Avian Expert Articles

A Healthy Year Ahead For Your Pet Bird

New Year’s Resolution: Health Check-Up this year

Sun ConureThis is the time of year to make New Year’s resolutions and many involve fitness and health. So what about your bird friend? What type of resolution for them? We want them to be fit and healthy as well, so what are the bullet points to achieve that goal?

  • Get a yearly check-up with an avian veterinarian

Liz Wilson wrote a great article, Why Your Bird Needs an Avian Veterinarian, How to Find One, and How to Tell If You REALLY Have OneWhile I refer you to that article, I do want to mention a few points. While most owners of a “new” dog or cat will take them for a health exam with a dog and cat vet, very few owners of a “new” pet bird will take them for a health check up with an avian vet. While many dog and cat vets will say that they “see” birds, rarely will a true bird vet “see” a dog or cat.

So how do you know that you have a true bird vet? Those are veterinarians who have done additional training- they at least attend meetings of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) and attend other exotic animal conferences. This past year the avian vet meeting has transformed into a new exotics-exclusive conference — ExoticsCon. When you are on the phone making the appointment, just ask if the vet that is seeing your bird is a member of AAV and if they attended the ExoticsCon conference this past year? That would be the minimum for an “avian vet.”

Then there are veterinarians who have gone beyond attending those conferences and have done in-depth studies or even residencies after vet school for three to four years, submitted materials for evaluation and took an intensive at least two-day exam to become board-certified in avian medicine through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners: those hold the designation of Diplomate, ABVP(Avian). Those are the ones, as Liz would say, where you know that you really have an avian vet! You can find those online through AVBP.com.

  • If your bird is sick, get it to the vet, even if the weather is cold. All too often, I hear clients tell me that their bird was sick for days or weeks, but that they just didn’t want to bring it in because the weather was cold. Unfortunately, if birds are sick that long, their chances for recovery or even survival plummet. By the time they bring the bird in, it may be too late to help. Even birds with subtle signs of illness should be seen as birds are masters at hiding disease. They may be worse off than they look.
  • In cold weather, you can still transport your bird safely. A towel or blanket can be used to cover your carrier and block the wind as you get it to or from the car. You can always slip the carrier into one of those plastic zipped bags for sheets or quilts to block the wind as well. A warmed car will also help. However, make sure that the bird can still get air.
  • Provide wholesome nutrition for your foraging birds. This is the time to work with your avian veterinarian to assess your birds’ health and fitness to develop a plan. With gram stains along with visualization of the skin and feathers, these help to assess vitamin A balance for your bird. Birds also need balanced fat-soluble vitamins along with the omega fatty acids. This balanced nutrition is ready to go in the Lafeber products for your birds. They can be fed with some fresh greens, a small amount of chop and/or veggies daily with nuts like walnuts. Sweet potatoes can be on your list as well. Fruits just as mango for South American species and berries for all of our tropical companion parrots form a better source for the “one fruit serving a day” than fruits like banana as there is a large amount of simple sugar in them. Dried fruits just concentrate the sugar so try to avoid those dried fruit and nut combos. Cooked egg is a great source of the fat-soluble vitamins and when cooked in canola or coconut oil is a great balanced food including the omega fatty acids! They can be fed about 1-2 times per week.

Foraging for food is another component of wellness to stimulate the behavioral needs of our parrots. In the wild bird spent from 2-8 hours per day foraging for their foods and that keeps those busy beaks, bodies and brains active. Sitting on the couch or the perch all day does not satisfy those needs. There are a number of ideas regarding foraging for your bird that you can look at online. It is important to note that foraging activities will vary with the species. And birds that have not been foraging will need to start slowly and work up. Some like cockatoos are rapid learners so you are always working on upping the complexity of the foraging.

  • Remember, exercise is an important key to fitness. Studies using both wild and companion birds that have been out in the wild or kept in captivity have shown some interesting data. These studies, directed by Dr. Scott Echols at The University of Utah using CT micro scanners indicate that birds need to fly to retain their bone quality. That lack of bone and exercise impacts other organs as well including the heart and the kidneys. In birds, the kidneys sit in an area of the ventral side of a boney plate the synsacrum. So as your bird ages, your avian veterinarian will discuss a variety of tests to make sure the organs remain healthy. But one thing this study has found—we need to keep our birds at least flapping if not flying. So just like us, our birds need an exercise program!

In some ways, birds are like people: their health is enhanced is they get checkups, eat good food, keep their minds involved, and exercise. Get the new year started off right for both of you!

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