Avian Pet Care

When to Take Your Bird to CSAH

Parrots are considered “prey” species in their natural habitat and therefore often hide illness much longer than domesticated dogs and cats.  But why?  In the wild, a prey animal that appears ill will often be the first to be isolated and targeted by predators.  So as a defensive mechanism, many exotic species have evolved the ability to not appear sick, even when fighting an infection or dealing with disease.  At some point, the energy used to “keep up appearances” is depleted and they show outwards signs of illness, or worse, are found dead.  This means to us that we must be very aware of any physical changes and seek veterinary care as soon as illness is suspected.

Bird Health; Signs Indicating a Required Visit to the Vet:

  • A healthy bird will be alert and attentive to the environment.
  • Droppings should be consistent, and not have a strong odor.  When a bird first becomes ill, often the first sign will be a change to the droppings.  This could include diarrhea, increased urine (water part), change in color (red or dark black), change in size, or passage of undigested food.
  • A “fluffed” appearance, especially during unexpected times: if lasts for more than 24 hr or if sitting quietly with ruffled feathers (often at the bottom of the cage) indicates illness.  Sick birds do not move a lot, and although they can be distracted from this state, will often return quickly back.  Such birds should be examined as soon as possible by a bird-experienced vet.
  • Traumas from flight, animal attacks, or bleeding are also indications to seek attention immediately.
  • Feather loss or destruction is a very common problem that has many influences, and should always be explored with a vet.  Often such birds are not completely healthy, contributing to the feather picking behavior.
  • Noticed bleeding, difficulty breathing, or digestive problems

Routine Exams

Click Here to watch a video about the Importance of Annual Exams for your Exotic Pet.

For the Initial Avian Wellness Exam, Dr. Rhyne recommends the following:

  • Physical Examination (required as a minimum to get your pet established)
  • Fecal Gram Stain: Bring a moist sample from home (not a “stress sample” from car ride or in clinic.)
  • Fecal Direct Smear*
  • Fecal Ova Check*
  • Avian Panel Bloodwork

*Only the Fecal Gram Stain will be recommended annually (unless otherwise indicated) after your bird is established.

There are various trims parrots may require throughout the year.  As long as your bird has an up-to-date annual exam, Dr. Rhyne can perform any necessary beak trims, wing clips, and nail trims. 

The Avian Exam: How to Prepare and What to Expect

For a baseline while considered “healthy,”annual exams are ideal!

  • Allows chance to review husbandry, diet, and behavior which is key in preventing disease.
  • Allows chance to record a body weight and do baseline fecal gram stain and blood work.

Preparing (in Advance) for a Reduced Stress Vet Experience

  • Practice towel games and/or towel restraint to provide a more stress-free experience!

(Click on one of the links below to watch a tutorial)

VIDEOS: The Importance of Towel Restraint, Parrot Training Tips: Towel Training, & Training Your Parrot to Like a Towel

  • Practice exposure to small clippers or a nail file and practice extending out the wings from the body.

VIDEO: Parrot Training Tips - Nail Trimming

  • Try to desensitize to the sight and sound of equipment.
  • Have a travel cage and regularly take on fun car rides.
  • Offer yummy food/juice regularly from a syringe tip.

How Can I Prepare for a Vet Visit if My Bird is Sick?

  • Keep your bird warmer than normal.
    Due to high core body temp, regulating this takes a lot of energy when ill.  Birds will “fluff” to help with this thermal regulation.
  • Keep your bird in a quiet, dark place.
    Birds are very reactive to sounds and sight, which consumes energy when ill. 
  • Keep your bird in a small cage with no perches.
    Balancing on a perch can require a lot of energy over sitting on the floor.
  • Offer a variety of foods- including the most favorite.
    Birds will begin losing muscle mass very quickly if not eating or consuming enough calories and can get dehydrated.

What Can I Notice at Home?

Every day do a visual assessment:

  • How many droppings is my bird producing?
  • Do they appear normal in size, number, consistency?
  • Is there blood or vomit or other abnormal things on the cage floor? (use paper or similar)
  • Is my bird eating and drinking normal amounts?
  • Is my bird as active and as vocal as usual?
  • Are there feather changes? -color, broken or chewed, missing, pulled out, stress bars
  • nasal or eye discharge?- color, thickness
  • beak changes?- length, flakiness, asymmetry

Signs of a Sick or Painful Bird

  • “Fluffed” when at rest
  • Sitting low on perch or on cage bottom
  • Closing eyes often
  • Decreased appetite/thirst, OR very increased
  • Vomiting (always abnormal) or regurgitating often
  • Abnormal droppings- know the components! (feces, urine, urates)

Bird Restraint Key Points

VIDEO: Parrot Restraint

  1. Control the head at ALL times
  2. Wings tucked in under a towel
  3. A hand or towel draped over the feet
  4. No pressing around the torso during restraint
  5. Allow towel chewing if desired (stress release)

Anesthesia or sedation may be needed for x-rays or blood draws if extremely stressed during restraint.  (Diazapam/reversal agent or gas anesthesia)

The Hospital Physical Exam; Normal VS. Abnormal

Avian care at Charlotte Street Animal Hospital

  • Visualization of the bird at rest
  • Nares (nostrils) and Sinuses
  • Ear openings
  • Choana and Oral Cavity
  • Beak and nails
  • Tongue
  • Neck and crop palpation
  • Heart, lungs, trachea, and air sacs
  • Coelomic cavity (abdomen)  palpation below the keel
  • Feather condition
  • Skin
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Neurological
  • Uropygial Gland
  • Cloaca (vent)

The Hospital Physical Exam

Palpate the keel for a body condition score- 1-5/5:

Avian care at Charlotte Street Animal Hospital

Weight (grams or kilograms): on gram scale, varies depending on species
Heart Rate (beats per min):
115-270 at rest depending on species, 300-700 during restraint/exam
Respiratory Rate (breaths per min):
15-75 at rest depending on species (can visualize in cage)

Wing Trims


Avian care at Charlotte Street Animal Hospital

  • Wing trims prevent flying to reduce chance of escape or injury (flying into windows, ceiling fans, boiling water, hot stoves, dogs, etc).
  • These trims are temporary- as new feathers replace the old trimmed ones, another wing trim will need to be performed.

Large birds: 6-8 primaries
Small birds: 8-10 primaries

Avian care at Charlotte Street Animal Hospital

Dr. Rhyne's preference is to cut underneath the major coverts prior to where the barbs begin on the primary feathers. 

Nail Trims

Nail trims are Important to prevent injury to toes or nails from getting caught, as well as increased comfort with human interaction.
Nails should be trimmed several times a year. Approximately trim nails back to be about the length of a quarter of a circle if viewed from the nail base.  (or slightly shorter)

During an avian wellness exam, Dr. Rhyme dremmels Estella's nails.
This Blue-Headed Pionus can now land gently on her person's arm once again.

Common Blood & Lab Tests

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC)
  • Serum Chemistry
  • Fecal Gram Stain
  • DNA sexing- blood or feather pluck
  • Psittacosis Screen- DNA in fluids (swab),  Antibody in blood
  • Various DNA/Antibody tests are available for many infectious diseases; most are VERY sensitive, but some can have false negatives, and some can be non-specific (can find positives in birds without the “disease”); therefore these tests are tools in the toolbox, but usually are combined with other tests to make a final diagnosis.

X-Rays will Play a Role in Determining:

  • Bone Fractures, arthritis
  • Egg Binding/ Egg Peritonitis
  • Liver Size (small or large)
  • GI Foreign Body (metal, obstruction)
  • Heart changes
  • Masses or tumors
  • Air sac or Lung disease
  • Organ enlargement

Common Infectious Diseases the Exam and Lab Tests can Help Detect:

  • Psittacosis (Chlamydophila psittaci); is ZOONOTIC
  • Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (virus)
  • Aspergillosis (fungus)
  • Proventricular Dilitation Disease- PDD (bornavirus)
  • Psittacid Herpesviruses
  • Avian Mycoplasmosis
  • Avian Mycobacteriosis (Tuberculosis)

To read more about parrots and parrot care, check out Phoenix Landing Foundation, located just outside of Asheville, NC.