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Basic Bird Health Check

Education > Birds & Pocket Pets 15th April 2019

Keeping birds as pets is a popular hobby in Singapore. In recent years, more people have gravitated towards keeping smaller parrots as they can be excellent companions and are easier to keep in a flat or apartment without needing large cages.

Birds have an extremely high metabolic rate, and a high body surface area compared to body mass. This means they burn up food very fast in order to stay warm and keep their body functioning. Take them for a physical examination by a bird-savvy vet as soon as possible if you notice a much reduced appetite. Never leave it for 2 to 3 days – often that may be too late. A course of antibiotics and glucose solution can help to kickstart your bird's appetite.

Dr Gloria Lee, Mount Pleasant (Mandai), assesses the bird's body condition by feeling the keel bone – a long thin bone that protrudes at right angle from the chest wall (breast bone). In a skinny bird, the keel bone is prominent and the edge feels sharp.

For small birds, it is important to have a digital gram scale to monitor their weight regularly and ensure they are not losing or gaining weight too rapidly. Baby birds should be weighed daily to determine how much to feed them and to monitor whether they are gaining or losing weight.

Feathers can be considered the window to a bird’s health. Here we see black stress bars or stress lines on the feathers which indicates malnutrition or malabsorption of nutrients during the time of feather development.

Birds have very efficient cardiovascular systems to help them fly and maintain body temperature. They have larger hearts than mammals (relative to body size and mass) and a much faster heart rate. The heart and lungs are assessed by auscultation with a neonatal stethoscope.

A crop is a small muscular pouch located in the neck which allows the bird to store extra food. Birds with crop infection may regurgitate and lose appetite. Crop infections can be caused by bacteria and sometimes yeast, especially Candida species. Other crop problems that can occur include crop burns (feeding a formula that is too hot) and crop lacerations.

A healthy bird is active, vocal, bright-eyed with nicely preened feathers. A sick bird will usually fluff up its feathers and huddle listlessly in the cage. If you have rescued or acquired a new bird, isolate it to prevent exposing your flock to possible pests or diseases. The quarantine period also allows your new bird to get used to the environment and humans with less stress.