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Parrots - Health Care

Different species of parrots have different life spans, so depending on the type of parrot you own, a healthy bird may live anywhere from 10 to 50 years or longer. Without proper health care, however, a bird’s life can be cut short by easily preventable illnesses. By finding an experienced vet, taking your parrot in for regular checkups, and learning to recognize the signs of potential illness, you can make your bird much more likely to live a happy, healthy, and long life.

The Vet’s Office

Within three days of acquiring your parrot, you should take him to an avian veterinarian. An avian veterinarian specializes in the care and treatment of birds—a vet who doesn’t specialize in birds may not catch a subtle symptom of illness or may not perform all the proper tests when examining him.

You can find a vet in your area by contacting the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) or the American Federation of Aviculture (AFA). The store or breeder from whom you obtained your pet may also be able to recommend a good vet.

What to Look for in a Vet
When choosing a vet for your bird, pay a visit to the office of each prospective vet and determine whether you would be comfortable bringing your parrot there. Find out what the office hours are and how it handles medical emergencies. Talk to the staff members, who should be friendly and efficient.

Most importantly, speak to the vet herself. She should be willing to answer your questions and listen to your concerns about your pet—and of course, she should have plenty of experience with birds. (It’s a very good sign if she owns a bird!)

Regular Checkups
After bringing your bird in for his initial visit with the vet, take him back once a year (or more frequently if you’d like) for a “well-bird” checkup. These checkups will make sure that your bird is in good health, help you maintain a relationship with your vet, and also allow her to catch any signs of illness early, before they become more serious problems.

During the checkup, the vet will give your bird a physical examination and weigh him. She may then take cultures from his vent or mouth or take blood for testing. Ask your vet which tests she is running during the checkup and what they will indicate so that you can stay informed about your bird’s condition.

Signs of Illness in Parrots

Like most birds, parrots will often hide the fact that they’re sick until the effects of the illness are very advanced. (This is a natural instinct that protects birds in the wild—the healthier they appear, the less likely they are to be targeted by predators.) However, being able to recognize signs of illness in your bird is a crucial part of pet ownership because it can help you quickly get your bird the treatment he needs to recover.

The following are some general signs of illness common to parrots. If your bird exhibits any of them, contact your veterinarian.

  • change in behavior or attitude
  • change in color, odor, or consistency of droppings
  • change in quantity or quality of feathers (possibly as the result of self-mutilation)
  • dirt or debris around the face or 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 Parrot Health Issues

The following are some of the diseases and other health problems that parrots (and other birds) may develop. Keep in mind, however, that the illnesses parrots are more likely to contract can vary according to their species and that there are many other potential illnesses than those listed here.

Aspergillosis
This is a fungal infection that causes respiratory distress and can be fatal to your bird. An avian vet can diagnose the disease, but it’s difficult to treat and may require months of medication and treatment to cure. Signs of this illness include changes in your parrot’s breathing or vocalization; gasping; or wheezing.

As with most fungal infections, you can prevent or reduce the likelihood of aspergillosis by keeping your parrot’s environment clean and dry, which will stop the growth of mold that causes the illness.

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD)
This is an incurable, contagious (to other birds) disease that causes feather loss and beak lesions in its later stages. A vet can diagnose it through blood testing, but PBFD is fatal, and euthanasia is typically recommended after confirmation.

Psittacosis
Also known as chlamydiosis and parrot fever, this disease typically causes respiratory distress (although some birds can carry the illness without any symptoms) and can be transmitted to humans. Make sure that your vet tests your parrot for this disease, especially if someone with a weakened immune system, such as an elderly person or an infant, comes into contact with the bird.