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The Health Exam
Reprinted from Association of Avian Veterinarians, with editing, courtesy of Dr. D. Kersting DVM

Americans are accustomed to taking the family dog or cat to the Veterinarian for an annual check-up. It is even more important for a pet bird to have regular examinations, because birds tend to have very subtle symptoms of disease.


Isolation and quarantine of a new bird is the first and most important thing an owner should do. In order to protect other birds on the premises, it is advised that all newly acquired birds be maintained separately for a period of at least six weeks following purchase. Because many air-borne viruses may be spread from room to room by central air conditioning or heating systems, an off-premise location is preferred. Quarantine is essential for all new birds, even those that are believed to be "healthy".


The second most valuable step for a new bird owner is to establish a relationship with an avian veterinarian, preferably one who is a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians.


An examination of a newly acquired bird within the first three days after purchase is recommended in order to protect the investment of the owner, to uncover and prevent possible disease conditions, and to educate the owner about appropriate bird care.


Even if new bird checks out "normal", results of diagnostic tests in the initial patient record provide valuable references for subsequent examinations.


Components of the Exam:


  • History: 
    Your veterinarian is very interested in what you know about the background of your bird-its age, sex, origin, length of time in the household, diet, and caging. Even if the bird has been a household pet for a long time, the veterinarian should be advised of any contact, direct or indirect, with other birds. Examples of indirect contact would be the owner’s buying a bulk seed from open bins in a pet shop that houses birds, or visiting other aviaries, bird shows, or bird markets.


  • Physical Evaluation: 
    From an initial, critical observation of the bird in the cage, the veterinarian can determine general body conformation (obesity, tumors), posture, attitude and character of respiration. Although many internal problems may not be evident from a step-by-step, hands on examination, an experienced avian veterinarian will be able to note abnormalities in the feathers, skin, beak, eyes, ears, cere, nares, oral cavity, bones, muscles, abdomen and vent.


  • Weight: 
    Once a bird has become an adult, the weight should remain relatively constant. Checking the weight occasionally, especially at the annual examination, will give valuable information about your bird’s health. A bird’s weight should be measured in grams, not ounces, in order to detect small increments of change.


Testing Procedures:


Depending on the bird’s history, results of physical examination, species, age and general condition, your veterinarian may suggest some of the following diagnostic techniques that will assist in evaluating your bird’s health.


  • Appraisal of Droppings: The appearance of the dropping-volume, color and composition- may help the veterinarian generally assess the bird’s health and consider certain disease conditions. Most birds are nervous in the clinic, so their droppings may be abnormally loose there. A fecal sample may be examined microscopically to determine the presence of internal parasites.

  • Psittacosis Test: Several screening tests are available for the detection of psittacosis or parrot fever. This is important as part of the new bird exam or annual check-up because the causative agent, Chlamydia psittaci, may be transmitted from birds to humans.

  • Blood Test: A blood sample might be taken to determine the amount and distribution of blood cells. This information may suggest the possibility of certain diseases, and further tests may be indicated for conformation. A series of chemistry tests performed on the blood samples may point to imbalances in biochemical functions and suggest the possibility of organ dysfunction. Blood parasites may also be detected.

  • Microbiology: Your avian veterinarian may recommend a culture of the choana (throat), cloaca (vent), crop (esophagus), or some other tissue/fluid sample to determine abnormal growth of bacteria or yeast. At the same time, antibiotic sensitivity discs may be used to determine an appropriate an antibiotic to be used if the bacterial growth requires therapy.

  • Radiographs: X-rays may be used to assess the internal condition of your bird. The presence of old or new fractures, the size and relative relationship of internal organs, the presence of foreign bodies or soft tissue masses such as tumors, and the condition of lungs and air sacs are often evaluated with radiographs. The use of anesthesia may be necessary to produce quality X-rays.

  • Cytology: With the use of special stains, a veterinarian skilled in this procedure can evaluate smears of tissues or fluids to a assists in making a diagnosis.

  • Virus Screening: Some new tests are currently being developed to screen birds for certain viruses. The detection of viruses is especially important of aviary birds. Some viral agents do not express themselves as clinical disease until the bird is under stress, such as laying eggs, feeding young or at weaning.

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