Stabilizing companion birds in an emergency


Stabilizing companion birds in an emergency

Are you prepared if a bird owner brings a sick pet to your practice? Familiarize yourself with these basic critical care steps to stabilize the patient, and then implement a controlled follow-up plan.
Dec 01, 2005

Avian medicine in the United States and abroad tends to be more focused on crisis and intervention than on preventive care and wellness. Therefore, in this article I discuss some of the basic considerations of emergency medical care in pet birds. I focus on initially stabilizing such patients to allow referral or follow-up for diagnostics and treatment. However, your role is not only to initially treat these birds but also to help guide clients toward information on what can be done at home to prevent further emergencies and to encourage clients to seek wellness care to enhance their birds' quality of life.


Figure 1. This Amazon parrot was presented for evaluation of acute anorexia. The diagnosis was advanced obesity due to chronic malnutrition, hepatic lipidosis, and dehydration. Supportive care with parenteral fluids followed by dietary management, including conversion to a formulated diet and weight reduction, and better integration of the bird into the owners daily activities resulted in an excellent outcome.
Even though a pet bird's position in the typical home has changed dramatically over the past three decades—from a caged bird to a true family member—preventive health measures have not kept up with the increase in the public's perceived value of pet birds. For example:
  • Most pet birds still receive virtually no veterinary medical care during their lives.1
  • Many birds that do receive medical care only receive emergency or crisis-intervention veterinary care.
  • Wellness care—including behavior counseling, annual examinations, and environmental and husbandry improvements—remains the exception to the rule in the average small-animal practice that provides avian care. Many veterinary practices that provide avian care do not send reminders for annual examinations. Those that do implement a wellness-based reminder system often quote an appallingly low percentage of compliance with return visits, strongly suggesting that true wellness practice is not occurring, as compared with companion canine medicine.
  • The general public still often regards the role of an avian veterinarian as one of diagnosing and treating disease rather than maintaining and enhancing the wellness and quality of life of pet birds.
  • Birds often enter the pet trade less-than-ideally positioned for a normal life expectancy. Unweaned birds may go to naïve buyers, birds may be habituated to eating a seed-based diet, birds often have not been socialized and prepared for existence as companion birds, birds may be clinically or subclinically afflicted with infectious diseases, and erroneous husbandry or even medical advice may be provided to the purchasers.

Figure 2. Not all emergency presentations require immediate definitive treatment. This Goffin's cockatoo was presented for evaluation of an acute rhinitis. Emergency personnel supported the bird with subcutaneous fluids, kept it overnight for observation, and referred it for diagnosis. The definitive diagnosis was Aspergillus species sinusitis. Hypovitaminosis A and inappropriate husbandry most likely predisposed the bird to infection.
Considering these points, it can be concluded that inadequate home care can contribute to or exacerbate emergencies (Figures 1, 2, 3A, & 3B). For example, chronically malnourished birds (fed long-standing inappropriate seed-based diets), regardless of their emergency, may carry a poorer prognosis for survival simply because of their already declining condition. So the clinical picture may be more complicated than it initially seems.