your bird’s health. And because they are stressful, it makes sense that your vet be as thorough as possible so that you don’t need to bring your bird back for further examination.
Blood work will tell your vet some crucial things about your bird’s health that a physical exam would not expose. It will tell your vet about kidney and liver function, and cholesterol levels. It will tell your vet if there is infection present in the body or if vitamin or mineral levels are off. Your bird’s blood has a lot to say – about the inside of the body.
The physical exam will obviously reveal things about the outside of the body, but this exam will also tell your vet what things he should be looking for, or expecting, from the blood work. Here are some things that a vet looks for during a physical exam:
The doctor will examine your birds head. He will check any orifice for signs of discharge such as stained or clotted feathers – a blood test would show an elevated white blood count in this case signifying infection and the physical exam will point out why.
He will examine the beak for damage or malformations. If there is bruising, it might indicative of liver disease – he will be looking for that in the blood work.
Inside the beak he will look at the choana, which is a narrow nasal slit in the back of the mouth that is bordered by a fleshy area that is serrated in appearance. If this area is not fully intact or is in questionable condition, your vet will know to look for a vitamin A deficiency or evidence of respiratory problems.
As he continues to examine the body, he will assess feather and skin condition as well as nails, problems with which might point to liver dysfunction or a nutritional deficiency that can be confirmed with blood work.
Wings will be extended and joints manipulated to indicate their condition and freedom of movement. If pain is evident, your vet might look at blood work for indications of gout, for instance.
This is not the extent of the physical exam, but enough to make my point.
While your vet might be able determine an illness through just the physical exam, such as a respiratory infection evidenced by a discharge, the blood work alone doesn’t give up all the information needed for a diagnosis – both parts of the exam are often necessary to get a complete picture.
Whenever veterinary care is the topic of discussion, poor diet typically weighs in heavily as the cause for the visit.