Our Annual Vet Check Up: The Many Things Learned to do Differently

Posted by Jamieleigh on

Photo by Dave
Location: Roanoke, VA
At the vet’s office: Blue throated macaw “Jinx”

I’ve always been more interested in the training aspect of birds and only more recently have been diving into the world of health and nutrition. I like to learn about those topics along the way, but my real passion lies in the training of these amazing animals. I feel that the training is so fun, and so healthy for them, that I only tend to learn of nutrition and health when it comes up as a problem… and so it seems with this story.

 

I know how important it is to have our animals annual check up, I do this for my cat and I know to do with my parrots as well. However, finding a qualified avian vet can be hard and for years we used a vet that wasn’t an avian specialist in Orlando, Florida. We found her about 15 minutes away from our house and used her for our cat Ninja as well. She always researched the issues and talked with her community of vets she knew of for more information she wasn’t sure of which made us feel good about her care.

 

It didn’t really become apparent to me how important an actual avian vet was until Patty began pushing it into my brain, and honestly, you can’t really “tell” someone what’s good for them without them experiencing WHY it’s good for them… first hand. Which I did.

 

We left on tour for two years with Ringling Bros. whom never had touring parrots in their circus before. We hadn’t done something so intense – all our past tours were shorter and any that were longer were in one place. This tour consisted of setting up for the week and changing locations after performances every Sunday. We usually drove Sunday-Tuesday and set up Wednesday for the show that would open on Thursday and would perform shows until Sunday. After the Sunday shows we would tear everything down and get on the road again.

 

Photo by Jamieleigh
Location: Roanoke, VA
At the vet’s office: Camelot macaw “Tusa” & Toco Toucan “Rocko”

 

We normally traveled to smaller cities that were unreachable by rail leaving our veterinary options limited in some cases. When Ace, our cockatoo, became sick he had to be driven 2-3 hours away to a special avian clinic to get better again. It was very hard finding good quality avian care.

 

So our annual check ups did not consist of getting baselines of liver and kidney functions, or bile acid, or white cell counts or levels of things I can’t remember how to spell much less pronounce.

 

Our annual check ups on our birds were done by the on-call vets that usually took once glance at the birds and said, “I know nothing about birds, I’m a horse, cat and dog vet.” Special vets from the Elephant Conversation Center would come in for care and check ups on the elephants (there aren’t many elephant vets either! Though most of the trainers double as vets for their elephants knowing exactly what kind of care they need for practically anything common.)

 

And so our check ups went something like… we would request one, a vet would come out and look at them and tell us they looked healthy and that was that. At one point Dave held Fiji, our Swainson toucan, so blood could be drawn on her to check her iron levels but as he tried to do the same thing with our Camelot macaw, Comet, a vein couldn’t be found and we felt being the ones to hold the birds would be damaging to our relationship with them and consequently, the show and what we asked of them (all of which were flighted behaviors so if they lost confidence in us they could choose to fly elsewhere proving dangerous given all the wires and such in the ceiling of the show) so every time we had an annual, it was merely a visual physical.

 

We learned that’s just not good enough. Not even close.

 

Learning the hard way that you need an avian certified vet checking your birds sucked. I don’t recommend it. Just get an avian vet and bypass the headaches and stress levels.

 

With you all knowing that, you’ll understand why this annual check up had SO much information to offer us and why it was such a big deal. In all honestly, I feel like it’s the first check up any of our birds have ever had because this vet was more qualified than any vet I’ve ever come across with my parrots. That alone made everything feel like a “first”. I’m so confident in this vet, I will recommend him all day long. Although his schedule has been filling up so I sometimes wonder if I recommend him too much…

 

And even though he’s located in Roanoke, Virginia… we make the trip from wherever we are in the world to see him because he’s that good. Obviously for a quick emergency, we can’t do that. So I asked him for his personal recommendation of an avian vet near my home in Florida.

 

However, if you’re anywhere close to Roanoke, VA here is his information:

 

 

 

When my female cockatoo of 6.5 years of age started showing plucking behavior signs I knew something was severely wrong. To put it blunt… it scared the crap out of me. She had just flown to a tree for the first time in freeflying in Virginia and I had thought it was just another thing to come and blogged about it here, but it turned out it was a huge SIGN that I completely missed! Of her telling me she didn’t feel well. After looking at the photos of her freeflying the week before that in Moab, I even saw how she had begun pulling and I didn’t even notice then. There were weeks I was suspicious but couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong with her.

 

Her getting sick made us find out she had a yeast infection and the vet said it could be contagious to the rest of our flock so I decided to test the entire flock and get full base lines. We had no prior info to give this vet so everything felt from scratch. I was kicking myself for never getting any of this done when I had asked before, and letting it just go by with a visual physical (anything to beat yourself up, right?)

 

Now, some tests we heard back about the next day, others took a couple of days and others took longer than that. X-rays and things we got to go over with the vet right away and hear about immediately.

 

 


Photo by Dave
Location: Roanoke, VA
At the vet’s office: Camelot macaws “Comet” & “Tusa”

 

Comet, our camelot macaw who we’ve always wondered about being a little ‘slow’ from the recessive hybrid genes, checked out in great condition! He had no notes, received an A+ on his exam.

 

 

Photo by Jamieleigh
Location: Roanoke, VA
At the vet’s office: Camelot macaws “Comet” & “Tusa”

 

His brother, Tusa, whom we thought was going through a molt and having a rough time with it (for lack of feathers coming in on his head) had some black coloration on his flight feathers and his skin appeared dry. The vet suggested a booster which we would give once a day for 60 days and more humidity so he provided us with an aloe rain solution we could use to bathe him with 3 times per week. The booster would help his plumage and the rain would do the same but with the aloe it would also help his skin.

 

No big deal on Tusa, but it was still something. He was also put on a high potency pellet by Harrison’s until everything is normal again before going back to his FYF organic pellet and told to maintain his current weight which was good and spot on.

 

 

 Photo by Dave
Location: Roanoke, VA
At the vet’s office: Blue throated macaw “Jinx”

Jinx also received an A+ on his exam except for the little piece of metal found in his belly that went out for testing to determine what type of metal it was. This test took the longest to receive but was found to not be metal at all, and instead completely normal. We were still glad we looked into it “just in case” so Jinx ended up like Comet with an A+. Yay Jinxi!

 

 

 Photo by Jamieleigh
Location: Roanoke, VA
At the vet’s office: Congo African Grey “Cressi”, Galah “Bondi”

 

Cressi was told be a little overweight which we had suspected as she will eat virtually anything and will be the first to the food dish as well as the last to leave it. Because she isn’t in the show performing her weight wasn’t really monitored which was our fault for not prioritizing it.

 

She had higher “fostrious” levels (not sure if I’m spelling that right) that we would need to have rechecked in 30 days – however she also was the only other parrot of our flock to have the same yeast infection Bondi did so they thought it may be linked to that. She was also found to be getting too much protein in her diet and not enough calcium. Everything in her exam lead to the possibility of kidney issues should they worsen after her yeast treatment.

 

 

 Photo by Jamieleigh
Location: Roanoke, VA
At the vet’s office: Galah “Bondi”

 

I found that since our flock is primarily male, we were lacking in providing enough calcium to our females (Bondi and Cressi) and learned that female birds need more calcium than male birds because of the potential egg laying factor. Even though neither Bondi or Cressi have laid any eggs in their years so far, their bodies still need more calcium which can be provided through many ways such as:

 

  • Scrambled whole eggs (shell included)
  • Boiled egg shell ground up and sprinkled over food
  • Cuttlebone
  • Calcium perches

 

Bondi’s story and results were a long and can be found at the following blog post entitled Plucking: Sometimes it’s the symptom, not the problem.

 

Her yeast infection should be gone in 10 days from treatment (on the 30th of this month) and she has showed great signs of improvement in leaving her feathers alone, preening less and we have been bathing her each and every day since suspecting something was wrong. I plan to take some videos and do some blog posts on medicating her, as she has also been so good about that that some days I was able to do it by myself. She has to be toweled because two of her syringe fed ‘medicines’ are oily and can dye her feathers orange. It’s not pretty, so I choose to towel her as much as possible to limit the mess I make.

 

 

 Photo by Dave
Location: Roanoke, VA
At the vet’s office: Galahs “Bondi” & “Bandit”

 

Bandit also received an A on his report card and was told if he lost 10-15 grams he would receive an A+! We were very happy, although, the vet said he’d like to see his liver function up 20% if possible so we decided to treat him for that as well. He went on one of the 6 prescriptions Bondi was given at a lower dosage and just once a day instead of twice a day like Bondi. This was for possible fatty liver, and in his circumstance to avoid it.

 

Both Bondi and Bandit were put on a prescription for liver pellet by Roudybush until their levels are normal again for liver function.

 

 

 Photo by Dave
Location: Roanoke, VA
At the vet’s office: Toco Toucan “Rocko”

 

Rocko was another A+ student. The only thing off with him was his uric acid which was 18 when it should be 15.

 

Practically all our birds treatment includes a change of diet; more speciality pellets to give them a boost and a request for more veggies than fruit.

 

I’m beginning to feel grateful for the boost in veggies and lower amount of fruit as I could use the same change in my own diet! Who knew my birds would help me to be healthier through all of this?

 

Now I have to hit on the emotional side of all this… because it really took its toll on me. I literally left the vet’s office feeling like a great trainer, but a terrible caretaker. I easily handed the vet 1-2 birds at a time and he walked off with them on his hands, able to hold their feet and do their exams and take blood without using anesthesia. I was so pleased about that and even more proud when he came back with them after their exams and would tell me how great they did and how they were the best he’d had, ever. That felt great, I can’t even tell you, and having the birds hang out in the waiting room and the vet assistants wanting to come take pictures and meet them was so flattering and fun for both humans and our birds. They had a blast destroying… er… playing… in that waiting room and meeting everyone, posing for photos…

 

But I felt because there was something wrong with pretty much every bird except Comet that I was a failure in the health/nutrition area. Beating myself was way too easy. Then something in my head would come back with, wait a minute… you did the same thing with all the birds and Comet turned out perfect so what’s to beat yourself up about?

 

 Photo by Dave
Location: Roanoke, VA
At the vet’s office: Toco Toucan “Rocko”

 

I still did so anyway. Dave did too and so that just made me feel worse and I’m sure it made him feel worse too hearing how I felt I or we had failed in so many aspects. One day Dave turned to our flock and said, “You guys are fantastically trained and sweet but medically you suck.” of course they had no idea what he said and just looked at us with fluffed up adorable faces – clueless adorable faces… as Dave and I moped for the next few days.

 

Then as I talked with the manager of the clinic about the speciality diets and this and that I stopped her before she could hang up to tell her how much we appreciated them working with us. We took up the vet’s entire Saturday with our check ups and blood work and many, many questions and they had been so understanding on so many levels I wanted them to know how much we loved them for it.

 

She then stopped to tell me how wonderful Dave and I and our birds had made THEM feel. She said how much FUN it was for them, how they never had birds in like ours and how amazing they were. “That’s the difference between a healthy flighted bird and the perch potatoes we see.” she said the vet told her after we left. “Those birds were so muscular from flight, not like the birds we see all the time. THAT is the difference it makes.”

 

When she told me this I felt like I finally took a breath again – a breath of relief, of being proud again, feeling like I did something right, no matter how little. I told her how we had felt awful at what a terrible job we had been doing with their diet, nutrition, giving too much fruit, not seeing the signs weeks earlier. She assured me we caught signs early and compared to what they see on a regular basis we are WAY ahead of the times. The praise didn’t stop coming in and I finally said, “We feel so behind on the health side of things, like we don’t know a thing and we want to take all this in and learn from it.” and with that she said, “And we’re happy to be the ones to help you with it.” it was a very nice feeling of equal gratitude and I have to say, she made me feel like a not so bad “parront” after all.

 

 Photo by Dave
Location: Roanoke, VA
At the vet’s office: Blue throat macaw “Jinx”

And I am very happy to learn from this in huge strides and hopefully help anyone searching for more information on how to care better for their birds learn a thing or two as well.

 

I think we are hard enough on ourselves for not doing a perfect job that the last thing we need in our lives are other people picking on us too for making mistakes. That’s why I choose to share EVERYTHING.

 

I’d like to say I do it and am not ashamed of making mistakes, but that’s just not true. I feel quite embarrassed about making mistakes with my parrots but choose to confront that fear by letting the world know about them.


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  • Does anyone know of an avian vet that is within a reasonable distance from Myrtle Beach, S C I Too had the same experience with a vet who claimed to be experienced with birds, well, that sure was not true, she didn’t even know how to handle my B&G Macaw. I want to take her for a checkup to make sure she remains healthy, she is 40 yrs old, I have had her for 39 yrs. Looking forward to a reply.THANKS IN ADVANCE

    joy gross on

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