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When Your Bird's Sick and You Don't Know It

By: Dr. Don Harris

Read By: Pet Lovers
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A young couple acquires a juvenile umbrella cockatoo from a local breeder. A few weeks later the bird acts sluggish, doesn't want to eat and starts vomiting. A visit to a veterinarian reveals an advanced yeast infection – but with appropriate medical care the bird recovers. The breeder says it isn't his problem.

A father surprises his three young children with a cockatiel from the local pet supermarket. A month later two of the children come down with "the flu" and the bird isn't looking so good either. As the kids' illness worsens, their pediatrician becomes suspicious and ultimately discovers that the family is suffering from Psittacosis – parrot fever – brought in by the cockatiel. All recover after several weeks, but not before the family has called in a pediatrician, and spent about $600 on medical care for the bird alone.

A widowed, middle-aged nurse purchases a lovebird that immediately becomes a dear companion. Several months later she notices that the bird's feathers are looking ragged. She takes him to a veterinarian who diagnoses Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD). Three months later the bird dies.

Birds can be one of the most trouble-free of all pets, but when problems occur, they can be quite serious. Since a bird may look – and seem – fine for several weeks or months after it contracts a disease, even a conscientious dealer or breeder can miss signs of illness.

What's a Purchaser To Do?

The simple answer is to make sure you take your bird for a post-purchase exam – right away.

No one argues that a new puppy needs its "puppy check-up" and shots. Anyone with cats and dogs accepts that annual visits to the vet are a normal part of caring for the animal. Why then are people so surprised when the same thing is suggested for birds and other exotic pets?

The simple fact is that checkups – especially post-purchase – are more important for birds than for any other pet. Because birds have not been domesticated like dogs and cats, they behave according to basic instinct. Instinct dictates that even if you're sick, you act well or you get eaten by the first predator that recognizes your infirmity. So, a frightened young bird in a noisy pet shop will do her best to behave perfectly. Only after she becomes comfortable in her new home will she begin to lower her guard and reveal that she really doesn't feel all that well.

Some diseases, such as Psittacosis and PBFD, can be latent and may not cause problems for weeks to months after the initial infection. Veterinary diagnostics are aimed at detecting either subtle physiologic evidence of disease or the presence of disease-causing organisms. A tremendous diversity of tests are available that veterinarians can use to determine whether or not a patient is at risk. Different tests are used in different situations, and it's important for your veterinarian to have the experience to know which is which. An inexperienced veterinarian may fail to perform appropriate tests or he may perform those that are inappropriate.

Competent veterinary evaluation of recently acquired pet birds can all but eliminate the occurrence of situations like those described earlier. The diagnostic tools available to veterinarians are highly effective in determining the true health of exotic pets. The simple act of having a new pet checked greatly diminishes the chance of an eventual distressing experience. Regular veterinary exams help assure the good health of avian patients and aid in the discovery and correction of small problems before they become serious.

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