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Planning for Veterinary Emergencies

Written by Duddles

When we first bring home our brand new pet birds, we want everything to be perfect. We often prepare for weeks or months ahead of time to make sure everything is just right. When we are finally ready to bring our new friend home, we go to the utmost care to choose a reputable store or dealer to make sure that our new pet will be healthy and happy. The one thing we rarely think about until we absolutely have to is veterinary care for our bird, and that is the one thing that requires immediate attention when we need it.

What if, during its first night with you, your brand new pet has a night fright, and while thrashing around breaks a blood feather, losing a substantial amount of blood and requiring immediate veterinary attention? What if the stress of moving to your home makes your new bird susceptible to a pre-existing illness and yours becomes sick within two days of bringing him/her home? Will you know what to do, where to go, who to call, how to get there? Will you be prepared? If you answered "no", then you put your bird at greater risk. A little bit of planning now can save a great deal of suffering and heartache in the future.

Why Bird Caregivers Need to Plan

As bird owners, we are often at a disadvantage when it comes to seeking medical attention for our pets. The first disadvantage is that most veterinarians will not treat birds. In order to be certified to treat birds, avian veterinarians undergo additional studies that regular vets do not. In most areas, there are few, if any, avian vets. In some areas, there may not be an avian vet within a 5 hour drive. The second disadvantage for us is that birds hide their illness very well. In the wild, they need to appear healthy so that predators will not target them, and so that their own flockmates will not abuse them. Often, by the time a bird exhibits signs of illness that we - their care-givers - notice, it has been sick for a long time, and needs immediate veterinary attention, or it is likely to die within a few days, hours or even minutes. Because birds show symptoms of illness so suddenly and deteriorate so quickly, avian veterinary care is often practiced on an emergency basis. When you call for your appointment that your bird needs immediately, chances are that many others are doing the same. That's why it is so important to be prepared. If you have a plan of attack, you will give your bird the very best chance of survival in the case of illness or injury.

Knowing when to go to the Vet

When your bird is injured or sick, it needs to get to a vet ASAP. Many people can recognize the urgency of an injury such as excessive bleeding or a broken limb, and take their bird to a vet right away. However, a very common mistake that bird keepers make is not taking their bird to a vet if it is sick, but is still able to stand, eat, sing, etc. As mentioned above, a bird can appear quite well and actually be quite sick, so any sign of illness should be treated as serious. Often, there will only be one or two clues that your bird is not well. You don't need to take your bird to a vet every time it sneezes, but it is very important not to hesitate if your bird is truly sick. Hesitating a day or even an hour can make the difference between life and death for a sick bird. It's important to get to know your bird's behaviors, habits, and bodily functions, so that you can tell if something is wrong. You should also acquaint yourself with the common symptoms of illness in birds, such as: change in behavior, diarrhea or otherwise abnormal droppings, loss of appetite, increased sleepiness, puffiness other than while sleeping, lameness, etc.

Finding a Vet to Treat your Bird

When your bird needs help, its best bet is an avian vet, because he/she has been specially trained to treat birds. Failing that, some regular vets will treat birds in their clinics anytime, some will treat them only in emergencies, and some will never treat birds. Please keep in mind that avian vets are often willing to consult with regular vets. If there are no avian vets in your area, call around to the nearest avian vets and ask if they would be willing to consult with your regular vet if your bird becomes sick. Find out the details of how to go about getting this consultation so that it can all happen quickly when you actually need to contact them. It is also a good idea to inquire about the prices and payment options for veterinary services, so that you are not taken by surprise when you do need to take your bird in. You should consider veterinary costs in your budgets. The last thing you want to do in an emergency is put off taking the bird to the vet because you have not set aside funds to do so.

There are several resources to help you find an avian vet in your area. The first place to check is on the website of the Association of Avian Veterinarians. Try checking the following AAV web pages:


You could also try avian vet referral sites, such as these:
http://www.toolady.com/vetrefer/vetrefer.htm htp://www.babybirds.com/vets/

If you still can't find an avian vet in your area, here are some other places you can try:

  • Call the nearest avian vet (even if they're 5 hours away) and ask them where you should take your bird in an emergency. Maybe there is a particular non-avian vet in your area that this avian vet has consulted for; this vet may know more about treating birds than other non-avian vets.
  • Call non-avian vets in the area and ask if they treat birds. Ask if they know anyone in the area that does. Maybe there is an avian vet that is not registered with the AAV.
  • Call local or nearby cage bird clubs, parrot clubs, breeders, pet stores, animal or wildlife protection or rehabilitation services in your area, especially bird of prey centres, and ask them where they take their birds.

Making a Plan of Attack for when an Emergency Occurs

When your bird is sick or injured, you will probably not have the time or presence of mind to make the necessary calls to find a vet or figure out how to stop bleeding, etc. Making a few phone calls now can save your bird's life when an emergency occurs.

Preparing for taking your bird to a vet in an emergency:

The more places you have to call, the better your chances of finding an open clinic that can help. Here's what you can do to make sure that you can get your bird to a vet as fast as possible.

Make a list of:

  • All avian vets within a few hours' drive (you may not think you'll drive two hours to the vet, but if your bird is bleeding or has a broken leg one day, you will suddenly feel very motivated to make that drive!).
  • All animal emergency clinics, or 24-hour animal clinics within a few hours' drive (try to have at least one or two of these on your list).
  • All regular vets in the area that deal with birds.
  • If there are no avian vets, or regular vets that deal with birds, then all numbers of regular vets that you know are good - in an emergency, they may suddenly be willing to help you out.

For each clinic that is on your list, prepare the following information:

  • Name and address.
  • Phone number.
  • Business hours.
  • Photocopy or download a map of the area where the clinic is located, print a copy, and highlight the best route to get there (you can print out maps for free on Mapquest at http://www.mapquest.com).

The more places you have on your list, the better. If you need an appointment, and one place is booked solid, it's great to have other numbers to call. If you have many clinic listings, make yourself a folder, and keep it in an easily accessible location (not a "safe" location that you won't remember when you need it). Also, keep in mind that taking the bird to the vet may require two people - one to hold or carry the bird in the carrier (the carrier tends to bounce around in the car if it's not held), and one to drive. Keep the numbers for local cab companies handy. If there are none, ask a few friends or neighbors if they would mind being on your emergency contact list. Keep a small carrier ready. It should be just large enough to let your bird walk around a bit, and it should provide adequate ventilation. Solid plastic carriers are the better than small cages, because birds can get their wings/feathers stuck in the bars when they flap around out of fright.

First Aid: In addition to knowing where to take your bird in an emergency, you should also prepare so that you know what to do to keep your bird safe until you can get him/her to the vet. This involves training yourself to recognize symptoms of illness, and knowing how to administer first aid. There is a book available that discusses first aid for pet birds. Buy it. Read it! Here's the information. "First Aid for Birds: An Owners Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet." Authors: Julie Rack and Gary A. Gallerstein. Read the book, or other avian first aid resources, and prepare a first aid kit. Know how to deal with some of the most common emergencies, such as a broken blood feather or bleeding toenail. Always have a bit of cornstarch or flour in a little jar by the cage to stop bleeding (styptic powder such as "QuikStop" is good, as long as you don't get it on the skin).

You should also have handy the number for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. There are two phone numbers in North America: 1-888-426-4435 (you will need a credit card) and (900) 443-0000 (charges go directly to your phone bill). To access the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center from the U.K., Ireland, New Zealand, the Phillipines, and Australia, dial 0011-800-266-27722. If you live in another country, write to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Centre now (e-mail napcc@aspca.org) to find out how to access them in an emergency. At the time this article was written, a $45 U.S. charge is applied for each case. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center helps all animals - dogs, cats, birds, large animals or exotics.

When your bird is sick or injured, time is never on your side. The better prepared you are, the better chance you give your bird, so that you can both enjoy a long and happy relationship together, in good health.

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