Chapter 25 Overview of the Bird as a Patient
There are more than 9000 different species of birds and many of them make excellent pets for people who live in urban environments. Of these species, the most common groups kept as pets include the psittacines (hook-beaked parrots) and the passerines (canaries and finches). As birds have become more popular, the number treated in veterinary clinics has increased. For this reason, technicians must become familiar with the husbandry requirements, handling, and diseases of these pets.
It has been estimated that approximately 90% of all medical problems in birds are the result of poor husbandry. It is the responsibility of the veterinary staff to provide guidance to clients who wish to acquire a pet bird and to provide support to those clients who already own one.
Most pet bird owners know little about the housing and nutritional requirements of their new bird. Pet stores often do little in the way of counseling or educating new owners, and many birds are acquired as “impulse” purchases, with no thought of how that animal will be maintained during its adult life span (which can be quite long in some species). It is important that technicians who work in practices that treat avian patients have a working knowledge of these requirements.
Pet birds live in confined environments (usually a cage). The size of cage should be determined by the size of the bird, not by the cost of the cage. A bird should be able to spread its wings without touching the cage walls, and its tail should not drag the floor or hit the sides of the cage.
Because birds are social creatures, the cage should be placed in an area where interaction with the owner is possible; however, certain rooms should be avoided—especially the kitchen. The cage should be in an area away from air conditioning and heating vents and out of direct sunlight. Birds are quite hardy and will readily adapt to temperatures common in homes.
Cages may be constructed of metal, Plexiglas, or a suitable wire mesh. Cage materials include everything from bamboo to decorative wood and Plexiglas. The material used in the cage must be suitable for the size and strength of the bird, or else the cage will be destroyed by the natural tendency of the animal to chew. The construction and design must be simple and provide a safe environment for the bird, whether they are outside the cage or inside.
Perches should be of sufficient size and should not be covered with sandpaper because this can lead to foot trauma and infection. Newspaper is the best substrate for the bottom of the cage (unprinted newspaper can be purchased from many sources). Wood shavings, cat litter, or other particulate substrates may hide excreta and hold excess moisture, making it difficult for the owner to see changes that may result with disease or dietary changes.
Cages should be cleaned and bedding changed at least daily. Other items such as mite protectors and grit are unnecessary. Owners should bring the bird to the clinic in its own cage whenever possible; the cage can provide important clues to the environment in which the pet lives.