Basic parrot husbandry & veterinary care
Birds are one of the most common pets, but their care can be quite different from other animals. Different birds are suited to different skill levels and lifestyles, so if you are looking to acquire your first bird we are happy to give you advice!
- Birds are very routine oriented animals, so keeping them on a consistent schedule can aid with training and keeping them happy and healthy.
- The cage itself should be large enough that the bird has space to walk around, fly from side to side, and have multiple levels of perches. The bars of the cage should not be so large that the bird can escape or get their head stuck.
- Perches should be large enough that the feet come ⅔ of the way around the perch. A variety of perches including concrete and natural wood are the best. Straight dowel perches are bad for the feet because they are too smooth and cause pressure sores. With proper perches, birds should require minimal nail trims.
- Small fabric huts for sleeping in should be avoided, as they encourage nesting behavior, are bad for the feet, and are dangerous if the parrot ingests the bedding.
- Always feel free to bring a small cage into the clinic, or take a photo of your larger cage at home.
- Although bird seed is widely available, a seed-only diet is like a person eating only fast food. A balanced diet consists of 50% pellets and 50% vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seed treats. Recommended pellet brands include Vetafarm, Harrison’s, and Zupreem.
- Dangerous foods include avocado, chocolate, caffeine and dairy products. Do not feed birds these things!
- Birds forage for their food in the wild, and providing foraging can help stimulate them mentally. Commercial foraging toys are available, but you can make one at home with something as simple as some seeds and nuts rolled into a newspaper.
- To convert a seed-eating bird to a pelleted diet, seek advice from your avian veterinarian.
Activity & training
- Only use positive reinforcement when training a bird, negative reinforcement such as blowing air on it or squirting it with water will only serve to ruin your relationship with your bird.
- Saying no or yelling at a bird is a type of positive reinforcement! If a bird bites you, the best thing to do is to look away and to try not to react at all. When the bird is behaving well, give it treats and praise.
- Target training is a very good technique and can be used to train a bird; everything from step up to taking medicine from a syringe.
- Converting a bird to a pelleted diet can also be helpful for training, since you can now use the seed as a reward.
- Try not to allow birds to sit on your shoulder. Although you may trust the bird, it may bite you if startled or scared.
- Non-stick cookware —Teflon has been implicated in cases of sudden death in birds. It is advised that owners switch to alternative cookware, or keep their pet birds far from the kitchen in a well-ventilated area.
- Household plants — Some plants can be dangerous for birds to consume. Native trees and flowers are usually okay in Australia, but always check before introducing a new plant to a bird.
What to expect from an avian veterinary visit
- A full physical exam
- Baseline bloodwork — because there are thousands of species of birds, laboratory reference ranges are not always accurate for an individual bird. Thus it is important to establish an individual reference range while the bird is healthy so you can compare it if the bird is ever sick.
- DNA sexing — some species can be sexed visually, however others cannot. DNA sexing is important because male and female birds have different reproductive diseases.
- Faecal testing — an examination of a bird’s droppings can give your vet clues as to their overall health
- Crop flush —This is indicated in birds with enlarged crops, or a history of regurgitation or vomiting.
- If your bird is exhibiting strange behaviors at home, take a video! Sometimes when they arrive at the clinic they will try to hide that they are sick.
Common parrot problems
- Chlamydiosis — Many of the common pet parrots, such as budgies and cockatiels, can harbor Chlamydia psittaci without showing any symptoms. This is a zoonotic disease that causes respiratory signs in birds and people. If a member of the bird’s household is immunosuppressed, young, or elderly, or if the bird is showing upper respiratory signs such as wet feathers above the nares, quarantine the bird and ask your vet for a chlamydiosis test.
- Reproductive issues — Chronic egg laying can be an issue in some female birds. While birds are not surgically desexed like your dog or cat, there are alternative treatments for birds with reproductive problems.
- Behavioral problems — feather plucking and self-mutilation are common problems in parrots. Very focal areas of feather plucking can raise suspicion of an underlying disease, however feather plucking may become habitual. If you are struggling with a plucking bird, seek advice from your avian vet.
- Vitamin deficiency — Birds that eat seed-only diets are often deficient in may vitamins and minerals. Switching to a commercial pelleted diet can help prevent issues related to these deficiencies.