Nursing Care for Sick Pet Birds

By Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

Care & Wellness, Pet Services

While sick birds can occasionally be treated by their owners at home, any bird showing signs of illness should be examined by a veterinarian. Birds that are gravely ill will require hospitalization, while those that are still eating or that are only mildly affected may be treated by their owners under their veterinarian’s direction. If you are medicating your sick bird at home according to your veterinarian’s instructions, this handout may provide you with some tips to help with your bird's recovery.

Give all medications as directed

In order for your bird to have a good chance of recovery, you must administer medication(s) your veterinarian has prescribed as directed. Many owners have difficulty, or are unable to administer medication properly to their pet birds. Others stop treatment before the medication is finished, thinking the bird has recovered because he seems to be doing better. If you do not give the medication as directed, your bird may not recover and may actually relapse, necessitating a more prolonged second round of therapy. If you are uncomfortable administering medication to your bird, please 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 to 80°F (22-25°C). Increased body temperature stimulates appetite, improves digestion, and stimulates the body's defenses to fight infections.

Do not change your bird's sleep cycle

nursing_a_sick_bird-2While healthy pet birds typically adapt to their owners’ sleep schedules, most become accustomed to approximately 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness each day. Many bird owners, however, leave a light on their sick pets all the time so that they can see them better. Leaving the light on 24 hours a day may make it hard for him to sleep and may add to your bird's stress during recovery. If your bird is ill, do not change his normal day/light cycle.

Make sure your bird eats and drinks

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

Avoid stress

Sick birds are already under excessive stress. While it is tempting to want to play with your bird and allow him to come out of his cage to walk or fly around, cage rest is often best while the bird is recuperating.

Avoid sudden diet or environmental changes while your bird is ill. Try to avoid the temptation (of kindhearted humans) to stay up all hours of the night with your bird, as he needs his rest, and so do you.

Separate sick birds

A bird that is ill should be isolated from other pet birds, preferably in a separate room. Separating your sick bird enables you to monitor his food consumption and activity more closely and allows him to rest. It also may help decrease the chances of spread of contagious illness to other birds in the house. This is also not the time to bring a new pet into the household.

Notify your personal physician if you become ill

While not often the case, some bird diseases can be transmitted to their owners. Your veterinarian should tell you if your bird is ill with one of these zoonotic diseases (diseases that spread between animals and people). The most common disease pet birds can contract that is spread to people is parrot fever or chlamydiosis caused by the bacteria, Chlamydia psittaci. If your bird has a disease that can potentially spread to people and you become ill, notify your physician. 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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