Caring for Sick Fids

Practice Now for Less Stress Later

By Lori Scott Pikkaart
For humans, winter time is flu season. When we’re sick, we know enough to hunker down in bed with medicines, hot liquids and a box of tissues. But what are we to do when our feathered kids get sick? I recently had to take care of a sick parrot who was never sick a day in her life—until she was. In the process, I learned a few practical things that I wished we had been better prepared for and wanted to share those with you.

Find a vet who’s an AAV member and exotic specialist and possibly try out
different practices for well visits

1. Weight – Since birds are Houdinis at hiding their illnesses, the best way to gauge for illness is weight loss. It’s not a bad idea to invest in a digital scale with a perch and to train your bird to stand on it for weighing. I suspect my bird had been losing weight over a series of weeks, and I would have caught her illness sooner if I had been weighing her regularly. When you take your bird in to an avian certified vet for a well visit, remember and record his or her healthy weight to use as a reference.

2. Choose a Veterinarian Wisely – I took my bird to two different vet practices during her illness. I learned that, even though the first, more local, vet was a member of the Association of Avian Vets (, she did not specialize in exotics and her care was not as aggressive as we needed. The second vet was an hour away, but she provided specialized exotic care beyond my wildest expectations. The services my bird received and my peace of mind were well-worth the drive and hassle. Find a vet who’s an AAV member and exotic specialist and possibly try out different practices for well visits – if you’re lucky enough to have more than one choice.

3. Warmth – Your vet will tell you to keep your bird warm. The less energy the bird’s body has to spend keeping warm, the more it can focus on getting better. It is ideal to use one of those K&H Pet Products bird warmers. An electric perch is nice too, though it’s better if a sick bird doesn’t have to use energy to perch. In a pinch you can fill up an old tube sock with rice, tie a knot in the top and microwave it until it’s a comfortable warmth for your bird to snuggle up next to. While your bird is healthy, train your bird to get used to these warming items so that they are not avoided or frightening to your bird for when you really need them. I had to cover our rice sock with a towel because my bird was afraid of it.

4. Small Quarters – Your vet will also tell you to keep your bird calm and quiet. You’ll need to have a small travel cage or box handy for your bird to rest in, preferably without any perches, placing a soft towel on the bottom. Train your bird to get used to sleeping in the travel cage or box so that it’s not stressful or confusing for your bird when he or she really needs to sleep in it. Repeat once a month or so to remind your bird that it’s okay to sleep in these small quarters. It’s also a great idea to train your bird to travel in this cage, so that trips to the vet or other places are less stressful.

5. Medicines – After a vet visit, you may come home with tiny vials and rubber syringes for administering medicine. My bird and I had to learn how to receive and administer medicine. In hindsight, it might have been a good idea to practice every now and then with something my bird liked, like yogurt or a vegetable smoothie. Also, the medicine I gave her caused her beak to peel, so it’s a good idea to wipe off your bird’s beak with a damp, warm paper towel after administering medication.
Hopefully, you won’t have to do it very often, as caring for a sick bird can be very stressful. But by taking little steps in advance to prepare your bird—and yourself—it will help sick-bird care go much more smoothly!