Veterinary management of the small avian patient (Proceedings)


Veterinary management of the small avian patient (Proceedings)

Nov 01, 2010

Providing veterinary care to small avian patients can be a tremendous challenge. Basic procedures we take for granted in larger patients can be all but impossible to accomplish in these diminutive, and sometimes quite fragile, animals. The challenge is to minimize the negative impact on the bird, and maximize the amount of information you can get from diagnostic testing. By paying attention to just a few points, the veterinary clinician can drastically improve their ability to work with birds that fall into this size category.


The person handling the bird is charged with making sure the bird is securely and safely restrained as well as monitoring the animal's condition. There are many techniques for handling birds and none are necessarily better than others as long as the bird can freely breathe and enough of its body is exposed for an adequate examination. The author prefers to hold the bird while performing an exam, as too many fingers in the way can make examination difficult. A good handler will continuously monitor the bird's condition and should be comfortable stopping a procedure if the bird seems to be weakening losing consciousness. If either of these situations occur, it is usually best to abort the procedure and immediately get the bird out of hand into a dark, secure, preferably oxygenated container. Most small birds that "fade" while being held will recover quickly if released, but it's important to watch and be prepared to employ emergency measures if the recovery does not occur within a few seconds.

If a bird happens to escape prior to or during an examination and exerts itself significantly during recapture, it is usually best to allow the bird to rest and recover prior to putting it through the rigors of an exam. By allowing just 10-15 minutes of rest in a secure environment, many undue complications can be avoided.


The examination starts before the bird is in hand. It is important to gain as much information as possible before catching the bird. It is worthwhile to try to be as unobtrusive as possible when observing the bird in its exhibit, cage, carrier, etc. Direct staring for long periods of time can be incredibly stressful for the target of the attention. As silly as it may sound, it is best to use your peripheral vision to observe captive birds prior to capture.

The longer a bird is in hand, the higher the probability of complications. A complete examination, including venipuncture should never take more than 5 minutes if the clinician is well-prepared. All of the items that may be needed during the exam should be laid out ahead of time and the exam performed in a logical, step-wise fashion. Basic tools the author commonly uses during examination of a tiny bird include a neonatal stethoscope (though placing the bird's breast against your ear works well in a pinch), an ophthalmoscope and transilluminator, and wooden-handled cotton-tipped applicators.

In our practice we work with such a large number of very small birds, we carry a small bird emergency kit with us whenever we are working with avian patients. It consists of a tackle-box filled with emergency drugs, small needles and syringes, bandaging materials, silver nitrate, endotracheal tubes, a few basic surgical instruments, etc. The box is fitted with adaptors so in an emergency it can quickly be dumped out, hooked to an oxygen tank and turned into an oxygen tank. In the few instances we have needed to use it, the setup has performed quite well.