Nursing Care for Sick Pet Birds

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

While sick birds can occasionally be treated by their owners at home, any bird showing signs of illness should be examined by an avian veterinarian as soon as possible. Birds that are critically weak, vomiting, disoriented, or bleeding from any bodily orifice may require hospitalization. Those that are still eating or that are only mildly lethargic may be treated by their owners at home under the direction of your bird’s veterinarian. If you are medicating your sick bird at home according to your veterinarian’s instructions, this handout will provide some tips to help with your bird's recovery.

Give all medications as directed

For your bird to have a good chance of recovery, you must administer the prescribed medication exactly as directed. Many owners are unable to administer medication properly to their pet birds. Others stop treatment before the medication is finished, thinking the bird has fought off the illness because they seem to be back to normal. If you do not give the medication as directed, your bird may not fully recover and may have a relapse, necessitating a more prolonged second round of therapy or hospitalization. If you are uncomfortable administering medication to your bird, inform your veterinarian and consider having the bird hospitalized for treatment.

Keep your pet bird warm

Most pet birds recover faster when kept at the upper end of their normal environmental temperature, which ranges from 75°F to 80°F (22°C to 25°C). Increased body temperature stimulates appetite, improves digestion, and stimulates the body's defenses to help fight infections.

Do not change your bird's sleep cycle

While healthy pet birds typically adapt to their owners’ sleep schedules, most become accustomed to approximately 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark each day. When a bird is sick, however, many bird owners leave a light on all the time so that they can see the bird better. Leaving the light on 24 hours a day will make it hard for the bird to rest or sleep and may create additional stress that will slow your bird’s recovery. If your bird is ill, do not change their normal day/light cycle.

Make sure your bird eats and drinks

Sick pets need extra calories to fight illness and recover. Consult with your veterinarian about proper nutrition to help your bird recover. Without adequate nutrition and fluids, sick birds will not get better. If your bird is not eating and drinking as they normally would, notify your veterinarian immediately. The bird may need to be hospitalized for force feeding if they will not eat on their own.

Avoid stress

Sick birds are already under excessive stress. While it is tempting to play with your bird and allow them to come out of the cage to walk or fly around, cage rest is often best while the bird is undergoing treatment and during the recovery period.

Avoid sudden diet or environmental changes while your bird is ill. Try to avoid the temptation to stay up all hours of the night with your bird (as many kind-hearted humans do), as they need their rest, and so do you.

Sick birds should be placed in Isolation

A sick bird should be isolated from other pet birds, preferably in a separate room. Separating your sick bird enables you to monitor its food consumption, activity levels, and droppings more closely and allows the bird to rest. Isolation also may help decrease the chances of spreading contagious illness to other birds in the house. Never bring a new pet into the household while you are treating or monitoring a sick bird (or any other sick pet).

Notify your physician if you become ill

While not every bird disease can be transmitted to its owners, some can. Your veterinarian should tell you if your bird is suspected to have one of these diseases that spread between animals and people (zoonotic diseases). One of the most common zoonotic diseases birds can contract is parrot fever or chlamydiosis caused by the Chlamydia psittaci bacteria. Salmonella bacteria can also be transmitted from birds to people, and to other pets. Your veterinarian can test to verify the specific bacteria present and the proper course of treatment. If your bird has a disease that can potentially spread to humans and you become ill, notify your physician immediately. Your doctor may recommend that you take medication.

Notify your veterinarian if your bird's condition worsens

If treatment or recovery is not going as expected at home, your veterinarian needs to know this. Your veterinarian may need to change medication or hospitalize your bird if his condition deteriorates. Contact your veterinarian right away if your bird’s condition is not improving with treatment at home.

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