When Should I Take My Parrot to the Vet?

Ron Hines DVM PhD

To learn what the ten most common parrot health hazards are, go here

If my feathers don’t look this good eating a papaya, go  here and here

   Wildlife Rehabilitation Guidelines

Pet birds should be examined by an avian veterinarian whenever their behavior or personalities change for the worse.

Why Is That?

It is because most problems in pet birds can only be solved when they are caught and corrected early. Most problems presented to a me late in a disease or health issue cannot be solved or corrected. It is not necessary that the veterinarian you choose treats birds exclusively. But it is necessary that he/she has specialized post-graduate experience with birds or is himself/herself an experienced aviculturalist.

Most birds that we keep as pets are basically wild creatures or retain many of their wild traits. Wild things need to disguise or mask early signs of disease so that they will not be eaten by predators. So just because your pet appears healthy to you is not a guarantee that problems are not brewing. Eighty-five percent of the health issues I see in pet birds relate to how they are fed and housed. The infirmities of old age, accidents and infectious disease account for the rest – in that order. 

What Are Some Of The Warning Signs That I Should Look For?

Weight Loss

Change In Dropping Color Or Consistency

Discharges From the Eyes, Squinting Or Swelling

Discharge Or Change In The Shape Or Diameter Of Your Parrot’s Nostrils (nares)

Ruffled Feathers


Lack Of Appetite Or Weight Loss

Less Activity In A Normally Active Bird

Carrying Its Wing(s) Drooped Below Its Body

Blood Anywhere In The Parrot’s Cage Or On Its Body

Open Mouth Breathing And Tail Bobbing (rhythmically going up and down)

Lumps Anywhere On The Parrot’s Body

Swollen Feet And/or Joints

Decrease In Your Parrots Grooming And Preening Activities

Decreased Talking, Calling and Singing

Sitting Apathetic Or Motionless On The floor Of Its Cage

Falling from Its Perch Or Limping Or Perching Or Favoring One Leg

Stress Bars Like These On Its Feathers:

Taking Your Pet To Your Veterinarian:

When you bring your pet bird to a veterinarian, the vet will begin by taking a detailed history from you. He/she will wish to know where the bird was obtained. Imported birds have different diseases than those domestically bred. The vet will ask you detailed question about the bird’s diet. Birds on seed-based diets have a much higher incidence of nutritionally-based disease than those fed a pelleted diet. The vet will then examine the birds cage; perhaps while the technician weighs the bird. Birds of a single species tend to have very uniform weights. The cause of thinness or increased body weight should be explored. The technician will then prepare the bird’s stool for microscopic examination. Intestinal parasites, such as Giardia can cause weight loss, loose stools and feather picking. Next the veterinarian will examine the birds cage looking for evidence of abnormal stools, abnormal urine (the clear liquid portion of the stool) or toxic products within the birds grasp. The vet will check to see if perches are appropriate for your pet.

Unless the bird is exceptionally ill, the veterinarian will grasp and examine it. The vet will examine the eyes for evidence of intraoccular abnormalities infection or degenerative disease. He/She will examine the nares or nostrils and the surrounding cere for evidence of infection or vitamin deficiencies. The vet will listen with a stethoscope for the sounds of raspy respiration or fluid within the respiratory tree. He will examine the plumage carefully to look for evidence of external parasites, stress related feather abnormalities (stress bars), over grooming or viral plumage disease (PBFD). The vent or cloaca will be examined for signs of chronic diarrhea, papillomas or cloacal irritation. The vet will palpate the bird for evidence of superficial tumors and examine the abdominal area for evidence of increased intraabdominal pressure due to conditions such as egg-yolk peritonitis, liver enlargement or intraabdominal tumors.

Laboratory Tests That Might Be Indicated:

Because birds are such experts at masking the signs of disease, a yearly examination may also include laboratory testing of a sample of the bird’s blood. The cellular portion of the blood is examined to determine the number and nature of white cells present. Increased white cell count can be evidence of stress or infectious disease. Decreased number of red cells called anemia can be evidence of blood loss, metal toxicity or malnutrition. The liquid portion of the blood (serum) will be examined for evidence of liver, kidney, pancreatic or intestinal disease. The dark, granular portion of the stool represents the feces. It will be examined under a microscope for proper digestion and visible parasites. A slide is then prepared from this material or a cotton swab of the cloaca and stained with Gram Stain to determine the type of bacteria living in the bird’s intestine. The clear liquid portion of the stool represents the urine. This can be examined for clarity, specific gravity, and the presence of sugar (diabetes), protein or blood.

When any of the previous tests suggest the presence of a disease, other tests are available to specifically diagnose them. These diseases include bacterial Infection, viral Infection, hypothyroidism, diabetes, Chlamydiosis, Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease, papillomatosis, and tumors.

Most veterinarians do not see enough avian patients in their practice to be fully aware of all the conditions and treatment options that are available. That is why you need to search out a veterinarian with a specific interest in birds and avian medicine. One can not be good at everything.

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