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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Overview of Pet Birds

By Sharman M. Hoppes, DVM, ABVP (Avian), Clinical Associate Professor, Zoological Medicine, Department of Veterinary Small Animal Clinical Sciences, Texas A and M University

Advances in avian medicine have changed the emphasis from infectious diseases and emergency medicine to wellness care. Nutrition and behavior are important components of the health of psittacine birds and play a major role in pet bird wellness programs. Mass importation of wild-caught psittacine birds was curtailed in the mid-1980s, and the current pet bird population is comprised primarily of captive-bred parrots. This has resulted in novel medical concerns and unique behavioral challenges. The knowledge base regarding psittacine and other pet bird diets and husbandry continues to increase, as does the importance of providing a psychologically suitable environment for these complex animals. Pet birds are intelligent and social animals adapted for flight. Keeping solitary pet birds in small indoor cages, with limited opportunity for exercise, has both physical and psychological consequences.

Veterinarians have a responsibility not only to diagnose and treat disease but also to educate bird owners on how to provide the best care for and prevent disease in their bird. Preventing disease entails providing a proper diet, an appropriate size cage and perches, proper sanitation, and environmental enrichment (ie, toys, foraging opportunities, social interaction).

A cage provides living space as well as protection and security. It should be large enough to not only house the bird and provide ample room for climbing and playing but also to accommodate toys, foraging opportunities, and multiple perches of different sizes and textures. Owners should purchase the largest cage possible (considering space and cost), while following minimum size recommendations (see Table: Minimum Cage Size and Bar Spacing Recommendations). Cages must be large enough to accommodate multiple perches and ensure that birds will have adequate room to move around and exercise.

Minimum Cage Size and Bar Spacing Recommendations

Bird

Cage Size (inches [length × width × height])

Bar Spacing (inches)

Budgerigar, cockatiel, lovebird, parrotlet

20 × 20 × 30

0.5

Conure, Poicephalus spp, caique, miniature macaw

36 × 24 × 48

0.75

African grey parrot, Amazon parrot, small cockatoo

40 × 30 × 60

0.751

Macaw, large cockatoo

48 × 36 × 66

1.5

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