Stabilizing companion birds in an emergency - Veterinary Medicine
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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.



An important component of supportive care is nutritional support. Most birds that have not been eating well and are losing pectoral muscle mass should be tube fed or receive other nutritional support. Common tube feeding diets include commercial hand-feeding formula and other critical care diets. Consider adding dextrose or hetastarch to intravenous or intraosseous fluids, particularly in smaller patients. Patients that have marked gastrointestinal stasis or severe respiratory distress should not receive nutritional support through gavage feeding. A primary focus on initial stabilization, other supportive care, and prompt referral for diagnostics and treatment will often be indicated.

Offer a variety of foods to an ill bird in a calm setting, and allow it to eat on its own before force-feeding. If the hospital environment that the bird is kept in is maintained somewhat lit through the night, many birds will eat on their own overnight. Offer food at the same level the bird is perched at. Birds that can see and have easy access to their food will be more likely to eat. However, not all birds should have a perch available, depending on their physical strength and clinical condition.


Regardless of the diagnosis and treatment, most avian emergency patients should be referred to a primary care provider sooner than mammal emergency patients. Because of the interwoven nature of the avian emergency presentation and the potential primary causes involved, a controlled system of follow-up in most cases will effectively resolve the problem, prevent its recurrence, and improve the patient's quality of life.

If a patient dies or is euthanized, it is more common to recommend and perform a postmortem examination in avian practice than in small-animal practice. For this reason, most experienced avian practitioners request that the emergency clinician hold the body, refrigerated, pending the recommendation of the primary care veterinarian for the client. Necropsy is often warranted because of contagious disease concerns and the risk to other companion birds in the home, needed changes or improvement in husbandry, or zoonotic risks to the owners.

Brian L. Speer, DVM, DABVP (avian practice), DECAMS
Medical Center for Birds
3805 Main St.
Oakley, CA 94561


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