Help! I Don’t Have An Avian Veterinarian!

Posted by Patty on

Dr. Brian Speer photo from Avianstudios.com

Q: The closest avian veterinarian is three hours away! What should I do if my parrot gets sick?
Brandi V, Chattanooga, TN

 Why an “avian” veterinarian?

A: There is a very good reason for all the fuss about avian veterinarians. Dogs, cats and other mammals have physiology that is entirely different than that of birds. There are diseases which confront only avian species and the medications for an illness must be geared specifically toward the treatment of birds.

Even the most routine examination of a parrot requires proper handling, the right questions asked and the knowledge of what abnormalities to look for in order to diagnosis illness and devise a treatment plan.

The avian veterinarian has this knowledge as well as a broad understanding of avian behavior and their environmental and dietary needs, which, as we know, are altogether different from those of mammals.

Dr. Greg Rich photo from gnoexpo.com

Having the long distance support of an avian veterinarian

Avian medical practice is growing in accordance with the popularity of birds as pets, but there are still relatively few avian veterinarians at hand. I know people who have to cross a few state lines to transport their bird to an avian vet. However, if there is a medical emergency with your parrot, you will not want to be traveling to a vet that is hours away.

Your bird is currently in good health and can withstand the long trip to your nearest avian vet. Make an appointment for a “new bird exam”. During this check up, the vet will examine your bird physically, take blood and a fecal sample, as well as other cultures, to arrive at what is called a “baseline”.

As your bird is determined healthy, the weight and the test results go on record as that which is appropriate for your bird. Should your bird deviate from the baseline, your avain vet will know that something is not right.

Avian vet photo from parrotlife.com

Be sure to make your avian vet aware of your circumstances and let him know that his assistance and advice might be required in the event of an emergency. It isn’t the perfect arrangement, but with Skype and cell phones that now take great photos and video, it’s the next best thing in an emergency.

For those of you who live near a university, check to see if they have a veterinary department that deals with exotic pets. This could present a great option as an alternative to a local avian veterinarian.

Prevention is the very best medicine!

Even if your vet is just a few miles away, you can count on it being an expensive trip – and the cost rises with the severity of your bird’s condition.

Keeping your home bird-proofed and the cage and bird dishes clean will go a long way in preventing disease and accidents, but the most important contribution you can make to your bird’s health is by providing a great diet.

The vast majority of illnesses can be traced back to a poor diet. Nutritional deficiency is one of the most common ailments faced by companion parrots today. If it goes undetected for any length of time, as it ususally does, the organs that have been struggling to do their jobs without the support of vitamins and minerals begin to deteriorate and lose function.

Malnutrition is the leading cause of premature death in parrots. When many people hear the term “malnutrition” they think the sufferer has not been fed enough, that malnutrition comes from a lack of food. Practically speaking, unless you are simply not feeding your bird, the latin definition of  mal is “bad”, so malnutrition refers to poor or inadequate nutrition.

I was once put in contact with lady who had brought her quaker parrot to the vet where several  problems were diagnosed as caused by malnutrition. Like so many small birds, it had been raised on a seed-only diet. The bird’s coloring was dull and rough, its skin was dry and it had begun plucking its upper chest and beneath its wings. Most concerning were the signs of liver disease determined during testing.

The vet, completely derelict in his duties, had allowed her to leave from the follow-up visit with medications but none of the vital instruction she should have received on proper diet. In her mind, malnutrition equaled starvation and, to her, the obvious solution was to beef up her bird’s existing diet with an array of snacks. It was no big surprise that her quaker’s condition continued to worsen.

quaker parrot

After a lot of discussion, we outlined a dietary plan that slowly phased out the old foods and replaced them with new, healthy foods. One of the most important steps of that plan was in offering them in an inspiring way to ensure they would be eaten. Within about six weeks, the change in her bird’s health was visually apparent. The plucking had completely stopped and the plumage was restored to the vibrant green of a healthy quaker parrot and its activity level had increased enormously.

I introduced her to my avian veterinarian and tests showed a marked improvement in liver function. With the proper diet, her quaker went on to make a full recovery. There is no doubt that her bird would not have survived the failings of the previous diet. The good health of any bird is reliant on nutrition.

Feeding your bird right has been made complicated by all the conflicting information found online. We have watched a lot of conscientious owners struggle trying to find answers to their questions about food safety and preparation. Since diet is the most important aspect of the care you give your bird, it shouldn’t be a struggle.

Birdtricks has produced a book called Cooking For Parrots so that bird owners would have a single source to reference for all those looming questions. It is essentially a course about proper feeding. It includes 73 original recipes (and pictures!) which are all bird tested and avian veterinarian approved. And it’s packed with feeding tips and practical nutritional information:

  • How to use diet to overcome medical conditions
  • How to avoid nutritional deficiencies
  • How the different foods effect the many parts of the body
  • How to tailor the diet to your bird’s individual needs

When the Womach’s galah, Bondi, was diagnosed with fatty liver disease, we used our diet to completely reverse the condition. We share all of our secrets to great nutrition so you won’t find yourself on a first name basis with the reception staff at your vet’s office. Click on this link to learn more: http://www.birdtricks.com/naturalfeeding/.


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5 comments

  • I, too, am a little weary about an avian vet now. A couple of years back I had a Quaker PArakeet surrendered to me. We bonded right away and she was the sweetest bird, but she had been severely plucked.
    I saw the home that she was in, and it was filthy and very unstable, and the kids in the house were afraid of her because she had bitten one of them in the face while they had her on their shoulder. She NEVER even offered to bite me, and she had a sense of humor (she liked to tease a friend of mine who was afraid of the smaller birds).
    I had a vet that I used to use back in Illinois, when I first started my rescue, and they were great (I had also used this vets office for my dogs, cats, and horses). So I took this bird on the four and a half hour drive for a check up. I was told that the bird was in good shape, but she plucked simply because she was spoiled. I really doubted this, but I thought that maybe she had been aptight from her previous home as she was very plucked when she got here.
    Aboout three weeks later I had her out, playing with her. I put her to bed around 9 at night. When I got up at 4:30 the following morning I found her dead on the bottom of her cage. This really tore me up, moreso than some of the birds that I’ve had here (although each one really hurts when they pass on to the Rainbow Bridge). Nothing showed up in her blood tests or fecal tests, and I hadn’t changed her diet at all. There was no ryme or reason that I could find…other than I suspect an all seed diet from her previous owners. They just got rid of her because they were bored with her. The kids did try to get her out for regular exercise, but she often would bite them, so they became afraid of her…but they still tried. The mother refused to take proper care of the bird (there was also a second bird in the home that they gave to a relative but the relative didn’t want the Quaker).
    I am on a limited budget, so I couldn’t get a necropsy done. But even to this day I still miss this little Quaker and her lookingat me and saying “step up” in her quiet voice.
    Now, I pretty much do everything myself. My local vets know that I am pretty knowlegeable about birds and they don’t mind selling me whatever I need. If it is something that I don’t think I can handle, then I will take my bird(s) in. But for the most part, I have been able to handle most everything here.

    Dianna on
  • I live near several great colleges (one of them is Ivy League, too) and never even thought about asking around the veterinarian department to see if they also work with birds! Thanks for the tip! :)

    Shelby on
  • For those interested, I live in Moab, UT. To give you an idea of remote—we’re 100 miles from the nearest WalMart! Yet we have an outstanding avian vet in Fruita, Co—Dr. Paul Bingham of Arrowhead Veterinary Hosp. We’ve a Hans Mini Macaw, Amazon, and Umbrella Cockatoo who are all thriving under his care.
    Ron Regehr
    Moab, UT

    Ron Regehr on
  • Is it safe to give a small bird miso or a probiotic after taking those nasty antibiotics?

    Jeni on
  • I wasn’t too impressed when I took my bird into the vet. She wanted to take him off the cold pressed pellets (she thought they were expelled pressed and full of chemicals) and back onto a seed diet. I basically just kept my peace and bought the book mentioned above instead. My question is, my bird keeps chewing on my clothes or his cage cover and eatting the fibers. I have all these chew toys that he’s shredding to bits (he’s getting worse than a gerbil!) but the fibers from the clothes I think are getting stuck in his crop and that’s what caused the infection the first time and now he’s back to a sensitive crop. :-/ how do you keep him from eatting the cage cover?!?

    Jeni on

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