First Aid For Birds

There are three points to keep in mind when working with birds.  First, birds are masters at hinding illness and injury until a problem becomes severe.  Therefore, a sick bird should be taken to a veterinarian immediately.  The advice given here should be initiated on the way to the hospital.  It is not meant to replace professional care.  Second, birds do not possess a diaphragm.  In order to breathe, a bird must raise their keel.  This draws air into the air sacs and lungs.  Do not compress or restrict the keel (chest bone) when handling.  Third, some birds will die from the stress of handling.  Acclimate your bird to restraint as soon as possible to prevent this tragic occurrence.

1)  Provide a warm environment (approximately 85 degrees fahrenheit).  A bird’s temperature is much higher than ours.  Most birds maintain their body temperature around 104 F (40 C).  Wrap the cage with a towel.  Place a heating pad under the cage or hang one on the outside of the cage near the bird’s favorite perch.  CAUTION, keep all wires and cords away from the bird to prevent electrocution. 

2)  If the bird is conscious but not eating, administer a dilute sugar solution directly into their mouths.  The amount will depend on the size of the bird.  Never try to force a bird to eat as aspiration may occur.

3)  Control bleeding with gentle pressure.  Apply a styptic powder to torn nails.  Bleeding feathers should be removed.  The base of the feather is grasped with a hemostat or pliers and pulled with gentle traction.  Wing fractures may occur if the wing is not properly supported so I caution owners against trying this at home. 

4)  Due to their curious personalities, toxicities are a common avian emergency.  Watch your bird’s droppings for a change in color or consistency.  Other signs of toxicity include lethargy, vomiting, regurgitation and weakness.  Seek medical attention immediately if any of these signs are observed.

5)  Cat saliva contains bacteria that may harm your bird.  If a cat bites your bird, seek medical attention right away.  If a your bird’s feathers are contaminated with cat saliva, bathe immediately.  Dry the bird and place in a warm environment.    

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.

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