Veterinary Care for Your Bird: Annual Exam

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

Does my bird really need a check up?

Most people have annual examinations with their physicians and take their dogs and cats in once or twice yearly to be checked by a veterinarian, so why shouldn’t a pet bird have an annual check-up, too? Newly acquired birds should be examined by a veterinarian within the first couple of days after purchase or adoption to ensure that the bird is not sick or carrying a contagious disease.

In addition, all birds should receive annual veterinary examinations. Your veterinarian may have important reasons to see your bird on a different schedule, so discuss your specific plan with them.

A veterinarian’s most important job is to help ensure your pet stays healthy and does not get sick. This is achieved by a thorough health examination of your bird and routine tests to prevent illness from developing. Proper nutrition and planning a safe home environment should be discussed as well. This is called preventive health care.

"By the time a bird shows signs of being unwell or sick, 
it has likely been ill for some time."

In the wild, a bird works hard to display a strong outward appearance, even when it is sick, to avoid being killed by a predator. By the time a bird shows signs of being unwell or sick, it has likely been ill for some time. A physical examination allows a veterinarian to notice subtle signs of disease before they are obvious.

What will the veterinarian do at a check-up?

Ideally, you should bring your bird to the veterinary clinic in a cage, so your veterinarian may assess its environment, food, feeding arrangement, and droppings on the bottom of the cage. If this is your bird's first visit to the veterinarian, the veterinary staff will ask for a lot of information about your bird, including age, sex, species, background, diet, and length of current ownership. Your veterinarian should discuss proper diet and care for the particular species of bird.

Upon entering the exam room, your veterinarian will observe the bird in its cage and note its attitude, posture, feathering, vocalizations, and physical condition.

Your veterinarian will then restrain the bird gently but securely in a towel, to prevent injury, and perform an in-depth physical examination. Your veterinarian will use a stethoscope to assess the heart and lung sounds. Any abnormal changes in the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin, feathers, beak, wings, legs, nails, vent, chest, or abdomen will be noted. If your bird is calm, your veterinarian can trim his nails and clip his wings, if you request it.

Before your bird is released, your veterinarian will record an accurate weight in grams. With all these observations documented, your bird has a complete and current record available to reference and to monitor changes over time.

Will any tests be done?

Your veterinarian will discuss the need for testing, depending on the findings of the physical examination. Wellness testing provides further information that is important in assessing your pet's overall health condition. Some tests, including blood tests and fecal analysis, are performed routinely on apparently healthy birds to monitor the current state of the bird’s health.

Blood samples are either performed in-house or sent to an outside laboratory for analysis. Your bird’s stool may be analyzed under a microscope to assess for yeast, bacteria, and parasites. The specific tests your veterinarian suggests will depend on your bird’s age, size, species, and health status.

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