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Along with a healthy diet enriched with a wide variety fruits and vegetables, the first step to ensure your bird’s health is to have regular check-ups with a board-certified avian vet. A “wellness” check-up every six months can uncover illnesses that are not physically apparent. If a board-certified avian vet is not available in your area, locate a vet who is experienced in treating birds, and one that keeps current on with the latest health concerns in avian health issues.
Although wellness checks are extremely important, it is imperative for you, as the main human and chief member of the flock, to keep a daily awareness of your bird’s behavior. Having a thorough familiarity with their behavior and appearance when they are healthy is one of the best ways to know when they are sick.
For instance, how can you tell the difference between a sick parrot and a sleepy parrot? Their appearance is similar--both will sit fluffed up, eyes closed, usually perching on one foot. (Note: sometimes, if a bird is sick, it will sleep on both feet.) The sleepy bird will awake immediately if startled and will respond with bright eyes and curiosity. The sick parrot will be unsteady on its perch, will shiver and appear lethargic.
Even the slightest sign of illness is a huge red flag in regard to their health. Because birds can hide sickness so well, they can be seriously ill when the first sign of illness becomes apparent to their companion human. Some avian experts believe that one day of illness in a bird is equal to seven days of illness in a human. In other words, if your bird has shown signs of sickness for only one day, it could mean the bird may have been ill for the past seven days.
Below is a list of symptoms of illness in birds. If your bird shows one or a combination of these symptoms, call your vet immediately. Serious and emergency conditions are highlighted in bold text.
Discharge from the eyes
Change in clarity or color of the eyes
Closing of the eyes
Swelling around the eyes
Discharge from the nostrils
Soiling of feathers on head or around nostrils
Matting of feathers around top of head or ears
Sudden feather loss when not in molting season
Scaly skin around eyes, beak, legs or feet
Inability to manipulate food within the mouth
Reduced appetite or not eating at all
Gagging or stretching of the neck
Decreased preening and feather maintenance
Break in the bird's routine
Change in or no vocalization – possibly serious
Equilibrium problems – very serious
Inability to perch – bird rests on the bottom of the cage
Limping or not bearing weight on one leg
Swollen feet or joints
Change in quality or quantity of droppings
Undigested food or blood in droppings
Open-mouthed breathing when at rest – very serious
Tail pumping (rhythmic back and forth motion of tail when resting)
Lumps or masses anywhere on the body
Bleeding –this is always an emergency situation, regardless of the origin
Not all symptoms of sickness are life-threatening. Most illnesses can be treated with proper and consistent care. The important thing is to recognize the signs of illness, and get the bird to a vet as quickly as possible.
In emergency situations, one can’t get help fast enough. If the emergency occurs after hours and your regular avian vet is unavailable, you’ll have to take your bird to an emergency animal hospital. Because some of these clinics don’t treat birds, you’ll want to investigate which emergency hospitals do offer avian services BEFORE an emergency occurs.
There are no absolute guarantees when it comes to the health of your bird. But if you are aware of the signs of illness, and cultivate a daily awareness of changes in your bird’s behavior, you can do a great deal to ensure that your bird enjoys a healthy life.