Caring for a Sick Bird

Birds make wonderful companion pets and many bird owners go to great lengths to ensure that their feathered friends remain healthy. Nevertheless, just as with humans, birds do become ill from time to time. Unfortunately, unlike humans, birds do not always show symptoms of illness until it is too late. Caring for a sick bird really starts with identifying the fact that the bird is sick in the first place and then taking action without delay.

It is thought that birds have a natural instinct to hide signs of illness. This instinctive behavior is understandable, as in the wild an injured or weakened bird becomes an easy target for a predator. However, this instinctive behavior often hides signs of illness from a loving owner. Getting to know your pet bird and its day to day behavior right from the beginning of your relationship, gives you a better chance of noticing when something is wrong. Pay attention to your bird’s normal eating pattern. Any deviation in this pattern could be an indication of illness, especially if it rejects favorite treats. Also a decrease in the amount of talking or singing, as well as activity, could be a sign of illness. A healthy bird tends to perch with one leg tucked under when resting, whereas a less than healthy, physically weak bird may need to perch with both feet.

If you pick up any signs that are a cause for concern, the first step in caring for a sick bird is to ensure that it is kept warm. This can be done by means of a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel, or by means of a grow light, which must be positioned in such a way that the bird can move away if the heat is too intense. The additional warmth and security provided by a hospital cage (a glass aquarium is ideal) may be necessary if your bird is too ill to perch. The bottom of the hospital cage should be lined with something non-slip, such as newspapers covered in paper towels. Also provide a free-standing perch and shallow containers of food and water. Make sure that your bird’s environment is kept quiet in order for it to get plenty of rest.

Steps should be taken to ensure that your pet bird does not become dehydrated if it has stopped eating and drinking. Spoon or syringe feeding small amounts of a sports drink, which is generally well received, will provide the patient with essential electrolytes. Small amounts of formula can be mixed with some of the sports drink with the same results. Wrap your bird gently in a towel before putting a few drops at a time into its mouth. If your bird is still eating, a small spray of millet will likely provide it with a boost of energy.

If your bird is injured and bleeding, try to establish where the bleeding is coming from. Is it a broken feather – only new feathers will bleed – or a ripped nail? Styptic powder, or cornflour, should be applied to the injury without delay to stop the bleeding.

Bearing in mind that an illness is often only detected once it has become quite serious, if you are in any doubt with regard to the health of your pet bird, it is best to contact your avian vet without delay.