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Pet Connection: If bird looks sick, it's likely serious

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 7D

A sick bird too often means a dead bird. That's because by the time their illness is noticed, birds are usually very ill indeed, and sometimes too far gone to be helped even by the best veterinarian.

Birds hide their illnesses, and that makes sense for wild birds. If you look sick in the wild, you'll attract the attention of a predator and will soon be someone's lunch. If you're lucky, you'll get better without your illness ever being spotted.

That's a good strategy for survival in the wild, but it doesn't work as well for pet birds. That's why some birds who seem fine one day are found dead the next. They were likely ill for a long time, but had managed to hide the symptoms.

The best way to catch an illness before your bird gets too sick to be helped is to have your pet see a veterinarian regularly. Your bird will be better off with a board-certified avian specialist, if there's one available in your area, or with a veterinarian who is comfortable treating birds and who keeps up with the latest available health information on these pets.

An avian veterinarian will go over your bird carefully, and will ask you questions meant to reveal any problems in your bird's health or behavior and in how you care for your pet. The veterinarian may suggest a couple of basic diagnostic tests. The idea is to correct any current problems and change anything that could become a risk in the long term, such as an improper diet.

If you suspect your bird is sick, call your veterinarian. Remember that a bird who appears ill may be in mortal danger, even if he seemed fine just the day before. Never try to treat your bird yourself. You may be misreading the symptoms and making matters worse.

It's sometimes difficult to judge what needs immediate attention and what can wait until tomorrow. Here are some guidelines in determining how best to respond to your bird's illness:

Life-threatening emergencies: These need to be dealt with immediately by a veterinarian. They include bites or deep cuts, bleeding that can't be stopped, burns, poisoning, difficulty breathing, collapse, blood in droppings, or straining to defecate or pass an egg. In these situations, you can't get help fast enough. If it's after hours and your regular avian veterinarian cannot be reached, you'll need to visit an emergency clinic. Not all of these treat birds, so take time now to explore your options so you'll know where to go in an emergency.

Urgent situations: Problems that should be seen by a veterinarian within a few hours of your noticing them include eye injuries, or a lack of interest in eating, especially if your bird also seems "puffed up."

Sudden swellings also demand relatively fast care, as do broken bones and diarrhea. Direct contact with dog or cat saliva, regardless of whether or not the skin was broken, is also an urgent matter – your bird will likely need to be started on antibiotics right away.

See your veterinarian: Everything else falls into the not-so-urgent category, but even then, don't get complacent. If there's a problem, your pet should see his veterinarian the next day. And if any of the more urgent symptoms pop up, get help sooner.

No matter what, bear in mind that a wait-and-see attitude is not appropriate for a sick bird. When in doubt, you should at the very least call your veterinarian. Your bird's life may well depend on your prompt attention.

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