I have often seen it written that sick birds (unlike mammals) are adept at hiding the fact that they are ill. While this is occasionally true, it is more usually the case that those who care for birds miss the first signs which should alert them. Most of us need to improve our detective work, so that we can uncover symptoms of illness at a very early stage. Constant vigilance is necessary. All birds should be observed carefully twice daily, early morning and after noon or evening, because the progression of some illnesses is extremely rapid. Also, any accident such as injuries to toes and nails, birds trapped by rings, etc., can be dealt with quickly. A bird that has been trapped overnight is likely to die from shock, whereas one which is quickly released will suffer little ill effect. When checking your birds, there are three basic steps to take. First, carefully observe the bird itself. Second, look at its droppings, and third, check the food. An efficient observer can detect in a split second if there is something wrong with a bird with which he or she is familiar. Its eyes give an instant "read-out". If they are dull or slightly sunken, not shiny and bold, the bird is sick. Food adhering to the beak is another bad sign; healthy birds, unless very young, always clean their beaks. If you see a bird clinging to the wire mesh of its aviary, holding on by its beak, look again. This is usually an indication that it is weak. A healthy bird almost never clings to the wire with its beak for any length of time.

Signs of Illness
The posture--huddled, tail up or down; position of wings, drooped or elevated; position of feet and toes; the attitude of the head, thrown back or drooping forward; eyes and beak, open or closed. The respiratory rate and nature of breathing.

The degree of steadiness on the perch, teetering or slipping of the feet, rocking or loss of balance due to bodily weakness or affections of the nervous system. The state and colour of the plumage, ruffled or tattered, molting or faded. The appearance of the skin where it is visible. Any variation in the contour of the body, such as swellings or other deformities.

Signs of asymmetry, one wing drooped, a hanging leg, a patch of matted feathers suggestive of local injury.

A closer look is then desirable. This may reveal less obvious abnormalities. The bird can now be disturbed from its perch and encouraged to move in order to see if there is any unsteadiness of the legs, lameness, impaired or weakened flight, partial paralysis or in-coordination. In this way it is also possible to detect blindness (as shown by bumping into objects), limb damage, brain and spinal cord dysfunction, gout, arthritis and numerous other signs, as well as detecting respiratory distress and the degree of listlessness and ill health. Birds show signs of pain and discomfort to a much lesser extent than mammals. In this fact lies much of the difficulty in making a diagnosis. Early signs of illness are often very slight and the majority of diseased birds, other than those with external injuries, may be seriously ill before the owner has become aware of the situation. By then, appetite or digestion may be badly impaired and signs of illness follow rapidly upon the self-imposed starvation. The smaller the bird, the more severe the diseased condition can become before it is recognized.

Observations are also made of the bird's environment; the food and fluid intake, the output of waste material. A search of the cage may reveal clusters of feathers or smears of blood and indicate that some predator has attacked the bird. Scattered food or water containers may suggest the presence of an unwanted visitor and account for head or other self-inflicted wounds or sudden death. Patches of nibbled paint may account for illness due to poisoning, especially if the paint contained lead. Evidence of vomit may be an indication of regurgitation in the courtship display of budgerigars or it may be due to ingestion of moldy food or the result of some other digestive upset. The appearance of the droppings should be noted. They may be small and hard or copious and soft, contain watery or creamy white (urinary) fraction, or watery or semi-solid mucoid, grey, green or yellow (intestinal) fraction.

Alternatively, it may have a foot injury. Two very obvious signs of illness, with which everyone is familiar, are ruffled plumage, and a bird resting with its head tucked into the feathers of its back but on two feet instead of one. Sometimes very young birds rest on two feet, but a healthy adult seldom does so. By the time it has taken on this appearance, it is usually very sick and needs immediate warmth and treatment if it is to survive. Other more subtle warning signs may go undetected. For example, if one enters an aviary or passes close by it, and a bird takes longer than usual to fly away (assuming that it is not tame), look again. Also look with suspicion on any bird which has been attacked by others in the same aviary. Either it is unable to fly due to feather damage (in which case is should be housed on its own) or it is sick. A healthy bird is seldom the subject of an attack.

Unusual be haviour:
A good bird keeper knows his charges so well that he will be alerted by any aspect of be haviour that differs from the normal. Some birds, especially tame ones, seem to try to communicate the fact that they are ill. Parrots, such as Amazons, Lories and Macaws, will sometimes resort to juvenile begging behavior, moving the head slowly up and down and making food soliciting calls. Never ignore such obvious cries for help. The second method of detecting illness is to look at the faeces. It is impossible to say what is normal for a species, as this depends on how it is fed. The observant keeper will know what the faeces should look like in a particular bird--usually light or dark green with almost equal quantities of white (urine). Budgie dropping are usually black and white. Sometimes a change in the appearance of the faeces can be seen before the bird itself shows any indication of ill health. Fresh blood in the faeces, or dark brownish-black or reddish-black droppings, indicating that blood has been digested, could be a symptom of enteritis or septicaemia or of poisoning. The advice of a veterinarian should be sought immediately, as antibiotic treatment, usually by injection as this acts more rapidly, is necessary.

On no account try to treat a sick bird yourself with some antibiotic which you may have at hand. This may be useless or worse than useless, or prevent a veterinarian or biologist from achieving the correct result when a culture is made from the faeces. An antibiogram is made from the culture which indicates the correct antibiotic to use. In cases of urgency, a veterinarian will give a broad-spectrum antibiotic until the result of the antibiogram is known. If you see faeces which are entirely white and very liquid. Note that there are two basic reasons. One is that the bird has been temporarily stressed. I have often noticed such faeces in birds which have, for example have just been caught up. If nothing has stressed them, however, birds with liquid whitish faeces need treatment. They are losing a lot of urine and will become dehydrated. They need to be given fluid-electrolytes (such as Amynin made by Rhone Merieux, which also contains amino acids and Vitamin B complex) subcutaneously. So that this is not-absorbed rapidly, it is injected beneath the skin under the neck or a little below this area.

This should be carried out by a veterinarian or someone who is skilled at this. What else can you detect by looking at the faeces? They will often be the first indication that there is some thing wrong with the bird's digestive system. If faeces contain undigested seed or other food, this is the case. Catch the bird and examine it. If it is very thin, the problem is a chronic one, that is, is not of recent origin. Although the bird may appear to be eating well, the food is not being digested. The advice of a veterinarian must be sought and the bird should be offered foods which are easy to digest. However, they must also be foods which the bird will accept or it may simply stop eating. It may even be necessary to force-feed, i.e. placing a mixture of, for example, baby cereal and a high protein food for invalids, in the bird's crop using a syringe. Do not attempt to do this without previous experience or instruction from a vet or other qualified person.

Virus condition:
Undigested food in the faeces can be a symptom of proventriculus dilatation, a serious condition caused by a virus. Antibiotics will not cure it but they can prevent secondary bacterial infections. Partly digested food on the aviary floor could have been vomited. By carefully examining this, it is usually possible to detect from where it originates. In either case, the bird needs immediate attention. So when you look on the aviary floor, you should be looking for three things - the condition of the faeces and for the possible presence of vomit, or for blood which indicates an injury. The latter is usually from an injury to a toenail or from a damaged blood feather (one which is still growing). The last item to check is the food. If you do not feed the birds yourself, check that the food dish or dishes are present, in the correct position and contain the right food. If a food dish is, for some reason, placed on the floor instead of in an elevated position, some birds would starve to death rather than descend to floor level. During the second check of the day, note how much food has been eaten. The food dish may need replenishing or less food than normal may have gone. In abnormal weather conditions many birds will eat less than usual. Otherwise, reduced food consumption can be an indication of sickness. Good detective work is just the first stage in reducing losses due to illness. It has to be followed up by good treatment. This is where you must enlist the help of a veterinarian -- preferably an avian specialist.

Some other signs to look for:
Prolonged loss of feathers, bald spots, rough looking plumage ----> mites, nutritional deficiency (vitamins & minerals) or metabolic or hormonal disturbances.
Plucking of feathers ----> boredom, allergy, nutritional deficiency.
Whitish grey, crusty layer on upper bill, cere, around eyes, & legs ----> scaly face or Mycosis of the beak.
Squeaking or rattling noise when breathing, difficulty getting air, whipping tail, regurgitating food, tossing of the head ----> Infection of respiratory system with bacteria, viruses, or fungi (colds) crop inflammation, pneumonia, problem with thyroid gland or egg binding.
Diarrhoea, droppings mushy and/or watery, strongly discolored or mixed with blood ----> colds, nutritional deficiency, poisoning from spoiled food, nephritis (kidney disease) liver damage, tumours or infections.
Visible straining when passing stool, droppings hard, pale yellow or grey mixed with blood ----> constipation.
Straining in vain, shortness of breath, very large droppings, (almost liquid, often with blood) exhaustion ----> egg binding.
Yellowish to brownish scales under wings, base of tail, and inside of thighs, general ailing state and increased thirst ----> Eczema, caused by fungi or other pathogens, possible reaction to chemically treated food or environmental factors.

Here are a few basic things to look for in determining if your bird is healthy or not.
Posture (huddled), tail up or down, position of wings (drooped or elevated) position of feet & toes, head thrown back or drooping forward, eyes & beak (open or closed), respiratory rate and nature of breathing, degree of steadiness on perch (teetering or slipping of the feet, rocking or loss of balance due to bodily weakness or affections of the nervous system.
State and color of plumage (ruffled or tattered, moulting or faded), appearance of skin where visible, any variations in the contour of the body such as swellings or other deformities.
Signs of asymmetry, one wing drooped, a hanging leg, a patch of matted feathers suggestive of local injury.


E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca



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Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.