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Dr. Pat
Dr. Pat, Avian Veterinarian
Category: Bird
Satisfied Customers: 4244
Experience:  25 years as avian-only veterinarian
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How can I tell if my bird is sick or Molting?

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How can I tell if my bird is sick or Molting?
Greetings, I am Dr. Pat. I have worked with birds for many years. I will do my best to help you.

If she is acting differently from her normal self, or radically different from the others, then she is ill. Molting is a huge drain on the little birds, they not only replace feather but the lining of the bones; the immune system and hormones are affected as well. So any underlying disease can become a huge problem with the molt.

These signs are not specific to any one disease. And that means it is not fair to you or the bird to guess, there are so many possibilities.You are going to need local help on this, and a scientific and solid diagnosis to find safe and effective treatment.

If you feel comfortable with it, examine the bird thoroughly, using gentle restraint via washcloth or hand towel: do not restrict the chest or hold around the body. Check the eyes, nostrils, mouth and beak if possible, having a good look in there for mucus, redness, masses or anything else unusual. Palpate the tummy for pain, fluid, lumps or anything else (eggs, if female or unknown). Check all the joints for swelling, pain, and mobility. The feathers should be parted to view the skin, muscles and skeleton below; this can be done using a q-tip with isopropyl alcohol or KY gel. Look for bruising, lacerations, injured feathers.

Your job is to keep the bird warm, safe, quiet, and confined; and to provide adequate hydration and calories.

Move the bird to an aquarium, box or carrier with soft towels in the bottom, no perch, and food and water in low bowls that can be reached easily. Put the whole thing on a heating pad on low or medium. Check it frequently, no overheating allowed! Keep the unit partially covered, warm and quiet. White paper towels or white cloth towels will show the true color of the droppings. Small animal/reptile boxes are great for this purpose. If you can find the Reptarium net cages, they work well for more ambulatory patients.

Here are some helpful links:
Emergency/Convalescent Housing

Veterinary info

Do not try to force food or water. Pedialyte or electrolyte replacer can help but many birds do not like them; when in doubt, plain warm water is best. They can hydrate from oral fluids almost as quickly as IV if the GI is functioning properly. You can offer warm cooked rice, pancakes, cornbread, grapes, melon, greens in addition to normal food.

Pet/feed store medications and home remedies are harmful, ineffective, immuno-suppressive, and make them much worse and may interfere with the veterinarian's diagnosis and treatment. Do not use them. Homeopathy and natureopathic techniques do not work in avians and can actually be very dangerous.

I know it is expensive, but you may not have many home options, because the first thing you need a vet for is to find out what is going on. Treatment is only as good as the diagnosis. If you call around, you may find a vet to work within your means.

You need to take your bird to see an avian-experienced veterinarian ASAP for complete examination, diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Check
for members of AAV in your area (there are many listings for Canada) or call your regular vet and see who they recommend; ask if they really have worked with birds a lot. Unfortunately, this list does not rate competency or experience, but is only a starting place; the vets at least take the avian medicine journal and hopefully see a bird or two a year. The best referrals are word-of-mouth, so check with several non-bird vets, the humane society, parrot rescue groups, bird clubs, etc. for their input. As you might guess there may be controversy and varying opinions even with this. Even board-certified avian specialists may not have a lot of practical bird experience. Unfortunately there are few resources available to refer you to really good, clinically-experienced bird vets.

If this were my patient, and money no object, I would start with complete fecal analysis and direct smear, for multiple parasites; direct smear with and without staining of the oral cavity; bacterial culture and sensitivity of the feces and choana. Depending on the case I might do a fungal culture. Routine blood work is necessary to rule out other issues. There are MANY DNA/RNA tests for bird diseases. Ultrasound is often more informative than radiographs and does not require anesthesia (ask your vet about this option). Generally I start them out on medications as indicated by the tests.

Your bird may need injectable fluids, calcium, antibiotics and many other medications. Act quickly and good luck.

Here are a few suggestions that I give everyone: important!

The following guidelines help with basic issues such as nutrition, obesity, good immune status. Surprising how the following can make a bird healthy, and how infrequently birds are ill if they are on the following regimen. No amount of medicine is going to work if the birds' basic needs are not met.

Basic Care

Birds should be on a high-quality, preferably prescription, pelleted diet: I prefer High-potency Harrison's



In addition, they should be offered dark leafy greens, cooked sweet potatoes, yams, squash, pumpkin; entire (tops and bottoms) fresh carrots and so forth. No seeds (and that means a mix, or millet, or sprays, etc. etc.) and only healthy, low-fat high fiber people food. A dietary change should be closely monitored and supervised by your avian vet.

Daily Maintenance

Birds should get 12-14 hours dark, quiet, uninterrupted sleep at night. Any less and they can suffer from sleep deprivation and associated illnesses. They should be covered or their cage placed in a dark room that is not used after they go to bed.

The cage material should be cleaned everyday, and twice a day if the bird is really messy. Paper towels, newspaper, bath towels are ok. Never use corn cob, sawdust, wood chips, or walnut shell.
Food and water dishes should be cleaned and changed daily. Keep one set cleaned while the other is in use.

Fresh, perishable food should be placed in separate food bowls. Remove fresh food from the cage after a couple of hours to avoid spoilage.

Change cage papers daily, and clean the grate and tray weekly.

Clean food debris or droppings from toys and perches as needed (which can be as often as once a day).

Grit is not necessary for birds, and will cause digestive problems and death. The best sources of minerals (and vitamins) are leafy greens. Never give grit, gravel sandpaper or cement perches. A bird will eat those to excess when it is not feeling well or if there is a nutritional deficiency. They do not need it at all (an old myth from the poultry days, even poultry do not need it). It can cause an impaction and lead to serious or fatal consequences.
Dr. Pat and other Bird Specialists are ready to help you
Hi Robin,

I'm just following up on our conversation about Jubejube. How is everything going?

Dr. Pat
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

She is still puffy. Her droppings are actually sticking to her bum opening. She has no balance. She can't fly if she does she can't grasp anything, she just hits it and falls. I gave her another warm bath tonight to help clean around her bum, and noticed it is bare, with 2 new feathers-I am assuming poking out. She is bare around her bum, also the back of her neck is bald. Her tail isn't like her sisters, it is sloppy I guess you could spread out. Her stomach is blacky purple next to her bum too. Also I have talked to my vet, they don't know anything about birds, or who to refer me too. We live in a very small town of 1000 people, the closest city is aXXXXXfrom here. I looked at the website you sent me but don't know how to tell which Avian Specialist is from a place near me.

See if your vet will consult by phone with the nearest teaching hospital or avian office. There are medications your vet can order that might help, but the bird needs an exam and to be weighed in order for prescription medication to be formulated. The list of drugs includes injections of calcium gluconate, lactulose, ciprofloxacin (or Zosyn, cefotaxime, ceftazidime injections), and possibly others.

Your regular vet certainly has the medical training to do a simple fecal smear to look for organisms, and the ability to send a poop sample to a lab--if they cannot then you need to find another vet who at least has the ability and compassion to do these very simple things: direct smear stained and unstained of the fececes: aerobic and anaerobic bacterial culture and sensitivity of feces; at least start on oral calcium prescription if no one is brave enough or skilled enough to do injections (very simple, I teach my clients how to do it, no idea why a vet cannot).

I cannot prescribe or suggest treatment without hands-on exam, for legal and ethical reasons, I'm sure you can understand. Where in Canada are you located?
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I am located in Carlyle, Saskatchewan. The site that you sent me had one avian vet from Calgary, Alberta, which is about a 10 hour drive from here. I will contact my vet tomorrow with your information, they will be willing to help, they've done amazing things for my dogs!

JubeJube seemed to be better again yesterday, and then last night was as huge as a tennis ball again. I also completely understand that you can't prescribe anything...I just want her to be comfortable until I can get her the help that she deserves! I don't want her to resent me, because I am trying.

You have her in a small box on heat? this will really help and she will not resent you.