Wednesday, May 7, 2008

For the Birds

I am not an exotic animal specialist, but I do see a fair amount of birds, reptiles, hamsters and guinea pigs. I have to. The other emergency clinics in Middle Tennessee won't touch a dieing exotic pet with a ten foot pole. I feel that I have some obligation to at least try to stabilize the patient until someone who knows what they are doing can fix the problem. That's not to say that I don't know what I'm doing. I pull blood feathers on birds, I've taken foreign bodies out of ferrets and I've treated hamsters with mites. But I do understand the other emergency clinics concern about treating these pets.

For starters, people who have never taken these pets to a veterinarian before demand a specialist at 3am. And in the age of litigation, I understand the that veterinarians are afraid they are going to do more harm than good and end up in a legal battle for their license just for trying to help. At my place we tell people when they call that I don't do exotics regularly, but I'm willing to try. If they want an expert they should keep calling around, I'm not their man.

With birds, most of the time there isn't much I can do. I know that people always say that "this just started today", but most of the time it didn't. Birds are very good at hiding illness so by the time you notice something is wrong, it's very late in the process. that's not to say that they can't be saved, but they need a bird doctor, not your dog and horse vet who took a weekend continuing education seminar on "Basic Bird Care". So, here is a list of things that I see on emergency that should have been addressed long before I got my hands on the case:

1) Lethargy for any more than 1 day. A bird that is not moving is food for some other animal. If they already are lethargic, they are in trouble.

2) Burns. Birds fly into frying pans, or try to perch on hair irons and they need their feet to live. Plus, all the Neosporin in the world isn't going to pain that bird is in.

3) Loss of appetite for more than 1 day. They have a very high metabolic rate and eat all the time.

4) Sitting on to bottom of the cage. There a reason he's there and watching him for a day or two isn't going to alter that reason.

5) Blood anywhere. They don't have much of a blood volume and small amounts of blood loss can be lethal.

Which leads me to my last piece of advice: find a veterinarian that deals with birds as soon as you get a bird. Most veterinarians who deal with exotics have an emergency plan for established clients. (and I don't blame them for turning away non-established clients. Who wants to get up at 3 am to hear, "I only paid $5 for this bird, why should I pay you $70 for an exam!" and then get stiffed?)

Like with the rest of life, a little bit of preparation may prevent a whole lot of heartache.

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