How to Care for a Sick Bird

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Caring for your sick bird at home requires quarantining, keeping him warm, providing supportive nutrition and administering medications prescribed by your veterinarian.

Warning

  • If you suspect your bird is not well, take him to your vet immediately. Sick birds tend to hide their symptoms because illness makes birds particularly vulnerable to predators in the wild. Noticeable symptoms may indicate advanced or serious illness. Signs of illness include:

    • decrease in
      food or water intake
    • decreased
      activity and vocalization
    • increased sleep
       
    • ruffled
      feathers
    • nares, beak
      or eye discharge
    • wheezing, sneezing
      or cough-like symptoms
    • vomiting
    • pecked by
      cage mates
    • failure to
      perch


Quarantine Sick Birds

Separate your sick bird from your healthy birds at the first sign of illness to prevent the spread of disease. This will also protect your sick bird from being pecked by your other birds, which is especially common in chickens. Quarantine in a low-traffic, quiet area to minimize stress and promote rest.

Keep Him Warm

Keep your bird's environment at 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the optimal temperature range to help stimulate his appetite, digestion and immune response. Eliminate drafts by partially covering his cage. Provide a heat source such as a heated perch or grow light. Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature. Make sure your bird can move away from the heat source if he gets too warm. Signs that your bird is overheated include panting and holding his wings out from his body.

For birds too sick to perch, make a hospital tank with a 10-plus-gallon glass aquarium. Line the bottom with newspaper for easy cleaning. Cover the top with a mesh lid to allow air exchange. Provide a heat source at one end of the tank using a low-temperature heating pad or a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel. Check the temperature with a thermometer and watch for signs of overheating.

Supportive Care

For birds who have stopped eating and drinking, spoon or syringe-feed small amounts of baby bird formula and electrolyte fluid into the bird's mouth to prevent dehydration. Provide your bird with spray millet, which is a highly palatable concentrated energy source.

You can also use natural remedies to help support your bird's immune system during an illness, but not all such remedies are effective for all bird species. If your vet approves, supplements such as aloe vera, cinnamon, garlic, cayenne and alfalfa can be added to feed, water or bird treats.

Giving Medications

Give your bird all medications as prescribed by your vet to ensure a complete recovery. Birds can be notoriously difficult to medicate. Ask your vet to show you how to give your bird his medications and ask for help if you are unable to do it at home.

Respiratory Illnesses

Respiratory infections are common in birds. They can be caused by bacteria, fungi, parasites and fumes. Unlike viral colds common in mammals, bird respiratory illnesses can be severe and become life-threatening. If you suspect a respiratory infection, take your bird to your vet for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Bacterial infections can be serious and even fatal. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics as well as oxygen, fluids and hand-feeding. Fungal infections, such as aspergillosis, may require long-term treatment with anti-fungal medications. Parasites such as mites and worms can be killed with anti-parasitic drugs.

Fumes and inhalants can cause acute respiratory distress and death in pet birds. Inhaled fumes from bleach and disinfectants, air fresheners, perfume, fireplaces, kerosene heaters, cigarette smoke and cooking with non-stick cookware can cause difficulty breathing and requires immediate medical attention. A veterinarian can treat inhalant respiratory emergencies with a bronchodilator.

Zoonotic Diseases

Some bird illnesses, such as psittacosis and avian influenza, or bird flu, are zoonoses -- diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. If your vet diagnosis your bird with a zoonotic disease, contact your physician for information on transmission, diagnosis and treatment in humans.

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