Supportive Care of Sick Birds
There are 5 important elements to consider in supportive care of a sick (or injured) bird. These are supportive measures and do not address the cause of illness or its treatment. Your veterinarian must diagnose and prescribe specific treatment for your bird.
- Heat: Keeping your sick bird in a slightly warmer environment than usual may help it conserve the energy it usually uses to keep its body temperature normal. However, be careful not to overheat the bird. If your bird begins panting and spreading their wings, they are too hot!
- Humidity: Raising the level of humidity can be helpful for birds with respiratory disease or signs of illness. Higher humidity eases the breathing and helps the bird keep the air passages clear and moist. A vaporizer or humidifier can be used to provide extra humidity.
- Fluids: A sick bird can become dehydrated easily, because it may not drink as much as it normally does. In many cases a veterinarian may administer fluids under the skin, and follow-up oral fluids can be helpful. Favorite foods high in moisture content (leafy greens, fruit) will add to water intake, but check with your veterinarian first to make sure they will not worsen your bird’s illness. Adding a bit of juice or pedialyte to the water will often encourage drinking. We often use Morning Bird’s Vitalize which provides electrolytes added to soft food or water.
- Nutrition: Inadequate nutrition will severely impact the bird’s ability to recover from the illness. The best foods to give a sick bird are high in simple carbohydrates and easy to digest. Ask your veterinarian for appropriate suggestions. We use Morning Bird’s Thrive as a sick bird supplement added to soft food or water.
- Quiet/Level of Activity: Keep an ill or injured bird quiet and inactive. Remove toys from the cage and limit noisy activities or move the bird to a quiet part of the house. Make sure that your bird gets adequate (10 to 12 hours) uninterrupted sleep by darkening the room for optimal rest.
If your bird is sick, your veterinarian may prescribe medication. Some medications can be provided in food or water. In many cases, your veterinarian will instruct you to provide medication using an eye dropper or syringe feeding.Your bird may not be very cooperative, but it is important to administer the medication with as little fuss as possible to avoid stressing a sick bird further. If you are uncertain how to give the medication, ask your veterinarian or veterinary technician to demonstrate the technique before you leave the office.
Be sure that you understand all of the instructions given by your veterinarian, including the correct dosage, the number of times you need to give the medication each day, and how long the treatment should continue. You should also find out if there are any special storage requirements (such as keeping the medicine in the refrigerator) or preparations needed.
Rarely a bird will take some medications without restraint. In these rare cases, you can simply provide the medication while the bird is sitting on a perch or grabbing the bars of its cage. However, almost all birds will require holding and restraint. It is best to have this demonstrated by your avian veterinarian or technician prior to attempting it yourself at home. Here is a procedure that works for many birds:
- Prepare the dosage in the eyedropper or needleless syringe, following the instructions from your veterinarian.
- Have 2 people available if possible, one to hold the other to administer medication. This will decrease the stress on you and your bird.
- Be sure that there are no other pets or unfamiliar people in the vicinity and that the lights are soft and any sounds (such as music) are soothing and soft. Have a comfortable place to sit or stand as it will take a few moments to get the medication into your bird.
- Lay out any towel or other restraint you will use. You may also want to wear gloves. We use small towels for restraint here at FGA.
- Quietly talk with your bird as you open the cage and gently pick it up. Stay calm!
- Remove your bird from the cage and, following the instructions provided by your veterinarian, gently restrain your bird. Be very careful not to hold your bird too tightly. You do not want to restrict your bird’s breathing.
- Throughout the process of delivering medication, monitor your bird’s stress level. If your bird goes from struggling to panic, or panting, be prepared to release your bird and wait while your bird recovers. Your bird is less likely to panic if you remain calm and supportive throughout the process.
- Place the tip of the eye dropper or syringe in one side of your bird’s mouth and aim the tip toward the opposite side of the mouth. For example, if the dropper is on the bird’s left side you need to aim the end toward the right side of the mouth. Be careful not to put more than the tip of the dropper or syringe into the mouth. You do not want to restrict your bird’s ability to swallow and breathe.
- Gently and very slowly deliver the medication. Going too quickly can force medication into the lungs or allow medication to run out of the bird’s mouth. Watch your bird as it swallows the medication. Do not provide more than your bird can swallow at one time.
- Many birds respond better if you talk with them gently during this process.
- If possible, leave the tip of the dropper or syringe just inside the mouth until all of the medication is delivered.
- Check to see if any medication ended up outside the mouth. Using a small amount of clear water, gently clean any soiled feathers or other areas.
- Once all of the medication has been provided, praise your bird and, if the bird seems receptive, offer a treat or other reward.
- Return the bird to its cage.
- Make sure all medications are stored correctly.
- Disassemble the dropper or syringe and thoroughly clean all parts of the device in soap and warm water. Rinse all parts thoroughly and allow the pieces to air dry on a clean towel.
Possible indirect methods of administration:
- If your bird is still eating well, has a favorite soft food that it receives as a treat (for example, oatmeal, yogurt, or mashed potatoes) and does not object to the taste of the medicine, it may be administered by mixing it directly into a small amount of this food.
If your bird was hand fed as a baby, and will still take syringe-feeding, the medication may be mixed in hand-feeding formula and delivered. We use Kaytee Exact Hand-Feeding Formula here at FGA and administer hand feeding with an eyedropper for any medium to small sized birds, and syringe for large birds.