Veterinary Care: New Bird Visit

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

Many bird owners are surprised to learn that all pets, including their birds, need an initial visit by an avian veterinarian and at least an annual checkup. In fact, many veterinarians recommend checkups at least twice a year, to allow for early detection and treatment of potentially life-threatening diseases.

Regular veterinary care is necessary in order to ensure your bird lives a long, healthy life. Since pet birds are a prey species, it is common for them to hide symptoms of illness and therefore critical for them to have a thorough health exam to make sure they are truly healthy.

"The most important visit is the very first one, and it should occur very soon after you acquire your pet bird."

The most important visit is the very first one, which should occur within 1-2 weeks after you acquire your pet bird. During this visit, the veterinarian will perform a physical examination and recommend various diagnostic or wellness tests to determine your bird's state of health and see if your pet might be harboring any diseases that require treatment. The visit should also include a thorough discussion of proper nutrition, housing, care, grooming, and training/socialization of your new pet. The most important part of this initial visit is to feel comfortable with the doctor and the hospital staff.

Make sure your bird's veterinarian is qualified or experienced enough to treat pet birds. Avian medicine has become a highly technical part of veterinary medicine and often requires extra training after graduation to become well versed in treating pet birds. Most general dog and cat practitioners are not comfortable or knowledgeable in avian (pet bird) medicine. Ask the veterinarian about his qualifications and experience. At a minimum, he/she should be a member in good standing of the AAV (Association of Avian Veterinarians). If your veterinarian is not comfortable seeing your bird, ask for a referral to someone who is more experienced.

Parts of the Avian Checkup

While each doctor has his/her own protocol on what is done during the initial visit, many avian veterinarians recommend some or all of the tests listed below as a screening program to aid in the wellness exam. Some birds exhibiting high anxiety during the exam or restraint may require light sedation, to make performing the exam or any of the tests listed below less stressful on the patient.

Physical Examination. Every visit starts with a thorough physical examination. During the physical, your veterinarian will record your bird's weight, general appearance, and mobility. He/she will palpate (feel) various parts of the brid's body from head to tail. Any abnormalities that are noted or changes that have occurred since the previous visit may require specialized testing. A stethoscope will be used to listen to your bird's heart and respiratory system. Visual assessment of your bird’s feces and urine movements will be made before or after the physical exam.

Blood Testing. Just as your family physician will perform blood tests to assess organ function and biochemical analysis, so should a routine health exam for your bird include testing. Blood testing can include a complete blood count (CBC) (counts red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets) and a blood chemistry profile (which tests various organ enzymes as well as calcium, phosphorus, glucose, total protein, sodium and potassium levels).

Radiological Testing. Using whole body radiographs (x-rays), the veterinarian can examine your bird's body for abnormalities in the size, shape, and position of body organs, screen for masses such as tumors or granulomas, look for abnormal fluid accumulation, and check the skeletal system for any abnormalities.

Specialized Testing. Additional testing may include testing for chlamydiosis (also called psittacosis, a disease which may be transmissible to other pets and people), polyomavirus, avian bornavirus (ABV) or circovirus (beak and feather disease). The need for testing will depend upon findings from the physical exam, laboratory tests or exposure to other birds that may put your bird(s) at risk for a specific disease.

Fecal Analysis. Microscopic examination of the feces allows detection of intestinal parasites.

Microbiological Testing. Swabs of the choana (roof of the mouth) and cloaca (vent) of your bird may be taken to have Gram stains performed. Your veterinarian uses these stains to determine the presence of abnormal bacteria and/or fungal organisms. Depending upon the findings, additional tests, such as culture and sensitivity, may be needed to determine the species of bacteria or fungal organisms in those regions and the proper medical treatment.

To find a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarian,s go to and click on ‘Find-A-Vet’ at the top of the page.

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