Home care for a sick bird involves some basic first aid measures and good nursing care. First aid are the simple procedures owners can apply in an emergency, before they are able to obtain veterinary care. The first-aid and recommendations that follow are general in nature and can be used regardless of the problem. The sooner you put these suggestions into use, the better the chances for recovery. REMEMBER, however, these home care procedures are not meant as a substitute for veterinary care! In fact, the home hospital should actually be run as a partnership, with bird owner and veterinarian working together.
Things to Do before an Emergency Arises
1. Be prepared! Have all necessary supplies ready to go: first-aid kit, heating pad, syringes, plastic medicine droppers, a ceramic ultraviolet heat lamp, a thermometer, and a suitable sized aquarium (depending on the size of the bird). Now hoe to use them! Being able to start treatment right away could mean the difference between life and death.
2. Learn how to safely and properly restrain your bird. Administering medications or treating injuries such as bleeding require proper restraint. Practice basic restraint periodically with your bird.
3. Keep this article handy for quick reference.
4. Keep emergency vet numbers readily available for quick call.
Basic Requirements for Sick Birds
Sick birds are rapidly depleting their limited energy reserves and lose heat rapidly. The importance of extra heat cannot be overemphasized. It allows the body to concentrate more of its energy on repair and recovery and less on maintaining normal body temperature. Sick birds should be maintained in an environment of 80 – 85 F (27 – 30°C). Sometimes this can, with benefit, be increased to 100 F (38°C) for a period of 24–48 hours, after which it is gradually reduced.
Here are few suggested methods for providing the increased warmth:
· For small cages, place a heating pad beneath the cage or alongside it. Use a low setting. Do not allow the bird to chew on the heating pad. To prevent heat loss, cover the cage on top and on three sides with a towel.
· For large cages, an electric blanket on low setting could be suspended or tented over the cage. This may be dangerous as parrots are very inquisitive and could chew on the blanket. So it’s better if you take out the bird and put it in a smaller travel cage and do as described in previous paragraph.
· A suitable sized aquarium with a screen or towel-covered roof can be placed on top of a heating pad. This makes an EXCELLENT home hospital cage (you can easily control the temperature and moisture and is very good if bird needs nebulization). If the floor gets to hot check the setting on the heating pad. If necessary line the aquarium with newspaper or towel. You can also place the aquarium with only its half over the heating pad, so the bird can move if it gets too warm.
· Ceramic infrared heat lamp (this one emits heat only and not light) with reflector and holder. Place it on a side and about 1.5 to 2 feet (45 – 60 cm) away from the cage, if the bird gets too hot it can move away. A standard light bulb is not recommended, the bright light can be stressful and can disrupt the bird’s normal sleeping patterns.
A thermometer to measure temperature is strongly recommended. For the most accurate reading try to place it near the level of the cage/carrier/aquarium where the bird is perching or sitting. Do not let the bird chew on it. For cages, hang the thermometer outside the cage. For aquariums, a thin wall-mounted thermometer works well.
Regardless of the heat source try to focus the heat more towards one side of the cage/carrier/travel cage/aquarium. In this way, as mentioned before, the bird can move around and find its most comfortable temperature. To be sure the bird is being kept at the proper temperature, watch its appearance and behavior. If a bird becomes too warm, it will hold its wings away from the body and pant. If too cold, the bird will sit in a huddled position with feathers fluffed.
Food and Water
Food: Every effort must be made to make sure a sick bird continues to eat. Unfortunately, sick birds usually lose their appetites despite their increased nutritional needs. If birds do not eat enough, they weaken and become less able to fight off disease. Birds have a fast metabolic rate and will lose weight rapidly when they stop eating or eat less than their normal daily requirement.
Rule no. 1: Make sure the food is easily accessible. Whether the bird is perching or sitting on the cage floor, make certain the food is conveniently located. For example, if the bird is on the cage floor, place the food and water cups on the floor nearby or even sprinkle food on the floor. This is no time to worry about proper hygiene. The less energy expended on searching or reaching for food, the better.
Rule no. 2: Don’t worry about a balanced diet. Whatever a sick bird wants, feed it! Calories are more important than a balanced diet. However, a nutritious and fresh assortment of food is always preferable.
Rule no. 3: Spend time trying to stimulate the appetite.
· Offer favourite food
· Try warming home-cooked foods
· Soak seeds to soften and make them easier to eat, even hull them if necessary
· Sweeten foods slightly, with fruit juice or tiny amounts of honey
· Hand-feed (if you don’t know how, have someone, like the breeder or your veterinarian, to show you how to do it)
Hand-feeding is a good approach for a tame bird that isn’t eating from a food dish. It is not practical, however, for giving large amounts of food. In addition to a spoon, a plastic medicine dropper, syringe, or even a small piece of cardboard can be used to place the food right next to beak or directly into the mouth. Give only small amounts at a time, and make sure it’s being swallowed.
NOTE: Tube-feeding is an excellent way to force-feed a bird. However, in inexperienced hands a bird could be severely injured or even killed. If you are going to tube-fed at home, you must do so under the supervision of a veterinarian. Follow the doctor’s guidelines very carefully.
Rule no. 4: Monitor weight daily. Sick birds should be weighed each day. A scale showing weight in grams is essential because it is much more accurate and can detect very slight losses or gains. Weight losses of more than 10% may require force-feeding (hospitalizing the bird).
Remove any grit if you have been using it. Sick birds are more apt to over-eat grit and could develop serious intestinal problems. Grit is anyway not essential for a pet bird.
Water: Sick birds frequently do not drink enough water or other fluids. In addition their droppings usually contain increased amount of urine (watery part). As a result, dehydration occurs and causes even more serious problems. Attempts need to be made to provide additional fluids on a regular basis.
Fluids can be supplied on a number of different ways:
IF THE BIRD IS STILL DRINKING WATER: Try adding fruit juice or electrolyte solution (Pedialyte). Use these full strength or diluted with water. Infant fluid and electrolyte replacement solutions (like Pedialyte) are available in most drug stores. Honey can be added to drinking water at dilution of one teaspoon per cup of water. These are all good, quick energy sources.
IF THE BIRD IS STILL EATING: Add more fruits to the diet. They will provide a good source of quick energy. In addition, moistened cereals or other foods, included warm unsalted vegetable soups can be tried.
IF THE BIRD IS NOT DRINKING SUFFICIENT AMOUNTS: Use a plastic eyedropper, syringe, or straw with finger kept over one end to offer fluids directly into the mouth. Be careful not to give too much fluid at one time. The same fluids mentioned above can be used.
Amounts of fluids to give:
Budgies 6 – 10 drops
Cockatiels ¼ teaspoon
Amazons/Greys 1 – 3 teaspoons
Large Cockatoos/Macaws 1 ½ - 3 tablespoons
(These amounts are only approximations. If the fluids are difficult to give, divide the amount and give some every 15 – 20 minutes. The total amount should be given several times throughout the day as needed).
Rest and Relaxation
Less stress means more energy conservation.
· Place the sick bird in a dimly lit and quiet room.
· Each day, provide 12 hours of darkness for sleeping and 12 hours of light to encourage eating.
· Avoid unnecessary handling.
· Keep other pets and children away.
Medication as Directed (if Needed) If the sick bird has been examined by an avian veterinarian, medication will probably be prescribed. Follow the veterinarian’s directions closely. This includes giving the proper dosage the correct number of times each day and for the total number of days prescribed. While you are still at the veterinary hospital, be sure all instructions are clearly explained and that you understand them. If you have any concerns, ask questions!
Medications prescribed could be in a form of oral liquids, injectables, topical sprays, powders, drops, ointments, and food and water additives. With a little practice all of these medications are easy to give. Proper restraint is usually the most difficult part. The veterinarian or a staff should offer to demonstrate the correct method of restraint and medication administration before your bird leaves the hospital.
Owner with an “Observant Eye” While a bird is sick, its owner needs to look, listen, and pay special attention to it. In other words, is the “little guy” getting better or worse?
DROPPINGS: Continue to observe their number, volume, colour, and consistency. They provide an excellent indicator of how things are going inside the body. For normal and abnormal droppings see here: http://www.avianweb.com/poopology.html
BREATHING: Look and listen to the pattern and rhythm of respiration. Is it smooth or forced? Is it getting better or worse?
FOOD AND WATER CONSUMPTION: Has it changed? Is more or less being consumed?
BODY WEIGHT: Is it increasing, staying the same, or decreasing?
BODY TEMPERATURE: Does the bird appear too hot, too cold, or just right?
GENERAL APPEARANCE: More alert and responsive? Standing up straight or hunched over? Feathers being groomed?
Urgent Care Don’ts
Birds are more sensitive to medications than other animals and humans so:
· Don’t give a bird human medications or medications prescribed for another animal unless so directed by your avian veterinarian.
· Don’t give your bird medications that are suggested by a friend, a store employee, or your personal physician.
· Don’t give your bird alcohol or laxatives.
· Don’t apply any oils or ointments to your bird unless your avian veterinarian tells you to do so.
· Don’t bathe a sick bird.
The Well-Stocked First-Aid Kit
· Address, phone number, and office hours of your avian veterinarian’s office, along with address, phone number, and office hours of your closest animal emergency hospital (if any).
· Appropriate-sized towels for catching and holding your bird
· A heating pad, heat lamp, or other safe heat source
· A pad of paper and pencil to make notes about bird’s condition
· Styptic powder, silver nitrate stick, or cornstarch to stop bleeding (use styptic powder and silver nitrate stick on beak and nails only!)
· Blunt-tipped scissors
· Nail clippers and nail file
· Needle-nosed pliers (to pull a broken blood feather if needed)
· Eye irrigation solution, such as saline solution or wet ting solution for contact lenses
· Basic bandage materials such as gauze squares, masking tape (it doesn’t stick to bird’s feathers like adhesive tape), and gauze rolls
· Energy supplement (like Pedialyte, apple juice)
· Eye dropper
· Syringes to irrigate wounds or feed sick birds
· Cotton swabs to apply medication and clean wounds
· Betadine scrub, which is an anti-infective soap
Keep all these supplies in one place (in a box). This will eliminate your having to search for supplies in emergency situation and the box can be taken along to the bird shows, on trips, or left for the bird-sitter.