First-Aid for Birds

bird first aid - VetMed

Pet birds are known for hiding for signs of illness and injury. In the wild, any animal that shows these signs of weakness makes them more likely to be targeted by predators. Unfortunately, even as pets, birds tend to hide their symptoms. This therefore makes it difficult for bird owners to spot the first signs of an injury or illness.

In this two-part article, we’re looking at some important first-aid supplies, and the basics of first-aid for birds.

First-aid supplies

  • VetMed Wound and Skin Care Spray should be used to clean wounds, flush wounds, and clean eyes. VetMed Wound and Skin Care Spray is a powerful antimicrobial that helps disinfect wounds, and is safe for eyes and ear canals. Furthermore, it is non-toxic and safe if accidentally ingested. 
  • Clean gauze and gauze pads to help stem bleeding. Always be sure to use sterile, nonstick gauze and gauze pads. 
  • Safety scissors to trim broken feathers that no longer have an active blood supply, to cut tape and bandages, 
  • Tweezers or hemostat to remove dirt, debris, and splinters from wounds. You can also use tweezers or hemostats to untangle strings or threads that have been caught around the bird’s feet or legs.
  • Styptic gel or powder that can be applied to minor wounds. It should not be used for serious injuries; rather consult an expert in the case of deep wounds. 
  • Cotton balls or cotton swabs to help stem bleeding, and to clean feathers and skin. Likewise, you can also use it to clean beaks from substances like food debris in young birds. 
  • A towel or cloth that you can use to restrain your pet bird. Washcloths are the right size for most smaller birds like cockatiels, parakeets and small conures. However, larger towels will be necessary for birds like macaws and cockatoos. 
  • Hot water bottle or heating pad and towels to keep your pet bird warm if it is suffering from shock or stress.

Remember to check your first-aid kit regularly to ensure that it stays well-stocked, and that none of the items have expired. Ask your avian expert about any other recommended supplies for your kit. 

Important steps to remember: 

1. Stop bleeding 

If you see any signs of active bleeding, place clean gauze over the wound and apply pressure to it for about 5 minutes. It is important that you do not hamper the bird’s breathing while applying pressure. Remove the gauze after 5 minutes. Check whether you have stemmed the blood flow. 

2. Treat for shock 

Birds go into shock very easily. You should therefore treat them immediately if they show the following symptoms: 

  • Weak or lethargic
  • Unresponsive 
  • Closed eyes
  • Fluffed up feathers
  • Change in breathing 

Keeping your pet bird warm is vital to treating shock. Place them in a quiet area away from bright light, and keep the temperature between 24°C and 30°C. The easiest way to manage this is to place a heating pad or hot water bottle wrapped in a towel near your bird. It is important that the heat from the hot water bottle or heated pad not be too high. It should be just warm enough for your skin to remain comfortably in contact with the pad or water bottle.  

Most importantly, if your bird has not recovered from its shock within 4 to 6 hours, contact an avian expert. Do not attempt to force the bird to eat or drink while it is in shock. 

3. Examine your bird

Once your pet has recovered from its shock, give it a visual once-over and look at its posture, breathing, feathers, eyes, and head. 

Signs of illness or injury: 

Eyes: Both eyes should be open. Birds with partially closed eyes may be suffering from an injury, stress, or illness. Pupils should be the same size, as pupils of differing sizes may point to head trauma.  

Breathing: It should be difficult for you to detect your bird’s breathing. Obvious, labored breathing points towards stress or a possible respiratory issue.

Posture: Drooping wings and limping are two obvious signs that your pet bird needs to be checked by a veterinarian. You should also be on the lookout for a nodding or drooping head, and constant sitting or inability to stand, as this may point towards leg or spine problems.

Feathers: Fluffed feathers may indicate that your bird is feeling unwell, while matted or missing feather point towards an injury.  

You should also conduct a physical examination of your pet to check for injuries, abrasions, signs of bleeding, or any physical discomfort. Likewise, be sure to check for missing or matted feathers, prominence of bones, for fractures of the leg, and for wing dislocation.

There are a number of minor injuries that you can treat at home. Remember to first treat for any signs of shock and stress, and prevent any further injury. It is always helpful to have a stocked first-aid kit on hand to assist with minor wounds as you consult with your veterinarian. You can learn more about treating specific bird-related injuries on our blog