Monday, October 7, 2013

Understanding the common signs of illness in exotic birds is integral for a long, healthy life

Being a caretaker of other people's pets: It's great fun, but there's also a very serious side to it. I spend a lot of time observing the animals I am responsible for.

As I've seen over the years, anything can happen; a sudden or even subtle change in eating habits, elimination or behavior can tell me volumes.

This is true for any animal, and that includes exotic birds.

I have a handful of them as clients — all different species — and though they share many similarities, it's up to me to hone in on any changes that I see and convey that to their humans.

Knowing all of them quite well, it's not difficult for me to pick up on things. Each bird could not be more different. They have diets that differ a little — which has a bearing on what I look for — and as far as their personalities go, those all vary, too.

Though each of my clients are experienced bird owners, I realize that other folks may not be and may have a hard time picking up on those subtleties that indicate early signs of illness. It's easy for that to happen. Captive birds, just like other pets, haven't lost their inherent habit of hiding any lameness or signs of trouble like their wild counterparts.

Because of this, those who share life with these birds may find it helpful to get better acquainted with the early signs of illness in pet birds so that treatment can be put in place by their avian clinician, so that more serious problems can be avoided.

There are a few indicators that I find offer volumes of information about the overall wellness of a bird: eating habits, water use, elimination, engagement and appearance.

What goes in, comes out

Food is big with birds. It's not just a source of nourishment, it can be paired (and should be, in some respects) with enrichment. Owners of pet birds choose to include different items in their diet, and as a caregiver I adhere to those regimens strictly. It may be a strict diet of pellets and selected fresh produce, and may include seeds, nuts, fresh produce and even as one client does — prepared omelet wedges that include healthful ingredients.

Whatever the diet, if a bird is eating more or less, if they don't seem to go after something that they'll typically gravitate toward and forage through, or in some cases if I am not able to motivate them with food treats, that is telling to me.

Elimination is a very accurate barometer with birds, and just as their diets can vary, that impacts the way their droppings appear.

Diets with a high seed content usually produce uniform, dark green feces. Birds on pelleted diets normally have soft, brownish waste. A diet high in vegetables and fruits may increase the urine component of their waste, and it seems important to note that foods like blueberries can cause discoloration.

Urine is normally a clear liquid.

With that in mind, I monitor each bird's droppings and note any changes from what I see to be the norm.


How a bird engages with me is integral. Each animal has its idiosyncrasies when interacting with me — games, forms of communication, physical interaction — and if those seem to be "off," I take note of that. Unusual or decreased vocalization may be a concern.

Appearances are everything

Birds will act out-of-sorts — even a bit crabby — and lose feathers when they are molting, but overall their appearance looks normal.

Feathers that look broken or chewed on are not normal. Feathers that appear discolored or matted are a concern, especially those that are near the vent (their bottom). Feathers around the nares (nostrils) or face should not be stained. Crusting around the nares is something to take note of as well.

Other considerations

Birds love water, and will, most often if they have a water crock (some people prefer a water bottle), dunk their pelleted or fresh food in it as well as drink from it. Crocks need to be cleaned and replenished at least once a day, as they can get mucked up with bits of food and residue. How much a crock gets used depends on the animal, but knowing an individual bird's habits can help gauge if there's an issue.

I take note of any unusual breathing patterns; a healthy bird should be able to resume a normal respiratory rate quickly after vigorous play or stressful event. In the latter case, ditto for their disposition once the stressor is gone.

Lameness, like favoring one foot or shifting their weight in an unusual way, warrants further consideration.

Birds also have incredibly good balance. Clumsiness that seems out of the ordinary should be taken as a sign that something isn't right.

All of that said, it's never a good idea to take a "wait and see" approach when it comes to your bird showing signs of illness or disease. And, it's vital to have an avian veterinarian to reach out to should anything out of the ordinary arise, and of course to have your bird be examined by on a regular basis.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment!