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By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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Fast Reaction to Early Symptoms is a Life-Or-Death Matter for Pet Birds

A sick bird too often means a dead bird. That's because by the time their illness is noticed, birds are usually very ill indeed, and sometimes too far gone to be helped even by the best veterinarian.
Birds hide their illness, and that makes sense for wild birds. If you look sick in the wild, you'll attract the attention of a predator and will soon be someone's lunch. If you're lucky, you'll get better without your illness ever being spotted.
That's a good strategy for survival in the wild, but it doesn't work as well for pet birds. That's why some birds who seem fine one day are found dead the next. They were likely ill for a long time, but had managed to hide the symptoms.
The best way to catch an illness before your bird gets too sick to be helped is to have your pet see a veterinarian regularly. Your bird will be better off with a board-certified avian specialist, if there's one available in your area, or with a veterinarian who is comfortable treating birds and who keeps up with the latest available health information on these pets.
An avian veterinarian will go over your bird carefully, and will ask you questions meant to reveal any problems in your bird's health or behavior and in how you care for your pet. The veterinarian may suggest a couple of basic diagnostic tests. The idea is to correct any current problems and change anything that could become a risk in the long term, such as an improper diet.
If you suspect your bird is sick, call your veterinarian. Remember that a bird who appears ill may be in mortal danger, even if he seemed fine just the day before. Never try to treat your bird yourself. You may be misreading the symptoms and making matters worse.
It's sometimes difficult to judge what needs immediate attention and what can wait until tomorrow. Here are some guidelines in determining how best to respond to your bird's illness: 
Life-threatening emergencies. These need to be dealt with immediately by a veterinarian. They include bites or deep cuts, bleeding that can't be stopped, burns, poisoning, difficulty breathing, collapse, blood in droppings, or straining to defecate or pass an egg. In these situations, you can't get help fast enough. If it's after hours and your regular avian veterinarian cannot be reached, you'll need to visit an emergency clinic. Not all of these treat birds, so take time now to explore your options so you'll know where to go in an emergency. 
Urgent situations. Problems that should be seen by a veterinarian within a few hours of your noticing them include eye injuries, or a lack of interest in eating, especially if your bird also seems "puffed up."
Sudden swellings also demand relatively fast care, as do broken bones and diarrhea. Direct contact with dog or cat saliva, regardless of whether or not the skin was broken, is also an urgent matter -- your bird will likely need to be started on antibiotics right away. 
See your veterinarian. Everything else falls into the not-so-urgent category, but even then, don't get complacent. If there's a problem, your pet should see his veterinarian the next day. And if any of the more urgent symptoms pop up, get help sooner.
No matter what, bear in mind that a "wait and see" attitude is not appropriate for a sick bird. When in doubt, you should at the very least call your veterinarian. Your bird's life may well depend on your prompt attention. - By Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Baby food can get a sick pet eating
Q: When our cat got sick, our veterinarian recommended giving her human baby food to coax her to eat until she felt better. Is that a balanced diet for a cat? -- via Facebook
A: Pureed meat in those tiny jars meant for human babies is commonly recommended to help sick cats keep eating. The diet's not meant to be a long-term solution, but rather is an important strategy for keeping a sick cat from getting sicker.
As I'm sure your veterinarian told you, it's important to make sure you're not choosing a variety of baby food with onion powder in it, because of the risk the substance poses to your already ill cat. Read the label!
Warming up your cat's food will increase its appeal. Microwave it for 30 seconds or so, and then stir to eliminate any hot spots. You want the food to be a tick above your body temperature -- warm, but not hot. If your pet won't eat off a clean plate, try offering a little on the tip of your finger. Before you start, very gently clean any mucus accumulation from your cat's nose with a warm, damp washcloth to help him to better smell what you're offering.
Offer a little bit at a time, several times a day, instead of expecting a sick pet to eat a whole meal. If you're having no luck getting your cat to eat, call your veterinarian. There are medications that can stimulate appetite, and your veterinarian may want to prescribe one.
One final note: It's important when you're nursing a sick pet that you understand your veterinarian's instructions and get all your questions answered. Don't be afraid to call for more information if questions come up after you leave your veterinarian's office. Any good veterinarian would prefer that you completely understand what's required of you, rather than have you guess wrong when it comes to home nursing care with your pet's life is on the line. -- Dr. Marty Becker

The Buzz
Donations make a great gift
Looking for the perfect gift for the pet lovers in your life? Consider donating to animal-related charities. Even modest organizations, such as small local shelters and rescue groups, usually have gift membership programs in place. For your contribution, your gift should come with a year's subscription to the group's newsletter and sometimes discounts on local goods and services. Local groups often run on very small budgets, and your donations will really help.
Animal-health foundations are also a good bet. Your nearest school or college of veterinary medicine will have a fund set up to accept donations, either for scholarships or ongoing research into animal health. The Morris Animal Foundation, AKC Canine Health Foundation, and Winn Feline Foundation  also accept donations to support research into animal health.
National advocacy groups have a wide range of programs and agendas, and you should investigate a group's goals and funding prior to making a donation in another's name. For every person who thinks the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is courageous, there are at least that many who are extremely opposed to it. Likewise with a group such as Heifer International, which works to provide food animals to third-world countries. A heroic effort to some, but probably not the best donation in the name of the leather-avoiding vegan in your life.

Some animal-related charities are notorious for paying high salaries to executives while delivering relatively little funding to the programs they're supposed to be supporting. Several websites are good for investigating charities, among them Guidestar and CharityNavigator. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

Date Published: 11/26/2012 8:42:00 AM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 11/26/2012


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Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of Dogs for Dummies, Cats for Dummies and Birds for Dummies. She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her at

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