Birds in the wild will attempt to hide any signs of illness to protect themselves from appearing weak and appetizing to predators! Although you work hard to keep your pet safe and healthy, this natural survival mode can make it tough to know early on that your bird needs veterinary attention.
In this article, we hope to provide you with some simple ways to keep track of their normal routine so that you can detect illness early and get your feathered friend help fast!
Regular veterinary care is vital for any new additions and all current pets
Before we discuss how to determine if your bird may be unwell, we will take this moment to remind you of the importance of regular veterinary care for ALL your pets. Although preventive care with a veterinarian is important for dogs, cats, and other animals in your life, it is especially important for your birds because of their tendency to hide early signs of illness. The Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) recommends that all newly acquired birds are promptly examined by a veterinarian. If you are looking for a qualified avian veterinarian, use our handy Find-A-Vet page or check out AAV.org to locate an avian specialist in your area.
A veterinarian will determine your bird’s health status based on any previous medical history and thorough physical examination. Your vet will work with you to determine the best husbandry practices including diet for your new pet and answer any additional questions that you may have regarding their care. In addition to the advice provided by your trusted, licensed veterinarian, we hope to provide additional resources that you will find useful and accurate under our Pet Bird Care section.
Quarantine and isolate new additions to prevent spread of illness
One important way to prevent illness from spreading between any new additions and the current birds in your home, is quarantining your newest family members, even if they appear healthy. AAV recommends isolating and quarantining new birds for a minimum of six (6) weeks. When caring for your birds follow these steps between working with your new and current bird(s) to prevent sharing bacteria, viruses, and other germs:
- Do not share supplies, such as feeders and toys, between your new bird and those already living in your home
- Work with your current birds first before caring for the new birds
- Keep new and current birds in separate air spaces whenever possible
- Always wash your hands before and after handling each group of birds and cleaning their cages
- Contact your veterinarian with any questions/concerns before, during, and after this period
Monitor your bird’s daily routine
Your pet can become ill from an improper diet, stress, trauma (including physical and emotional), and/or exposure to disease-causing germs. Since our feathered friends can be in an advanced stage of illness before any obvious symptoms are seen, it is important to recognize the early more subtle signs that your beloved pet may be exhibiting.
Birds can exhibit poor health in many ways including an unthrifty appearance, such as ruffled feathers; changes in normal behavior, such as decreased preening; and/or changes related to a more specific condition/illness. Certain illnesses may target one or more of the body systems, such as Musculoskeletal (e.g. weakness), Neurological (e.g. head tilt), and the Digestive/Urinary tract (e.g. abnormal droppings). Two easy ways to track your pet bird’s ongoing health is to monitor their droppings (poop) daily and to measure their weight regularly.
Bird droppings can indicate a change in your bird’s health. Regularly observe your bird(s)’s droppings on the paper towels or newspaper under their cage to familiarize yourself with their normal appearance and to be able to identify when their droppings change. Be sure to regularly clean so that any abnormal droppings are easy to see and are caught early. Normal droppings vary depending on your bird’s species and their diet. For example, most parrots produce a dull green fecal portion with varying amounts of urine (clear liquid) and urates (opaque white portion). Certain foods can change the color of the droppings and moist foods can increase urine production.
Additional signs of abnormal droppings include:
- Decreased volume or total number
- Urate color changes from white to green or yellow
- Polyuria (increased urine portion) independent of eating moist foods
- A strong odor to the droppings (other than the first morning dropping)
- Diarrhea (completely unformed liquid)
- Presence of blood
Slightly loose droppings are not necessarily abnormal. It may be due to diet, egg laying, time of day, or stress. If loose droppings continue or worsen, check with your veterinarian to help decide if you should have your bird evaluated.
Another simple way to catch illness early is to regularly weigh your bird on a gram scale. AAV recommends weekly weight checks. Rapid weight loss or gain is not normal, a change of +/- 10% is considered significant.
If you notice abnormal droppings, a concerning change in your pet’s weight, or any other significant changes to your bird’s typical routine, contact your veterinarian. If your pet bird is ill, an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan is best implemented as early as possible! We hope these simple recommendations will help you become an advocate in your pet’s health and well-being.