The following instructions refer to emergency treatment to be given at home, prior to hospitalization. Veterinary attention should be sought as soon as possible to determine the cause of illness and treatment options.
If it is a wild bird, please contact your local wildlife rehabilitation centre. This is especially important for hummingbird or other nectar-feeding chicks that require specialized care. Sick birds need supportive treatment, such as warmth and fluids. You also need to watch the bird carefully because if it stops eating and drinking then force-feeding may be necessary.
Optimal Set-up for a Sick Bird:
First of all, the cage needs to be kept meticulously clean -- this is especially important when it houses a sick bird that cannot deal with germs as well as a healthy one might.
Warmth is critical. Your bird's environment should be kept at about 90 degrees. A hospital cage would be great, as it would keep the temperature at the level you want. But most people don't have that available and an acrylic bird carrier or fish tank available at pet stores can potentially be substituted. If you use one of those, you have to monitor the temperature quite carefully. This being said, putting a sick bird into a new environment may be stressful. Maybe placing the cage into a small room that can easily be heated (small bathroom, for example) might do. Drape a heavy cover on one of the sides, but make sure that the bird doesn't "sit in the dark" -- except at night. Potential heat sources can be a heating pad underneath the cage, hot bottles or heat lamps. Of course, the heat lamps shouldn't be used at night, as your pet needs to rest. Maybe a combination of heating pad at night and a heat lamp during the day might be an option. Do whatever works best for you.
Look out for dehydration (symptoms and protocol below).
Make sure that all food and water dishes are within easy reach.
Reduce stress as much as possible. This may mean minimizing handling and removing other birds from the cage. It is vital that the sick bird gets at least 12 hours of undisturbed rest per day.
Keep any perches low to reduce injury from falling.
The Healing Power of Natural Sunlight: It is very common for birds to have a vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency that can lead to myriad health problems.
Providing a sick bird with beneficial rays can lifts its mood and potentially remedies any deficiency that could have contributed to its health problems...
The most common health problems associated with vitamin D deficiency are: weakened immune systems / susceptibility to diseases, soft bones, bent keels, splayed legs, abnormal beak development, reproductive problems (egg binding, soft-shell eggs, dying chicks) as well as seizures and, to a lesser extend, Stargazing (twisted back) ... In sick birds, the light exposure helps in remeding any immediate need for vitamin D, as well as boosting the mood of a sick bird -- another important healing factor.
In areas where access to natural sunlight is limited (such as in the northern hemisphere during the winter months), full-spectrum lamps can be used to provide UVA and UVB rays.
Potentially discuss supplementation with your vet. Supplementation needs to be carefully screen ed and supervised by a vet since an excess of vitamin D (in the form of a supplement) causes kidney damage and retards growth.
Emergency Nutrition for Sick Birds / Avoid Dehydration:
Birds suffering from dehydration may have crinkly skin around theirs eyes. Another way to diagnose dehydration is to pinch their skin for a second (which is possible in chicks or birds with unfeathered areas on their bodies). Dehydrated skin will remain tented for several seconds, rather than bouncing right back.
The ill bird has low blood and energy levels that must be restored rapidly.
Fresh, clean water should be available at all times. Adding a little honey to the water may encouraging drinking; however, the water needs to be changed frequently as bacteria grows easily in sweetened water.
Commercial electrolyte replacement fluids will also help prevent dehydration - the biggest risk a sick bird faces.
To remedy dehydration use commercial electrolyte fluids, such as Pedialyte; or mix one pint of water, one pint of Gatorade, 1 teaspoon of honey or Karo syrup, 1 level teaspoon of aluminum-free baking soda, 1 level teaspoon table salt. Caution: Measure with care; inaccurate measurements can cause severe diarrhea. Orange or cherry juice helps in hydrating your bird.
Force-feeding is necessary when the energy levels drop so low that the bird does not eat or drink and is in danger of dying. You may try getting fluids into the sick birds using a dropper. Crop needling is recommended for those who are confident with the crop needle technique. This procedure is technically difficult and should not be undertaken by those who are inexperienced, as it is potentially fatal if done incorrectly.
The ill bird requires warmth (about 30-35 degrees Celsius / 86 - 95 degrees Fahrenheit). Use a thermometer to monitor the cage temperature. Especially birds with cold feet need to be in a heated environment. Options are:
· Hot water bottle
· Bar heater
· A heating pad set on low placed beneath (not in) the cage. Make sure to place a towel or Blanket on top of the pad as a physical barrier to any metal of the cage.
· An incandescent light bulk can also be installed overhead to provide extra warmth (avoid white bulbs because the bright light will interfere with the patient's sleep. It's best to use a 40 to 60-watt green bulb as a source of heat.
· Heating Options
· A towel, blanket or cage cover can be used to provide additional seclusion and to keep the warmth inside the cage. Keep the cage covered three-fourth during the daytime and cover the cage completely at night.
Do not use fan heaters or lights.
Give sterile seed and remove all other foodstuffs.
Poor quality feed has been cited as the most common cause of illness in pet birds. At the first sign of illness remove all other foodstuffs from the cage, including seed, millet sprays, grit or sand, fruit or vegetables. Grit and minerals are removed until recovery is complete because the ill bird will over-engorge on grit and become ill with an obstruction problem.
If possible give the appropriate medicines by mouth.
Finches, canaries, doves and some parrots drink enough water to ensure that they get the correct medicine dose each day, but other small birds - especially sick cockatiels or budgies may not drink enough of the medicated water to be fully effective. For this reason some medicines are best given by injection, crop needle, nostril or by dropper in the mouth.
Source: Avian Web