Illness and Injury: Bird Emergencies


The best way to cope with avian emergencies is to prevent them from happening.

Regular health exams identify early problems and allow them to be corrected before they develop into an emergency. Provide a nutritional, balanced diet for your bird and it will go a long way toward preventing many health problems. Ensure a safe, clean, toxin free environment with good light and air. Proper supervision and wing trimming will control accidental injuries from things like ceiling fans and crashing into glass, landing on hot cooking surfaces and foods, and attacks from other household pets.

But despite all our good care, emergencies happen. With this in mind, make sure you have the emergency number for your avian veterinarian in an easy to find place.

General rules for emergency management:

  • Stay calm and access the problem before proceeding.
  • Be prepared. Have the phone number for emergency veterinary care in an easy to locate place. Put together an avian first aid kit containing items that will help in an emergency. Ask your avian vet to show you how to manage simple emergencies. Refresh and replenish the first aid kit on a regular basis.
  • Do No Harm. When in doubt, call your avian veterinarian for guidance.

Do Not Hesitate. Go immediately and directly to your avian vet should your bird be bleeding from or have received a wound, have difficulty breathing, have suffered a blow or crushing injury, have been attacked by another animal, been burned or shocked, have inhaled toxins, or be exhibiting general symptoms of illness; such as not perching normally, coughing, vomiting, not eating, diarrhea, lameness and swelling.

Call your avian vet and give them details of the emergency. Control any bleeding with direct pressure and wrap your bird in a towel to keep them from flapping as you travel to the vet. Birds that are not bleeding or thrashing should be placed in a warm, dark container or carrier for the trip to the vet.

Suggestions for an Avian First Aid Kit:

  • 2X2 square gauze sponges
  • White bandaging tape (Zonas-type), 0.5, 1.0, 2.5" widths
  • Elasticon tape 1, 2"
  • Tegaderm®
  • Telfa pads
  • Vet wrap 1, 2" widths
  • Straight forceps or hemostats
  • Small suture scissors
  • Bandage scissors
  • Syringes, feeding/medicating (3/10, 1, 3cc 10, 35, 60 ml catheter tip)
  • Syringes, w/needles (3/10, 1, 3cc)
  • Cotton tipped applicators
  • Tongue depressors or popsicle sticks
  • Kling or Coniform gauze rolls (1.0, 2.0" widths)
  • Betadine Solution
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Nolvasan scrub
  • Corn starch and flour
  • Ferric subsulfate (Qiuk-stop powder)
  • Clotisol®
  • Pedialyte®
  • Tweezers
  • Penlight
  • Nail Trimmers
  • Note pad and pen
  • Latex exam gloves

Place everything in a container with a lid. Check contents regularly for freshness and restock as needed.

Supportive Care: The essentials of supportive care are warmth, hydration and nourishment. The warm environment (85-90°F) you provide for an ill or injured bird will allow him to dedicate energy toward healing.

Commercial hospital enclosures can be purchased. You can make a home hospital enclosure out of a small cage, pet carrier or plastic aquarium by placing a hot water bottle, insulated heating pad, or heat lamp to the outside of the enclosure where the bird cannot reach it, but where it will still deliver extra heat. Draping the cage or aquarium partially with toweling can help contain the heat. Allow for an area in the enclosure where the bird can move away from the heat source if needed. Always carefully monitor a bird on supplemental heat to ensure they do not overheat. Never place a bird directly on a heat source.

Sick or injured birds may not be able to perch well, so line the enclosure with thick paper or cloth toweling, and place food and water containers in easy to reach places. Pedialyte® or Gatoraide can be given by syringe to help minimize dehydration. Handfeeding formula is excellent to offer, providing needed energy and nutrition for an unwell bird. Small amounts of Ensure® can also give a boost.

Other Useful Equipment to have on hand:

  • Avian Intensive Care Unit
  • Hospital cage
  • Insulated heating pad
  • Ceramic clip on heat lamp
  • Hot water bottle
  • Lighting- lighted magnifying loop is very helpful or some sort of extra light source like a goose necked, adjustable reading light helps you see what you're doing.
  • Dry, clean towels of various sizes
  • Handfeeding formula
  • Gram scale- essential to monitor weight gain and loss
  • Paper towels
  • Bolt cutters
  • Net
  • Wing trim scissors
  • Protective gloves for handling frightened birds in an emergency.

















© kgsmith 2011
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