As with all pets, a nutritious diet and proper environmental conditions are the most important factors in maintaining the health of captive birds. When health concerns do arise, you should seek veterinary assistance. The following information will help you to identify, avoid and treat (while awaiting a veterinarian’s advice) commonly encountered bird ailments. It is a good idea to always have on hand a basic first aid kit, such as the VSI Pet Care Kit
Please remember that many bird-borne illnesses are transmittable to people, where they can cause severe or even fatal reactions. Consult your doctor concerning appropriate preventative steps, even if your bird is healthy. Emerging diseases, such as Avian Flu and West Nile Virus, should also be discussed.
A Word about Stress
After working with hundreds of bird species over several decades, I can say with certainty that stress is one of the most important underlying factors affecting the health of captive birds. This applies to a greater or lesser extent to different species and individual birds, but it is of concern to all.
Unfortunately, the problems caused by stress often manifest themselves in ways that seem unrelated to stress, and so we may wind up treating an illness but neglecting its underlying cause. For example, the fungus Aspergillus is common in nearly all environments and causes healthy birds no trouble at all. Years ago, however, bird keepers noticed that birds of many species became ill with Aspergillus infections (Aspergillosus) when moved from one cage to another. Samples taken in zoos showed that this occurred despite the fact that fungus levels were the same in both cages.
The explanation is that the transfer of a bird from its usual home to another is an extremely stressful event, especially for secretive species (i.e. birds of paradise in zoos, or certain finches in the pet trade) or shy individuals. The stress weakens the bird’s immune system, and pathogens that were otherwise destroyed by it now render the bird ill. So common is this phenomenon that many zoos now routinely medicate birds before moving them to new exhibits.
Immune system stress can arise from other factors as well – threatening cage mates, noise, poor diet, inappropriate temperatures, boredom and so on. Be sure to learn as much as you can about your pets, and provide them with the proper captive environment.
Red, swollen or closed eyes are indicative of an infection or traumatic injury. Please be aware that such is also seen in birds infected with Psittacosis, a serious disease that is transmittable to people.
Apply an ophthalmic ointment or drop (drops are often washed away by the eye’s secretions). Be sure to keep the cage bars and perches clean, as birds often rub sore eyes on these.
Check back on Wednesday for the conclusion of this article.