Who do you turn to when your bird is sick? Most bird owners contact pet stores when their bird is ill. However, pet store personnel are not trained in avian medicine, so they are not able to properly diagnose illnesses or to treat injuries. Many pet stores will urge bird owners to buy “over-the-counter” medicine for their birds. These treatments are almost always ineffective, and may actually make things worse by treating symptomatically and not the underlying illness. They can also interfere with medical testing, if it becomes necessary.
Other bird owners may go to the veterinarian they see for their dog or cat. Veterinarians generally do not have training in “exotic” animals like birds. Avian medicine is an “elective” in many veterinary schools, and as such, veterinary students may choose not to take it. Unscrupulous vets who have not taken these elective courses may still accept birds as patients. To top it off, cat and dog vets may not have the specialized equipment for testing and treating birds.
There is a group of veterinarians who specialize in birds. These are dedicated men and women who have spent their own time and money (lots of money!) getting additional training on avian medicine. Avian veterinarians are also current members of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (A.A.V.), where they can get regular updates on the most recent research in their field. Avian veterinarians will have specialized equipment used just for birds in their practice. The best ways to find an avian veterinarian in your area is by phoning or e-mailing the A.A.V., or by asking for recommendations at your dog or cat’s vet, the local parrot club, pet store, or any other pet-related venue. However, be sure to only ask the opinion of reputable sources- a good review from a bad source isn’t very helpful.
A good avian veterinarian:
- Knows what kind of bird you have, unless you have a very unusual species, and is aware of species differences.
- Weighs your bird at every visit with a gram scale, which is the most accurate measurement for birds
- Does a full physical exam including your bird’s eyes, nares, beak, keel, belly, wings, preen gland, vent, legs, feet, heart and lungs.
- Recommends all untested birds be tested for at least Chlamydiosis, polyoma, PBFD, Pacheco’s, as well as a complete blood count and a Gram Stain
- Takes the time to discuss your bird’s diet
- Encourages annual visits
- Respects your bird. This means that a good veterinarian tries to reduce your bird’s stress in every way possible, including proper restraint, conscientious handling etc.
- Respects you. This means that your vet should take the time to ensure you understand their instructions, any side effects, etc. This also means they should listen to your concerns and address them to the best of their ability.
- Should be able to admit when they don’t know the answer to a question, but then should know how to find the information they- or you- need.
- Is able to suggest a bird-experienced emergency contact or clinic, for when your bird gets into trouble when your vet is not available.
- Should show a willingness to continue learning and updating their knowledge. It is perfectly okay to ask your vet what percentage of their practice is birds, and how do they keep current on cutting edge research on avian medicine.
Don’t be afraid to ask your vet questions. Considering how long some birds can live, you are probably going to have a very long relationship with each other. To have a good relationship, you have to respect the vet you chose. They are highly trained professionals who have your bird’s best interests at heart, even if you don’t like that they have to say (“Ma’am, your budgie will have to go for $500 worth of testing”, for example). Avian vets can be difficult to find, and are often expensive, but they are a key ingredient for the ultimate health of your bird.