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Bird Health

Bird Care sheet for Ourimbah Veterinary Hospital by Veronica Gibb-Cumming

Caring For Your Pet Bird

Birds are increasingly becoming a popular alternative to dogs and cats as pets in Australia, and around the world. Parrots are highly intelligent and make good pets if properly cared for. Other common species such as canaries and finches can also make good pets, and do not require as much space and time as some larger parrots do.

Remember when obtaining a pet bird, that your new pet may require just as much attention as a cat or dog, even though they do not necessarily require the same amount of space. Many parrot species live for many years, and will often out live cats and dogs. Some species such as the Sulfur Crested Cockatoo can even out live their owners, with some birds living for over 80 years!

Housing for birds A cage to call home

“The bigger the better” is the motto for deciding what size cage to house your bird in. Birds need plenty of space to stretch their wings in order to remain strong and healthy. Remember that longer cages are better than high cages in terms of usable space, as birds, as the saying goes, “are not helicopters”!

The cage should be made of stainless steel, powder-coated, or constructed from the newer BHP polymer covered wire. Heavy metal poisoning is not uncommon in birds and can be caused by exposure to lead, copper and zinc, so ensure that the cage and toys you purchase for your bird are free from these toxic metals.

Perches made from natural branches of bird safe plants such as eucalyptus or citrus are recommended, as your pet can exercise its feet on the varying widths, as well as satisfy the need to chew on fresh branches. Replace your bird’s perches often so to provide fresh chewing material on a regular basis. Traditional dowel type perches are OK but should not be the only perches available to your bird.

Toys are also an important part of your bird’s home, as they relieve boredom and can help stop the development of problem behaviours such as feather picking. There are lots of toys now available for pet birds in most pet stores, but simple cheap toys can be made from items such as pinecones, toilet rolls, and gumnuts. Even putting fresh eucalyptus branches in your bird’s cage can provide hours of entertainment.

Cleanliness - the key to a healthy pet

Often birds get sick because their cage, water and feed bowls are not cleaned regularly. Keeping your pet bird’s cage clean and neat can help reduce the risk of parasites, as well as bacterial, viral and fungal infections.

Water and feed bowls should be thoroughly washed and rinsed well in hot water at least once a week, more often if your bird likes to make a ‘soup’ by dropping food into the water bowls. Old food and dirty water are great places for bacteria and fungi to grow, and pose a serious risk to the health of your bird. Regular cleaning reduces this risk.

The base of the cage can be lined with newspaper that can be removed and replaced with clean paper everyday. By changing the paper everyday, you reduce the risk of disease transmission and thus help your pet bird stay healthy.

As for washing the cage, your bird’s behavior may dictate how often the cage needs a thorough washing. For instance, lorikeets can be very messy with their food and naturally have ‘squirty’ droppings, and therefore may require their cage to be washed more than once a week. A seed eating canary or finch on the other hand may only require the cage to be washed once a month. Fruit eaters, such as Eclectus and Conures, are also very messy, as they like to fling their fruit about when they eat.

Use your good judgment when deciding to wash your bird’s cage, and clean it before it gets too dirty. Hibitane (c) is one such disinfectant sufficient to remove most harmful bacteria, but it should be rinsed off well before replacing your bird in its cage. There are various other cleaners available from your local pet supplier to clean your bird’s cage as well, just be sure to choose one that is safe for birds. Also, remember that lots of bits of fruit and droppings can stop a disinfectant from working properly, so rinsing the cage off first is a good idea.

Feeding

Feeding your pet bird a healthy balanced diet improves their health and wellbeing. Their feather texture and colour will be at its best if your bird is provided with optimal nutrition, and you will be well on your way to avoiding disease by tailoring your bird’s diet to its requirements.

Parrots

Despite popular belief, parrots should not be kept on an all seed diet. Sunflower seeds especially, should only be fed in very small amounts, as sunflower seeds are like potato chips or cake for birds! High fat diets with lots of sunflower seeds can cause fatty liver disease, and drastically reduce the life of your pet.

Feeding your bird lots of fresh vegetables and fruit such as pear, apple, grapes, red capsicum, carrot, broccoli, beans, corn on the cob, oranges, and cooked sweet potato, along with a small amount of seed is a great diet for your pet. Parrot pellets are now available in Australia, and are also a suitable alternative to the seed component of your pet bird’s diet.

Lorikeets

Lorikeets have special needs when it comes to diet. They have evolved to use nectar as their main source of food. Next time your lorikeet sticks out its tongue, have a look at the end of it. It has a brush like appearance and is designed to soak up nectar!

You can buy special lorikeet food from your local pet supplier. Lorikeets will also enjoy fresh bottlebrush and fruit and vegetables as described for other parrots.

Small seedeaters (canaries, finches)

Small seedeaters such as canaries and finches are designed to eat seed, but pellets are also available if you prefer. Make sure you choose a good quality seed free from dust and weevils. These birds also often enjoy fresh seeded grasses, but make sure you collect them away from areas where they may have been exposed to toxic sprays or fumes from passing cars.

Things to never, ever fed birds!

Never feed your pet bird chocolate, highly salted foods such as pizza or potato chips, avocado, or mushrooms. These foods can kill your pet bird!

Control of external and internal parasites

Birds, just like our other pet cats and dogs, can experience infestations of various parasites at one time or another. Therefore, it is a good idea to regularly treat your pet bird for parasites such as mites and worms. Ask one of our veterinarians for a product suitable to treat your bird.

Mites

Mites can be a big problem in both indoor and outdoor kept birds, especially during the summer months. They cause significant discomfort to your bird, and can ruin the appearance of the feathers. Treat your bird every six to twelve weeks for mites with a spray designed for the treatment of mites.

Worms

Your pet bird can get worms too, just like pet dogs and cats! By keeping your pet bird’s cage clean you can decrease the risk of worms, but regular worming treatments are highly recommended. A product that can be dispensed in the water is usually the most convenient. Treat your bird for worms every three to six months depending upon your bird’s lifestyle. An outdoor pet bird that lives with lots of other birds and is exposed to wild birds will require worming every three months. A single indoor bird however, will probably only require worming every six months.

What to do if your bird gets sick

Because birds are vulnerable to predators when they get sick, they will usually try to hide any illness that they may have. A bird is usually very sick before it shows any sign of illness at all. Therefore, if your bird shows signs of being ill you should treat it as being very serious and get your bird seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Signs that your bird is sick include:
  • A fluffed up appearance
  • A decrease or increase in vocalization
  • Disinterest in food and normal activities
  • Runny droppings or droppings that appear to be different from normal
  • Bird spends more time on the floor of the cage instead of the perch
  • Vomiting
  • Bleeding
  • Open mouthed breathing, sneezing, gasping for air
  • Tail bobbing
If your bird does get sick, keep your bird in a quiet, warm environment and arrange an appointment with one of our veterinarians. Don’t clean your bird’s cage of droppings or vomit if present, as observing the droppings and vomit under the microscope may aid us in treating your bird. Remove any toys or swinging items from the cage before transporting your bird, so to avoid injury whilst traveling. Remove water too, as this can spill during transport and dilute the droppings that we may need to diagnose your pet’s illness. Keep your bird’s cage covered during transport, and avoid causing undue stress by excessive handling.