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Canaries/Finches - Health Care

Like all pets, birds such as canaries and finches are complex creatures who need good preventive veterinary care, as well as care when they are ill or have experienced an injury. It’s a good pet owner’s responsibility to observe her pet’s daily routine and condition, look for any signs of change or illness, and seek help from an avian veterinarian when necessary.

The Vet’s Office

Within three days of when you first purchase your bird, you should take him to an avian vet. This first visit is crucial for a number of different reasons:

  • Some shops provide a health guarantee with their birds, and early testing to see if your pet was ill upon purchase allows you some recourse against the shop.
  • The vet will be one of the most important people in your bird’s life, and establishing a relationship with her early on will allow her to get to know your bird and be better able to evaluate his condition in the future.
  • A vet can provide useful recommendations on how to care for your bird, including diet and housing advice.
  • Some bird illnesses are zoonotic (transferrable to humans), so you should make sure that your bird is healthy before bringing him into your home, especially if you share it with an infant, elderly person, or someone with a compromised immune system.
    You can find a vet in your area by contacting the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) or the American Federation of Aviculture (AFA). You can also check to see if there is a local bird club in your area, and ask it to recommend a good vet. (The store or breeder from whom you obtained your bird may also be able to recommend one.)

What to Look for in a Vet
The vet you choose for your bird should specialize in avian medicine and ideally should regularly treat the kind of bird you own (or should own one herself). She should be friendly and willing to answer your questions and should spend enough time with you during a visit that you can voice your concerns.

The prospective vet’s office should make you feel comfortable bringing your bird there. It should be clean and smell fresh, and the office personnel should be friendly and helpful. Find out what the office hours are and how the staff handles medical emergencies.

After your bird’s initial vet visit, take him back once a year or more for a “well-bird” checkup. These checkups ensure that your bird is healthy, help you maintain a good relationship with the doctor, and also make it more likely that she will catch an illness early, before it grows into a serious problem.

The veterinarian will give your bird a physical examination and weigh him. She may take cultures from his vent or mouth or perform a blood test. (Ask your vet which tests she is performing and what they are for so that you can stay informed about your bird’s condition.)

Signs of Illness

A healthy bird is typically active, vocal (especially a songbird such as a canary), and keeps his feathers in good condition. A change in appearance, behavior, or temperament is often indicative of an illness.

The ability to quickly spot signs of illness in your bird is a crucial part of pet ownership, as it allows you to get veterinary treatment before an illness can progress—making your pet more likely to recover.

The following are some general signs of illness common to birds. If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.

  • change in behavior/attitude
  • change in droppings’ color, odor, or consistency
  • change in quantity or quality of feathers (possibly as the result of self-mutilation)
  • dirt or debris around the face/feathers
  • discharge from the eyes, nose, or vent
  • fluffiness (if the feathers are fluffy, the bird is trying to keep heat close to the skin and is having trouble regulating his temperature)<
  • lameness (inability to walk or hold up the head)
  • loss of appetite
  • panting or otherwise labored breathing
  • sleeping too much

Common Health Issues

The following are some of the diseases and other health problems that canaries, finches, and other birds may develop.

This is a fungal infection caused by a type of mold that causes respiratory distress and eventually death if not treated quickly. Any changes in your bird’s breathing or vocalization; gasping; or wheezing can indicate this infection. An avian vet can diagnose aspergillosis, but it’s difficult to treat, and it may take months of medication and treatment to cure.

As with most fungal infections, you can prevent aspergillosis by keeping your bird’s environment clean and dry, which will prevent the growth of mold.

This is an infection of the bottom of the foot that is associated with poor nutrition, lack of activity, and obesity in birds. The skin on the bottom of the foot may be inflamed and red and may become scabby, resulting in lameness. You can prevent this condition in your pet by providing perches with an uneven, bumpy texture and disinfecting the perches on a regular basis.

Air sac mites are common in finches and canaries. These parasites infest a bird’s airway and cause a clicking sound when he breathes, eventually cutting off his air supply altogether. If your bird is laboring to breathe, breathing with his beak open, or you hear clicking when he breathes, contact your vet immediately.

Scaly-face mites, or Knemidokoptes, are fairly common in young canaries and older birds with compromised immune systems. These mites cause a crusty appearance on the face and legs (more common on the legs and feet in canaries) and can result in an overgrown beak. A veterinarian can easily treat this condition.

Red mites are common in canaries, especially those kept outdoors. These mites consume blood and can substantially weaken their host. You can find these mites engorged with blood inside the cage early in the morning. Contact your vet about how to treat red mites.