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How to recognize a sick bird and what to do


Published: May 21, 2013

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Most diseases in caged birds are directly or indirectly related to malnutrition and stress. Malnutrition most often stems from what the bird eats, rather than how much he eats. Most birds are offered enough food, but they do not receive enough of the proper food and in the proper proportions. Stress results from any condition that compromises a bird’s state of well-being. Examples include poor husbanding, inadequate diet, rapid temperature changes and trauma. All owners must understand that birds tend to “hide” signs of illness. Birds can compensate for serious internal diseases in such a way that they appear healthy externally.

Because of their disease-masking tendency, by the time a bird owner recognizes illness in a pet bird, the bird may have been sick for one to two weeks. Therefore, one cannot afford to take a wait and see approach and hope that the bird improves. Be observant and act promptly. Learn to look for subtle signs of illness and take special note of changes in the routine and habits of your pet bird. Seek veterinary assistance promptly if you suspect illness.

Easily recognizable signs of illness

• Discharge from the eyes;

• Closing of the eyes;

• Swelling of the eyes;

• Discharge from the nostrils;

• Sneezing;

• Reduced appetite, or not eating at all;

• Fluffed up feathers;

• Changed or no vocalization;

• Weight loss;

• Inability to perch;

• Limping or not bearing weight;

• Change in quality or quantity of droppings;

• Lumps or masses on the body;

• Bleeding;

If you suspect illness in your bird, do not delay in seeing your veterinarian. Transport your bird within its cage or some other suitable container. Never visit the vet with your bird perched on your shoulder. If you use the cage, do not clean it first because the material you discard could represent valuable information to the vet.

After a sick bird has been initially treated by a veterinarian, home care is important. Sick birds must be encouraged to eat and must be kept warm. Illness can cause significant weight loss in a matter of days, especially if the bird stops eating. If this happens, the patient must be hospitalized.

As a general rule of thumb, any caged bird that appears ill to its owner is seriously ill. One day of illness for a bird is roughly equivalent to seven days of illness for a person. The tendency for bird owners in this situation is to first seek advice from pet stores and then purchase antibiotics and other medication for the bird. With very few exceptions, those non-prescribed products are worthless. They allow the sick bird to become even sicker and greatly compromise the results of diagnostic tests that the veterinarian may require to properly diagnose and treat the patient.

Supplemental heat (heating pad under the cage, heated room and heat lamp) is vital for a sick bird.

It is especially necessary if the bird’s feathers are fluffed up. Provide just enough heat so that the feathers appears normal. Overheating must be avoided at all costs as well. The environmental temperature should be kept at 80-95 degrees Fahrenheit for sick birds. If a bird refuses to crack seeds or eat other foods that require a great deal of work, offer easy foods such as worm cereal, cooked rice, cooked pasta, vegetables, fruit savers and peanut butter.

Remember, birds that refuse to eat must be hospitalized. Few people can successfully force feed a sick bird at home.•


• Dr. Basil Sands can be contacted at Central Animal Hospital at 325-1288.

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