CPR Saves Bird Lives

Understanding the principles of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), and being able to put these effectively into practice, could result in saving a life. CPR is used extensively for humans, and has a good success rate on domestic animals such as cats and dogs, but few bird owners are aware that CPR can be performed on their pet birds with very positive results.

Under the correct circumstances, such as when a bird has suffered acute trauma, CPR can save a bird’s life. A bird that has deteriorated due to a long illnessis not likely to benefit from CPR. Whether dealing with a human, dog, cat or bird, the basic principles and techniques of CPR are the same and require quick evaluation of breathing, airway and pulse before CPR can commence.

To determine whether an unconscious bird is breathing, check whether its breast and abdomen is rising and falling. Check the oral cavity to establish that it is clear, and if not, clear the cavity with a finger or a cotton-tipped bud. Check for a heartbeat by listening on either side of the keel bone – a stethoscope will make this task easier.

If the bird has stopped breathing, but you can still hear its heartbeat, begin rescue breathing. Supporting the bird’s head in your one hand, and its body in the other, tilt it slightly away from you. Begin respirations by sealing your lips around the beak and nares (nostrils) for smaller birds. Rescue breathing on larger birds may require that you block the nares with your finger while sealing your lips around the beak. After taking a breath, blow five breaths in quick succession into the bird’s beak. The strength of each puff of breath will be determined by the size of the bird. With each breath, check whether the area where the sternum meets the abdomen rises. If it does not, then you are not getting enough air into the bird’s respiratory tract. Before blowing again, recheck the airway for obstructions. If the bird’s breast rises with each puff, pause for a while to see if it will breathe on its own. If not, repeat the rescue breathing, while at the same time checking whether the bird’s heart is still beating.

If the bird’s heart stops beating while you are performing the rescue breathing, you’ll need to begin CPR. While continuing with the rescue breathing, start adding gentle chest compressions. To meet the needs of the bird’s naturally rapid heart rate, provide between forty and sixty compressions per minute, depending on the size of the bird. Again depending on the size of the bird, place between one and three fingers on the keel bone and apply finger pressure. Depressing the keel or sternum, compresses the heart, which in turn circulates the blood. While being careful not to apply too much pressure, the pressure must be sufficient to visibly see the sternum depress downward, which is best observed where the keel and abdomen meet.

Proceed by giving five puffs of breath, followed by ten compressions, and then check the bird for breathing and heartbeat. If necessary, continue with two breaths, followed by ten compressions, and again two breaths followed by ten compressions. After one minute, reevaluate the bird, and continue at your discretion until you are able to get the bird to an avian veterinarian. If the bird starts breathing, place it in a warm, quiet place until you get it to the vet.

If you feel that you are up to the task of performing CPR on your pet bird, you should check with your avian veterinarian with regard to learning these potentially life-saving techniques. This is just a guide and a veterinarian should always be consulted in matters of your bird’s health.