With good care, a cockatiel can live about twenty years, and some live well into their late twenties or thirties. One good example of cockatiel longevity was aviculturist Marie Olssen’s bird, Bobbi, who was hatched in 1950 and died in 1985. At the time of his death, Bobbi was almost thirty-five years old! Unfortunately, the average life span of these small parrots is often much shorter. One of the reasons cockatiels don’t live longer is that some owners may be reluctant to take their pets to the veterinarian. Some people don’t want to pay veterinary bills for such “inexpensive” birds.
Choosing an Avian Veterinarian
As a caring owner, you want your bird to have good care and the best chance to live a long, healthy life. To that end, you will need to find a veterinarian who understands the special medical needs of birds and one with whom you can establish a good working relationship. The best time to do this is when you first bring your cockatiel home from the breeder or pet store. If possible, arrange to visit your veterinarian’s office on your way home from the breeder or store. This is particularly important if you have other birds at home, because you don’t want to endanger the health of your existing flock or your new pet.
If you don’t know an avian veterinarian in your area, ask the person from whom you bought your cockatiel where they take their birds. (Breeders and bird stores usually have avian veterinarians on whom they depend.) Talk to other bird owners you know and find out who they take their pets to, or call bird clubs in your area for referrals.
If you have no bird-owning friends or can’t locate a bird club, your next best bet is the Yellow Pages. Read the advertisements for veterinarians carefully and try to find one who specializes in birds. Many veterinarians who have an interest in treating birds will join the Association of Avian Veterinarians and advertise themselves as members of this organization. Some veterinarians have taken and passed a special examination that entitles them to call themselves avian specialists.
Once you’ve received your recommendations or found likely candidates in the telephone book, start calling the veterinary offices. Ask the receptionist how many birds the doctor sees in a week or month, how much an office visit costs, and what payment options are available (cash, credit card, check, or time payments).
You can also inquire if the doctor keeps birds as pets. If you like the answers you receive from the receptionist, make an appointment for your cockatiel to be evaluated. (If you don’t, of course, move on to the next name on your list.) Make a list of any questions you want to ask the doctor regarding your bird’s diet, how often your bird’s wings and nails should be clipped, how often you should bring the bird in for an examination, and anything else you feel you need to know.
Plan to arrive a little early for your first appointment because you will be asked to fill out a patient information form. This form will ask you for your bird’s name; her age and sex; the length of time you have owned her; your name, address, and telephone number; your preferred method of paying for veterinary services; how you heard about the veterinary office; and the name and address of a friend the veterinary office can contact in case of emergency. The form may also ask you to express your opinion on the amount of money you would spend on your pet in an emergency, because this can help the doctor know what kind of treatment to recommend in such instances.
What the Veterinarian May Ask You
Do not be afraid to ask your avian veterinarian questions. Avian vets have devoted a lot of time, energy,
and effort to studying birds, so put this resource to use whenever you can.
You may also be asked a number of questions by the veterinarian. These may include:
• Why is the bird here today?
• What is the bird’s normal activity level?
• How is the bird’s appetite?
• What does the bird’s normal diet consist of?
• Have you noticed a change in the bird’s appearance lately?
Be sure to explain any changes in as much detail as you can, because changes in your bird’s normal behavior can indicate illness.
The Physical Exam
After the question-and-answer session with you, the exam will begin. To give the bird an opportunity to become accustomed to him or her, your veterinarian will probably take a first look at your cockatiel while she is still in her cage or carrier, rather than simply reaching right in and grabbing your pet. While the veterinarian is talking to you, he or she will check the bird’s feather condition, her overall appearance, posture, and perching ability.
Next, the doctor will drape a towel over his or her hand and gently catch your cockatiel and remove her from her carrier or cage. When the bird is out of her carrier, the doctor will look her over carefully. He or she will note the condition of your pet’s eyes, her beak, and her nares. The doctor will weigh your bird in a device that looks like a metal colander balanced on a scale, and the doctor will feel, or palpate, your bird’s body, wings, legs, and feet for any
Once the examination is concluded and you’ve had a chance to discuss any questions you have with your veterinarian, the doctor will probably recommend a follow-up examination schedule for your pet. Most healthy birds visit the veterinarian annually, but some need to go more frequently.
Alternative Health Treatments
Homeopathic treatments, herbal remedies, and acupuncture have become commonplace alternative medical treatments for people today, but did you know they can also be used to treat pet birds? Veterinarians began investigating alternative health treatments for pets in the 1980s, and today pet bird owners may be able to choose such treatments for their birds.
Birds may be good candidates for alternative medical treatments because of their physical and emotional makeup. Their natures are well suited to a holistic approach, which takes into account the bird’s whole environment and routine when evaluating her health or illness. A bird owner who practices a holistic approach to bird care will carefully evaluate their bird daily for signs of illness while feeding her a top-quality diet and ensuring that the bird has an interesting and varied routine each day. If something is out of the ordinary during the owner’s daily evaluation, they contact an avian veterinarian for an appointment as soon as the change is noted, rather than waiting to see what might happen to the bird.
Look in the Yellow Pages for veterinarians in your area who include holistic or alternative treatments in their practice, and call the office to find out whether the doctor treats birds. If you don’t have a holistic veterinarian in your area, discuss alternative treatment options with your avian veterinarian to see if they are an option for your cockatiel when she is ill or injured.