By Dr. Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice)
In veterinary school, most students receive very little training in the field of bird care. Therefore, most new graduate veterinarians are ill-equipped to care for this unique species. To truly understand how to provide medical and surgical treatment to birds, veterinarians must complete, at minimum, a one-year internship +/- a two-year residency in bird and exotic animal medicine and surgery. Veterinarians seeking advanced training in birds may specialize in avian animal care by completing 3 to 6 years of advanced training beyond veterinary school, and once they have completed this training, specialists must recertify their specialty degree every 10 years. Any veterinarian theoretically may treat any bird, as long as that type is legal to own, and many general veterinarians have made efforts to teach themselves about birds; however, unless they have advanced postgraduate training, veterinarians cannot call themselves bird specialists. The Association of Avian Veterinarians has a “Find a Vet’ function on its website where bird owners can locate veterinarians in their area who are trained in the care of birds.
Ask the right questions
Once you find a veterinarian with advanced training in bird care, you may want to ask them a few questions to be sure they are right for you and your pet. For example:
· How many birds they treat in a week to get an idea of their experience level
· What their degree of comfort is performing bird surgery
· What happens to birds that need overnight hospitalization
· What happens if a bird has an after-hours emergency; Most local 24-hour veterinary emergency clinics do not care for birds, so your veterinarian will have to have an alternate plan set up for bird emergencies, so you don’t get stranded
· Does their animal hospital use a send-out laboratory that routinely works with bird samples; Not all veterinary laboratories are set up to work with the small sample sizes and the unique features of bird blood and other tissue samples
· Does your veterinarian collaborate with other board-certified veterinary specialists (such as a surgeon, cardiologist, dermatologist, ophthalmologist or oncologist); Having access to the knowledge of these other specialists enables your veterinarian to provide the most current therapy for your pet.
When to visit your veterinarian
All birds, just like dogs, cats and people, should have an annual check-up to help prevent illness from occurring and to catch it early if it already has. Geriatric animals, or some species that live only a few years (such as certain small birds), should be examined by a veterinarian twice a year, as one year is a very large percentage of their lifespan. In addition, all birds should be thoroughly examined by a bird-savvy veterinarian as soon as they are purchased or adopted to ensure they are healthy and address any medical problems before they become serious.
In addition to health exams, birds should be seen by a veterinarian if there are any changes to their appetite, energy level or behavior. Unlike cats and dogs that can go several days without a meal, many birds have very fast metabolisms and cannot go more than a day without eating. In addition, most birds innately hide signs of illness, so that they don’t get attacked by predators in the wild. Pet birds typically do the same thing; thus, by the time a bird owner notices that their animal is sick, the pet has likely been sick for a while already and can no longer hide it. That’s why it’s critical for bird owners to monitor their animals carefully at home for any signs of change and have them checked out by a veterinarian immediately if they notice anything out of the ordinary.