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Keeping Your Bird Comfortable Until You Can Get to The Vet

No matter how conscientious and careful a bird guardian you are, accidents can, and do, happen. We can’t control everything, but we should all know to respond when it does happen.

It has been a long standing joke that your bird will only require vet assistance when their office is closed. It’s funny because it’s true.

Most people work during the weekdays and it is the nights and
weekends that we spend the most time with our birds. It stands to reason that it would be then we see illness in them and have them out of their cages, where/when injuries happen most often. Most of our primary vets are closed at night and have limited weekend hours.

A very common question here is: “I am bringing my sick/injured bird to the vet tomorrow. What can I do to help my bird tonight?”

Before you do anything, you have to evaluate your bird’s condition. When a bird is seriously injured or is displaying severe signs of illness, they can slip downhill irretrievably fast. If it is serious, your bird may not make it to the morning.

We should all have the number of a nearby emergency vet available for these situation: if there is bleeding that you can’t control, any broken bones or punctures to the body or any signs of poisoning or labored breathing. These are examples of things that cannot wait. If you question the severity of your bird’s condition, your intuition is probably telling you your bird needs immediate help.

I prefer to go to my own vet when possible and I would rather not stress my bird out with two consecutive vet visits - if I go to an emergency vet, I will most definitely get him to our usual vet for further evaluation. If my bird is showing generic signs of illness or has a minor injury, I will wait to the morning.

I know that not everyone reading this has availability to emergency vets. Some people have to travel for hours to a regular vet. These tips will help keep your bird comfortable in the meantime:

There are three things sick or injured birds requires:

1) Warmth – Sick and injured birds have trouble maintaining their body heat. Make sure the room your bird is in is warm and free from drafts. One of the common signs of illness in a bird is a fluffed up feathering. They do this to create a pocket of insulated air beneath their feathers in an effort to keep warm. When you see this sign, it is a good idea to add an additional source of warmth near the cage.

2) A stress free environment – The last thing your bird needs to deal with is unsettling noises and activity. The normal behaviors of your family and pets might not be a problem for your bird under normal circumstances, but a sick bird is already feeling threatened and insecure. Keep the animals and kids away and cover part of the cage for privacy and let your bird be.

3) Caging that will keep them from injuring (or further injuring) themselves – birds that are sick and weak are not always steady on their feet and sometimes lose their grip on their perches. To prevent injury in the event of a fall, you can lower the main perch to a few inches above the cage bottom. If your bird shows that he wants to remain perched higher, you should remove anything beneath the perch that your bird might impact during a fall and place a towel beneath him for a softer landing. A flat perch will give your bird added stability.

Sometimes moving them to a carrier and into a secluded area of the house is the best choice to accomplish all three requirements, especially if your bird is showing signs of needing warmth. If it is just for overnight, your bird will be okay without a perch installed.

Be sure to cover the cage on the way to the vet and bring a heat source with you if necessary: pour some rice into a sock, tie off the end and heat it to warm in the microwave (not too hot!) Be sure to let the vet know you are on the way with a bird that needs help. 

Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

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