Parrot First Aid Kits & Sick Bird Symptoms
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Preparing For Avian Emergencies Before They Happen
We all love to spoil our parrots. Before they ever come home for the first time, we prepare a setup with all the bells and whistles they deserve to keep them enriched and entertained. However, inexperienced parrot owners don’t always think to prepare an avian first aid kit as well.
Toys are important, don’t get me wrong. But a first aid kit could save your bird’s life, especially if they are bleeding out, or the illness they have been hiding suddenly rears its ugly head on the weekend when the vet’s office is closed.
While the clock is ticking, will you be frantically asking Google, how can I help my parrot? Or will you be taking decisive action with the tools in your kit and the knowledge to use them properly?
As a reminder, you should not attempt any treatment without the guidance of an avian veterinarian. The following advice is not meant to replace the care your veterinarian alone can provide. Always seek their consultation and medical care first.
Every parrot owner needs an Avian First Aid Kit. Included in this kit should be:
‣ Your bird’s medical records.
‣ Your avian vet’s name, number, office location, and hours of operation.
‣ The ASPCA’s Poison Control number: (888) 426-4435
‣ Latex Gloves – for your safety and theirs.
‣ Cotton Balls – used with Hydrogen Peroxide to sterilize wounds.
‣ Gauze Rolls – used to gently apply pressure to wounds and dress them.
‣ Vet Wrap – secure and self-conforming, used to dress wounds or wrap injured wings to the body.
‣ Styptic Powder – used to stop active bleeding fast and help relieve pain. Corn starch and baking soda can also be used.
‣ Saline Solution – used to flush infected or lacerated eyes.
‣ Pure Iodine – used as a topical antiseptic.
‣ Hand Feeding Formula – used to hand feed sick birds who are too weak to eat.
‣ Pedialyte – administered to sick, dehydrated birds.
‣ Eye Dropper Bottle – for administering saline solution.
‣ Plastic Syringes – for administering formula.
‣ Medical Scissors – for general use.
‣ Medical Tweezers – for removing splinters, ticks, and glass.
‣ Locking Hemostat – used to pull a broken, bleeding blood feather. Please note: a bird that does not clot properly due to a bleeding disorder, infection, or liver disease may bleed to death from a follicle after a blood feather has been plucked.
‣ Craft Sticks – used for splinting legs.
‣ Magnifier Glass – used to inspect injuries and scratched eyes or identify mites.
‣ Pen Light – for inspecting eyes.
‣ Large Heating Pad – A sick bird loses body heat fast. Lay a heating pad over their cage, or set their cage on top of the heating pad if the bird is resting on the grate. Also consider a Bird Warmer and a Thermal Bird Perch.
‣ Warm Mist Humidifier and Humidity Gauge – can help reduce and soothe respiratory inflammation.
‣ Clean Towels – for “toweling” your bird or covering surfaces. I recommend white towels so that you can always monitor your bird’s droppings.
Any deviation from your bird’s normal appearance or behavior should be taken as a sign of ill health and you should contact your vet immediately.
The following symptoms are just some of the signs of a sick bird. Not all birds who display these are sick, and not all birds who are sick display these. If you feel something is off, go with that intuition…to the vet.
Possible symptoms of a sick bird include:
‣ Puffed-up feathers and a bloated appearance. Healthy birds fluff up when they’re cold or they’re relaxed, but a bird that is fluffed up most of the day is likely in trouble. They may wobble as they walk or feel heavier.
‣ Tail-bobbing when breathing. A bird’s tail naturally bobs the slightest bit as they breathe. If they’re breathing heavily, their tail bob will match that and is cause for concern.
‣ Not eating or drinking. A bird’s inability to eat their favorite food is a strong indicator of illness. Should you suspect they are sick, watch them very carefully. If they are not drinking at all, you may need to hydrate them using a syringe and water, and/or Pedialyte.
‣ Heavy and/or sunken eyes and excessive sleeping. Yes, if your bird is not getting adequate sleep, they will take naps during daylight hours. But a bird who can’t seem to keep their eyes open for long or whose head is too heavy to hold up is in trouble.
‣ Bad posture. Birds instinctually need to appear confident to avoid being targeted by a predator. A puffy, hunched over bird needs medical attention.
‣ Poor balance. If your bird is weak, they will seem unbalanced on their perch or your finger. You may notice their clasp around your finger is weak. If you cannot take them to the vet right away, lower their perches onto the ground with a towel underneath in case they fall.
‣ Discharge around the eyes or cere. The occasional sneeze is okay, but it should not be happening regularly, nor should the eyes or cere ever seem runny.
‣ Vomiting or regurgitating. Not to be confused with harmless courtship-related regurgitation. A bird that vomits needs to see a vet immediately. This can be very traumatizing to see.
‣ A sticky vent. Birds keep themselves very clean. If you notice that their vent feathers are stained with feces, they may be ill.
‣ Discolored, undigested, bloody, or runny droppings. Keep a close eye on your bird’s droppings and investigate them daily. Abnormal droppings are often the first symptom of illness. If your bird drinks a lot of water or takes a shower, they may have runny droppings for about an hour. Beyond that, any change in color, shape, or texture is a warning sign.
‣ Ragged feathers and a lack of preening. Healthy birds preen a lot. If their feathers appeared poorly preened, your bird may feel very weak.
‣ Changes in temperament and energy. Your bird might become withdrawn. They may also become especially clingy. A lack of energy or a temperament that does a 360 are problematic.
‣ Weight loss. It is so important to weigh your bird using a gram scale, every day if possible. A 3% increase in weight or a 5% decrease in weight are cause for concern.
‣ Overgrown and flaky beak or overgrown nails. Overgrowth of either may indicate the presence of a long-term illness.
‣ A budgie with a crusted cere. The appearance of which is different from a broody female’s crusted cere. This is a symptom of mites.
‣ Dull feathers. Dull feathers are related to multiple ailments, including nutritional diseases, and vitamin D deficiency from a lack of sunlight.
‣ Plucked feathers. May not always point to emotional distress or boredom. This could also be a symptom of a parasite.
‣ Shiny black beaks (in cockatoos). A distinction of Psittacine Beak and Feather disease.
‣ Seizures. An emergency that necessitates immediate medical attention.
Having myself experienced the heartbreak of losing a parrot unexpectedly, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of emergency preparedness, observant eyes, and decisiveness when emergencies unfold. Do not delay seeking medical care.
Finally, you must always trust your intuition, as it is the best tool you have.