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Like all pets, it is important to take your bird for its first veterinary examination as soon as you possibly can. The first examination gives your vet an opportunity to establish a baseline for the bird's health and to identify any potential health issues, particularly diseases it may pass on to other birds or humans.
At the first vet visit, your bird will undergo some extra testing, such as a complete blood count, to make sure all its health indicators are normal. In addition to a physical examination, the vet will likely conduct a fecal parasite check to make sure your bird has no intestinal parasites; an examination of urine and feces to be sure there are no indications of gastrointestinal or renal health problems; gram stains to detect any gram-negative bacteria and yeast, a common cause of bird illness that is treatable; a complete blood count to ensure healthy blood levels and verify the absence of blood parasites; Chlamydia testing, to assess if your bird is a carrier of three common infectious diseases — psittacosis, ornithosis and parrot fever — which can spread to other birds and to people and is also treatable; and psittacine beak and feather disease, a virus that can affect birds at any stage of their lives, affects many organ systems and usually reduces the bird's life span.
Be prepared for every visit to your vet by assembling information about the daily care you give your bird, descriptions of the bird's environment and normal behaviors, a list of any changes in behavior that may concern you and how you expect to handle grooming issues such as feather, nail and beak trimming.
Common Health Problems
Birds can sneeze, cough, get sinus infections and acquire a number of different illnesses over a lifetime. However, by far the greatest risk to a bird's life is accident and human error. A good diet, lots of exercise and socialization and regular vet visits can help keep your bird healthy. More significantly, you need to ensure that the bird's environments are always safe.
To prevent hazards that put your bird at risk, make sure you are aware of these leading risks:
- Dehydration, frequently caused by a blocked water bottle or failure to provide fresh water more than once a day.
- Toxic fumes from household cleaning and disinfectant products, aerosol sprays, perfumed products, appliances that heat up and nonstick cooking equipment. Keep your bird out of the kitchen and bathrooms where the risks are greatest. Remove your bird from any area where you use a chemical agent, such as paint, carpet fresheners, air fresheners or scented candles. Don't let any fluids other than water touch your bird's body. Cigarettes, cigars and pipe smoke can irritate and damage your bird's eyes, skin and respiratory systems. Even secondhand smoke can lead to bacterial infections, depression and regurgitation. Keep smoke out of any room which your bird uses. Also be sure to use soap and water to clean the bird cage. When you do disinfect the cage, make sure all cleaning agents are removed thoroughly so that they will not be ingested by your bird.
- Accidents that occur when birds are out of their cages. Birds are small enough that sometimes people don't see them. They don't often survive being stepped on, having doors or windows closed on them, being squished beneath a heavy object, getting caught in a vacuum or being electrocuted from chewing through cords. Also be sure to turn off any ceiling fans in rooms where birds are allowed to fly freely.
- Other pets, even other birds, can be life threatening when left unsupervised with your bird. Just don't do it.
- Toxic foods or plants can pose additional risks to your bird. Make sure you learn about which indoor and outdoor plants are safe for your bird and which can be fatal if ingested. Some foods that should never be fed to birds include chocolate, caffeine beverages (including coffee, tea and soda), avocados and raw onions.
- Hand-feeding errors when weaning baby birds. Some people believe hand-feeding babies helps form a bond with birds. However, there are so many ways to do it wrong that this technique often leads to death. Baby birds are highly sensitive to temperature in the air, their food and their liquids. Temperatures too hot or too cold can cause severe health hazards. Birds do not need to be hand fed, so you are better off avoiding this approach.
- Excessive heat or cold, in the house, your car or even outdoors on a hot or cool day. Be sure to place the cage where it is not in direct sunlight all day and don't put it directly in the line of a draft or vent. Keep the room heated in the winter and cooled in the summer. On particularly hot days, splash or spray some water on your bird to help keep the air humid and their temperature comfortable. If you take your bird outdoors, make sure it has a shady place in which to move.
- Unnecessary exposure to other birds and some human anatomy. Many bird diseases are airborne. By limiting your bird's exposure to other birds outside your family, you can prevent the spread of diseases. Also, never let your bird's beak come into contact with a human mouth, teeth or tongue. Human mouths carry bacteria and fungi that can be dangerous to a bird's health.
A zoonotic disease is one that originates with an animal but can spread to humans. Birds are susceptible to bacteria and viruses, which is why it is recommended that new birds always be quarantined from other birds and pets when you first bring them home. Regular vet visits allow you to keep on top of your bird's health and make sure your bird isn't carrying any contagious diseases. Chlamydia testing can assure you that your bird is not a carrier of three bird diseases that can spread between birds and from birds to people. With regular checks and a controlled environment, you should be able to prevent your bird from acquiring any other zoonotic diseases.