Written by Lee-Anne, Birdmad Girl
The first aid tips I will discuss in this article are not intended as a substitute for seeing an avian vet, but are there to enable you to help your bird in the time it takes for you to get to a vet.
It is a good idea to have some first aid supplies on standby just in case your bird ever needs your help. You could even make a little first aid kit. Things that are useful to include are:
- An emergency telephone number for your vet
- A heat pad or heat lamp
- A thermometer
- Tape, like microspore, transpore or masking tape
- An assortment of various sized bandages
- Small sponge pieces or gauze swabs
- Corn flour
- Silver nitrite sticks or pencils
- Nail clippers
- A pair of pliers or forceps
- A pair of scissors
- A pair of tweezers
- Various sized syringes
- Anti-bacterial scrub such as Hibiscrub, or betadine scrub
- Anti-inflammatory cream, such as Flamazine
- Tissue glue
- Hand-feeding formula
- Faecal pots or small bags
- A towel
- Pet carrier for trips to the vet
You can get a lot of these things from your vet, and keep them at home in your first aid kit on standby for emergencies.
If you think you have a sick bird on your hands, the first thing you should do (apart from calling a vet) is to isolate the bird away from any other birds, and put them into a hospital cage.
A hospital cage can easily be set up, and it is a place where your sick bird can rest quietly and keep warm. Use a fairly small cage, as a sick bird is unlikely to want to move around much. Keep the perches low so that if your bird is weak and falls, it will not have too far to fall. Make sure that food and water are easily accessible by placing it close to the perches. If your bird is unable to perch, place some shallow food and water dishes on the floor. I find that providing a millet is also helpful because it is easy for the bird to eat, and is high in energy. On the cage bottom, use newspaper, and underneath the newspaper you could use a soft sponge or some soft material in order to cushion the bird if it should fall.
Position the cage in a quiet part of the house, and cover 3 sides of the cage with a dark material. This will provide your sick bird with some privacy and reduce the stress. It is very important to keep your bird as warm as possible so that it can reserve the energy it needs to fight its illness. A good temperature for a hospital cage is between 27°- 30° C. To keep the cage warm, you can use either a spot lamp or a heat pad. Whichever method you use, remember to create a thermal gradient - that is to keep one side of the cage slightly warmer than the other so that your bird can move to warm up or cool down as required. Position the spot light over one side of the cage. It is a good idea to use a red light if you have one in order to reduce the brightness for your bird. If not, you could position the light behind the cover to reduce brightness. If you prefer to use a heat pad, do not put it directly inside the cage where your bird can come into direct contact with it. Instead, you could place it either underneath the cage on one side, or secure it to the bottom side of the cage on one side. Always use a thermometer to make sure that your bird is not overheated.
A budgie with a broken leg resting on the floor of a hospital
For a bird that needs to remain on the floor, you could create a hospital tank, which serves the same purpose as a hospital cage, except your bird will not have bars to climb up and must therefore remain on the floor. This is especially useful if you have a bird with a broken leg, or an egg-bound bird. You could tape perches to the floor for your bird to grip. Also provide a soft material on the floor for your birds' comfort. Heating the hospital tank is the same as heating the hospital cage, but make sure that you have good ventilation. Hospital tanks allow for a more humid environment, which is of benefit if you have an egg bound bird.
Broken Blood Feather
This can be quite a common problem. A blood feather is a new growth that is coming through, where the feather shaft contains blood. These can be broken if the bird has an accident playing, gets one caught in the cage bars, or breaks one in a fall. Once broken, they will bleed a lot, and a bird cannot afford to loose a lot of blood. Therefore, a broken blood feather will need to be pulled out to stop the bleeding.
This is best done by two people, with one person restraining the bird and the other to pull the feather. The easiest way to restrain the bird quickly and safely is to wrap the bird in a towel, making sure that you have control of the head, or else someone will be in for a nasty bite! Support and manipulate the body as needed with the other hand.
Use a pair of forceps or pliers to grip the blood feather at the base. If it is a flight feather, take care to ensure that the wing is supported well to avoid breaking the birds' wing. Once secured in the pliers, pull hard and fast in the direction of the feather, and it should come out. Apply pressure to the follicle using some gauze swabs until the bleeding stops. It is also a good idea to clean the area afterwards with some antibacterial scrub, such as Hibiscrub.
If quite a lot of blood has been lost, it is a good idea to call your vet and tell him/her what has happened because he/she might recommend seeing the bird for fluid therapy.
If your bird receives a burn injury, this is very serious and you must get your bird to an emergency vet right away. Call your vet at once!
Before you set off, rinse the area with plenty of cool water as much as you can. Burns can be very painful, and are very open to infection. If you have time, quickly apply some anti-inflammatory cream such as Flamazine to the area, but do not bandage it because the bandage could become adhered to the wound, making it more painful. Once at the vets, your vet will assess the wound, clean it and make a proper dressing for burns.
An African Grey with serious burns to the leg has a dressing applied under general anaesthetic
If you suspect a fractured wing or leg, immediately transfer your bird to a hospital tank and call your vet. A hospital tank is better than a cage if you have one because your bird could climb about inside the cage, further damaging the broken bone.
If there is any bleeding, apply some cornstarch, baking soda, styptic powder or flour to the wound and apply some pressure using a gauze swab until the bleeding stops. If you are unable to get the bleeding to stop, continue applying pressure and rush straight to the vet. If you are able to stop the bleeding, you can attempt the following supportive techniques.
If you suspect a broken wing, bind the wing to the bird's body using a bandage, and secure with some tape. Do not pull the bandage too tightly around the body otherwise you might restrict the birds' breathing but ensure that it is tight enough to keep the wing secure. Applying the bandage like this will support the wing and help prevent further damage until your bird gets to the vet. Also take care not stick the tape directly to the feathers, as some tapes can ruin the feathers. Safe tapes to use are mentioned in the list of 1st aid items above.
Budgie with a splint made from Elastoplast and tissue glue
If you suspect a broken leg, you could attempt to make a splint to support it depending on how bad the fracture looks. For a larger bird, secure it in a towel, and clean the area with some anti-bacterial soap. You could use 2 matchsticks (obviously with the heads chopped off!), or even small chop sticks or small garden plant canes cut to size. Place one at either side of the leg, parallel to it, and secure them to the leg with a bandage and some tape. This will provide a little extra support until your bird gets to the vet. For a smaller bird, you could simply use some Elastoplasts to secure the break by sticking two plasters together around his leg. If you have some tissue glue to hand, you could apply this to the plasters to harden them for further support.
If you do not feel equipped of confident enough to attempt the above supportive techniques yourself, then don't. As long as you can reduce or stop the bleeding, that is the most important thing. Your vet will decide the best method to repair your birds' fracture.
A Hahn's Macaw having a fractured leg pinned using an external fixator
Dehydration and Loss of Appetite
If you suspect your bird may be dehydrated, for example, from excessive diarrhoea, it is important to get some fluids into him. Try to get to a vet straight away, because the vet will be able to administer fluids intravenously, which is the most effective method of quick re-hydration. The second quickest way is to administer fluids subcutaneously under the skin, but unless you have been trained to do this - don't!
The best thing you can do at home is to draw up a little water in a syringe or medicine dropper, and gently administer small drops at a time into your birds' beak. Hold your bird as if you were going to administer oral medications. For a larger bird, you may need to use a towel for restraint. Gently tilt the bird to one side, whilst holding the head upright, and drop the water into the top of the beak. The water should drop onto the top of the tongue where it will be gently swallowed. Be careful not to squirt the water in because you could risk squirting the water straight into the trachea and choking your bird.
If your bird has not been eating, it can be quite serious because birds need to eat regularly. Make up some hand rearing formula so that it is luke-warm and not hot. Draw up some into a syringe for small birds, or on a spoon for larger birds, and see of your bird will take it. If your bird is not interested, then use the same method described above for giving fluids, except this time you are giving a moist warm feed. For small birds like budgies and cockatiels, 1 ml of formula will be enough. For medium birds like African grey and amazons, give 10 ml of formula. Large birds like macaws can take 15-20 ml. If your bird is not eating on his own at all, use the hand feeding formula in the above measures 2-3 times per day.
You will hear people talking about crop feeding a bird that is not eating. This is what a vet or a veterinary nurse will do, and it involves placing a tube into the esophagus and giving the liquid feed. I would not recommend you try this at home because if you have not been trained, you risk putting the tube into the trachea and suffocating the bird.
Surgical removal of an egg that is stuck inside the oviduct
This is serious, and needs treatment by a vet at once. It is very important to keep the female bird very warm, quiet and humid to help the muscles relax, and also to keep her low down, preferably on the floor. This is why a hospital tank is good for these cases.
A vet can administer a drug called oxytocin to help her expel the egg. If this does not work, they could try deflating it by draining the contents of the shell with a needle. This reduces the pressure on the surrounding organs, and the female then needs to pass the shell. If this fails, your vet can surgically remove the egg.
I have a whole article here at Tailfeathers that deals with egg binding and what to do. For more information, please read Egg Laying & Possible Problems.
Your bird can sustain concussion from flying into a hard object like a mirror or a wall. Provide warmth and let the bird rest in a hospital cage, and call your vet at once. Your vet may advise you to see how it goes over a 2-3 hour period depending on how badly your bird is concussed. It is always advisable to get your bird seen by an avian vet in these cases just in case bleeding occurs in the brain, which is serious and it not necessarily detected straight away.
If you have attempted to clip a nail or beak yourself and caused bleeding, apply pressure to the tip of the nail or beak with some gauze swab. You can use a silver nitrite stick or pencil to stop the bleeding, but take care not to get it on your skin or touch furniture with it because it stains - and it doesn't show up immediately either! Note that silver nitrite can only be used on the nails or beak. If you have not got any silver nitrite, you can apply cornstarch, flour, baking soda or styptic powder to the area to help stop the bleeding.
If your bird has been to a vet for a treatment that required stitching, your bird must be kept from picking at the stitches and re-opening the wound. If you notice your bird opening wounds and causing bleeding, again you can use the items mentioned above to stop it. Also, take your bird back to the vet to have a collar fitted with will prevent your bird reaching the wound again.
There are a number of different types of collars available
Finally, remember that your bird will be in some distress, and a gentle word of reassurance from you can work really well to calm them down. Talk to your feathered friend in a gentle, calming manner, and tell him/her that they are alright. This is especially helpful after you have had to use restraint, and will help your bird understand that you are trying to help them. Cuddle and reassure them all the time.
Two patients receiving some reassuring care.