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Injuries and Accidents of Pet Birds

By

Teresa L. Lightfoot

, DVM, DABVP (Avian), Avian and Exotics Department, Florida Veterinary Specialists

Last full review/revision Jan 2020 | Content last modified Jan 2020
Topic Resources

Pet birds have an innate desire to try to hide any illness or injury. In the wild, showing signs of illness increases the chance they will be attacked by other animals. Thus, any behavior that is out of the ordinary is a sign that your bird may be ill. In particular, if you notice limping, the inability to move the wings properly, any unusual discharge, any changes in droppings, or a general lack of physical activity, you should seek veterinary advice or care promptly. If your bird is huddled, lethargic, unresponsive, or lying on the bottom of the cage, you have an emergency. Alert your veterinarian and transport the bird immediately.

When a bird has a “bleeding” emergency, it is important to distinguish between obvious active bleeding (such as from the wing, beak, or foot) and blood on the cage or on the bird with no active bleeding. Continued bleeding requires immediate veterinary intervention, whereas bleeding that has stopped is best left undisturbed. However, even if bleeding has ceased, it is wise to take your bird in for an examination.

If your bird is in respiratory distress, your veterinarian will place the bird in an incubator with oxygen. Shock and infection are of concern in birds that have penetrating or extensive wounds.

Injuries should be treated with the goal of the bird’s survival first and treatment of the traumatized area second. For example, a bird that has been struggling for hours with its leg band caught—and that may possibly have a fractured bone—is in more danger of dying from stress related to the prolonged struggling than from the fracture.

When your bird is in need of special care (before and after an emergency veterinary visit), set up an area in your house where there is less activity and where you can easily increase the temperature, such as a spare bathroom. The carrying case used to take the bird to the veterinarian may be a good place for the ill bird before returning to its regular cage. Cover the case with a towel or blanket on all but one side to eliminate drafts. Remote probe digital thermometers (sold in electronics stores) and photographic thermometers measure from 60°F to 120°F (16°C to 49°C) and can be safely used to monitor the room temperature. An ill bird should be kept at a room temperature of 80°F to 90°F (27°C to 32°C) until it is taken to your avian veterinarian.

If a room cannot be maintained at a warm temperature, use of a heating pad (set only on low, producing a temperature safe for skin contact) insulated with 2 towels above and 1 towel between the pad and cage can be used to keep the temperature of most small cages between 75°F and 85°F (24°C and 29°C). Alternatively, a shaded incandescent light bulb (60 to 100 watts) can be placed outside the cage (far enough away that the bird cannot reach the shade or bulb). Cover both the cage and the shaded light bulb with a towel or sheet, being sure the towel or sheet does not come in direct contact with the hot bulb. The heat from the lighted bulb will gently warm the cage area.

Having a well-stocked first aid kit for your bird is important. Know where it is kept, and replace items that have expired annually. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations about what to include in your kit.

Transport your bird to the veterinarian in a carrier that is secure and allows some air to get in. Keep the bird warm by transporting the carrier on a heating pad, hot water bottle, or other container filled with hot water. Cover the carrier with a towel on at least 3 sides to minimize visual stimuli. To safely transport your bird, remember three key things: warmth, darkness, carrier.

First Aid Kit for Pet Birds

Bandage material

Bleeding emergencies often warrant the use of pressure wraps to aid in the application of direct pressure to open cuts, abrasions, and fractures. Do not apply a wrap if you are uncertain of the proper method. Most bleeding skin wounds will clot on their own or be “protected” by the bird from further injury. Good materials that won’t adhere to the plumage are vet wrap (which clings to itself like cling wrap), roll gauze, cellophane tape, and some masking tapes.

Cotton balls and swabs

Cotton swabs can help control bleeding or wet feathers to move them away from a wound. They are best for cleaning stains off of feathers and skin (such as lipstick or oils) and for swabbing out lower beaks (such as food debris in baby birds).

Disinfectant

Only use topical disinfectants on open wounds and skin. Diluted chlorhexidine and betadine are safe and effective if used away from the mouth, ear canals, and eyes. Do not use salves, ointments, petroleum jelly, or other thick or oily substances on birds without veterinary recommendation. These products may matt the plumage and prevent the bird from insulating itself.

Gauze pads

Gauze pads can also help control bleeding or clean wounds. Use only sterile pads on open wounds. Nonstick pads should be used to cover wounds. Small size pads are easier to use but may be difficult to find.

Metal nail file

Can be used to smooth a chipped beak tip or broken nails.

Penlight

Used to illuminate the injured area, check eyes, nares (openings of the nose), mouth and throat, feathers.

Phone numbers

Phone numbers are by far the most important thing any emergency kit can contain. Include your avian veterinarian's phone number and address. Also have an alternative number recorded in case your regular avian veterinarian is not available, and have the number for the closest emergency clinic that will treat birds. Numbers for Animal Poison Control Centers can also be useful.

Restraining towel or stockinette

A washcloth is good for most cockatiels, small conures, and small parakeets. Big, fluffy bath towels are good for large Amazons, macaws, and cockatoos. A stockinette is a tube of material that can be slid over the bird to hold wings still (a sock can also be used).

Scissors

Scissors are great for trimming broken, mature feathers, and cutting tape and bandage materials. It is not recommended that inexperienced bird owners trim broken, bleeding quills as the quill may bleed more profusely.

Sterile saline

Can be used to dilute disinfectants to clean wounds or flush wounds and eyes. Use as directed by your veterinarian for other purposes.

Styptic gel with applicator tip

Use to apply to very minor wounds and a bleeding feather, toenail, or beak. Do not use for deep wounds or serious bleeding. Avoid using styptic powders, which may be toxic if swallowed.

Syringe

A 3-milliliter syringe without a needle can be used to flush small wounds with water or dilute disinfectant and also to “syringe feed” a bird that will not eat. It is strongly recommended not to force feed a bird unless specifically instructed to do so by your avian veterinarian. Many birds will inhale food into the lungs if fed in this manner and this may cause respiratory infections.

Tweezers or hemostat

Used to remove debris from wounds, remove splinters and ticks, and untangle string wound around small feet.

For More Information

Also see professional content regarding traumatic injuries of pet birds.

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