Sometimes your pet will get herself into a situation that will require quick thinking and even quicker action on your part to help save her from serious injury or death. Here are some basic first aid techniques that may prove useful in these situations. Before we get into the specific techniques, though, make sure you have your bird
owner’s first aid kit.
Here are some urgent medical situations bird owners are likely to encounter, the reason they are medical emergencies, the signs and symptoms your bird might show, and what you should do for your bird.
It’s an emergency because: Infections can develop from bacteria on the biting animal’s teeth and/or claws. Also, a bird’s internal organs can be damaged by the bite.
Signs: Sometimes the bite marks can be seen, but often the bird shows few, if any, signs of injury.
What to do: Call your veterinarian’s office and transport the bird there immediately. To save birds who have been bitten, veterinarians often treat for shock and prescribe antibiotics.
It’s an emergency because: A bird needs both her upper and lower beak (also called the upper and
lower mandible) to eat and preen properly. Infections can also set in rather quickly if a beak is fractured or punctured.
Signs: The bird is bleeding from her beak. This often occurs after the bird flies into a windowpane or mirror, or if she has a run-in with a ceiling fan. The bird may have also cracked or damaged her beak, and portions of the beak may be missing.
What to do: Control the bleeding, keep the bird calm and quiet, and contact your avian veterinarian’s office.
It’s an emergency because: A bird can withstand only about a 20 percent loss of blood volume and still recover from an injury.
Signs: With external bleeding, you will see blood on the bird, her cage, and her surroundings. In the case of internal bleeding, the bird may pass bloody droppings or bleed from her nose, mouth, or vent.
What to do: For external bleeding, apply direct pressure. If the bleeding doesn’t stop with direct pressure, apply a coagulant, such as styptic powder (for nails and beaks) or cornstarch (for broken feathers and skin injuries). If the bleeding stops, observe the bird to check for more bleeding and signs of shock (see page 91). Call your veterinarian’s office if the bird seems weak or if she has lost a lot of blood and arrange to take the bird in for further treatment. Broken blood feathers can result in bleeding. Blood feathers can break horizontally (across the feather) or vertically (along the feather shaft). Horizontal breaks are more common, and they often result from a bird pulling at a blood feather or an owner accidentally cutting a blood feather while trimming a bird’s wings.
In severe cases that do not respond to direct pressure, you may have to remove the feather shaft to stop the bleeding. To do this, grasp the feather shaft as close to the skin as you can with a pair of needle-nosed pliers and pull out the shaft with a swift, steady motion. Apply direct pressure to the skin after you remove the feather shaft.
It’s an emergency because: Respiratory problems in pet birds can be life threatening.
Signs: The bird wheezes or clicks while breathing, bobs her tail, breathes with an open mouth, and has discharge from her nares or swelling around her eyes.
What to do: Keep the bird warm, place her in a bathroom with a hot shower running to help her breathe more easily, and call your veterinarian’s office.
It’s an emergency because: Birds who are burned severely enough can go into shock and may die.
Signs: A burned bird has reddened skin and burnt or greasy feathers. The bird may also show signs of shock.
What to do: Mist the burned area with cool water. Lightly apply antibiotic cream or spray. Do not apply any oily or greasy substances, including butter. If the bird seems shocky or the burn is widespread, contact your veterinarian’s office immediately for further instructions.
It’s an emergency because: A concussion results from a sharp blow to the head that can cause injury to the brain.
Signs: Birds sometimes suffer concussions when they fly into mirrors or windows. They will seem stunned and may go into shock.
What to do: Keep the bird warm, prevent her from hurting herself further, and watch her carefully. Alert your veterinarian’s office to the injury.
It’s an emergency because: The bird’s lower intestines, uterus, or cloaca is protruding from the bird’s vent.
Signs: The bird has pink, red, brown, or black tissue protruding from her vent.
What to do: Contact your veterinarian’s office for immediate care. Your veterinarian can usually reposition the organs.
It’s an emergency because: The egg blocks the hen’s excretory system and makes it impossible for her to eliminate. Also, eggs can sometimes break inside the hen, which can lead to infection.
Signs: An egg-bound hen strains to lay eggs unsuccessfully. She becomes fluffed and lethargic, sits on the floor of her cage, may be paralyzed, and may have a swollen abdomen.
What to do: Keep her warm, because this sometimes helps her pass the egg. Put her and her cage into a warm bathroom with a hot shower running to increase the humidity, which may also help her pass the egg. If your bird doesn’t improve within an hour, contact your veterinarian.
It’s an emergency because: Untreated eye problems may lead to blindness.
Signs: Swollen or pasty eyelids, discharge, cloudy eyeball, and increased rubbing of eye area.
What to do: Examine the eye carefully for foreign bodies. Then contact your veterinarian for instructions.
It’s an emergency because: A fracture can cause a bird to go into shock. Depending on the type of fracture, infections can also set in.
Signs: Birds most often break bones in their legs, so be on the lookout for a bird who is holding one leg at an odd angle or who isn’t putting weight on one leg. Sudden swelling of a leg or wing, or a droopy wing can also indicate fractures.
What to do: Confine the bird to her cage or a small carrier. Don’t handle her unnecessarily. Keep her warm and contact your veterinarian.
It’s an emergency because: A bird could lose toes or feet to frostbite. She could also go into shock and die.
Signs: The frostbitten area is very cold and dry to the touch and is pale in color.
What to do: Warm up the damaged tissue gradually in a circulating warm (not hot) water bath. Keep the bird warm and contact your veterinarian’s office for further instructions.
Inhaled or Eaten Foreign Object
It’s an emergency because: Birds can develop serious respiratory or digestive problems from foreign objects in their bodies.
Signs: In the case of inhaled items, symptoms include wheezing and other respiratory problems. In the case of consumed objects, you may have seen the bird playing with a small item that suddenly cannot be found.
What to do: If you suspect that your bird has inhaled or eaten something she shouldn’t have, contact your veterinarian’s office immediately.
It’s an emergency because: Birds can die from lead poisoning.
Signs: A bird with lead poisoning may act depressed or weak. She may be blind, or she may walk in circles at the bottom of her cage. She may regurgitate or pass droppings that resemble tomato juice.
What to do: Contact your avian veterinarian immediately. Lead poisoning requires a quick start to
treatment, and the treatment may require several days or weeks to complete successfully.
It’s an emergency because: High body temperatures can kill a bird.
Signs: An overheated bird will try to make herself thin. She will hold her wings away from her body, open her mouth, and roll her tongue in an attempt to cool herself. Birds don’t have sweat glands, so they must try to cool their bodies by exposing as much of their skin’s surface as they can to moving air.
What to do: Cool the bird off by putting her in front of a fan (make sure the blades are screened so the bird doesn’t injure herself further), by spraying her with cool water, or by having her stand in a bowl of cool water. Let the bird drink cool water if she can (if she can’t, offer her cool water with an eyedropper) and contact your veterinarian.
It’s an emergency because: Poisons can kill a bird quickly.
Signs: Poisoned birds may suddenly regurgitate, have diarrhea or bloody droppings, and have redness or burns around their mouths. They may also go into convulsions, become paralyzed, or go into shock.
What to do: Put the poison out of your bird’s reach. Contact your veterinarian for further instructions. Be prepared to take the poison with you to the vet’s office in case he or she needs to contact a poison control center for further information.
It’s an emergency because: Seizures can indicate a number of serious conditions, including lead poisoning, infections, nutritional deficiency, heat stroke, and epilepsy.
Signs: The bird goes into a seizure that lasts from a few seconds to a minute. Afterward, she seems dazed and may stay on the cage floor for several hours. She may also appear unsteady and won’t perch.
What to do: Keep the bird from hurting herself by removing everything you can from her cage. Cover the bird’s cage with a towel and darken the room to reduce the bird’s stress level. Contact your veterinarian’s office immediately for further instructions.
It’s an emergency because: Shock occurs when the bird’s circulatory system cannot move the blood supply around the bird’s body. This is a serious condition that can lead to death if left untreated.
Signs: Shocky birds may act depressed, breathe rapidly, and have a fluffed appearance. If your bird displays these signs in conjunction with a recent accident, suspect shock and take appropriate action.
What to do: Keep your bird warm, cover her cage, and transport her to your veterinarian’s office as soon as possible.
Your Cockatiel’s First Aid Kit
Assemble a bird owner’s first aid kit so that you will have some basic supplies on hand before your bird needs them. Here’s what to include:
• Appropriate-size towels for catching and holding your bird
• Heating pad, heat lamp, or other heat source
• Pad of paper and pencil to make notes about the bird’s condition
• Styptic powder, silver nitrate stick, and cornstarch to stop bleeding (use styptic powder or silver nitrate stick on beak and nails only)
• Blunt-tipped scissors
• Nail clippers and nail file
• Needle-nosed pliers to pull broken blood feathers
• Blunt-end tweezers
• Hydrogen peroxide or other disinfectant solution
• Eye irrigation solution
• Bandage materials such as gauze squares, masking tape (it doesn’t stick to a bird’s feathers as adhesive tape does), and gauze rolls
• Pedialyte or other energy supplement
• Eye dropper
• Small syringes without the needles to irrigate wounds or to feed sick birds