My Life, With Birds (Volume 4)
How To Live With Birds With Special Needs
Everyone's heard those stories - the ones of owners loving their dogs so much they spend thousands and thousands of dollars to help save their dogs lives, the dog ends up barely squeaking by and loses its back legs, and they make little wheelchairs for them.
I have a special-needs bird.
Overall, it's really not that bad, but it happens a LOT to birds. You let them grow their flight feathers out, they get a wing chopped off by a ceiling fan. You think you locked them away in their cages, they get out, and lose a leg to a door you opened, not knowing they were there. You have a lot of birds in one cage and they start fighting, someone loses a toe.
Birds are amazingly resilient to all of these things.
Orsino only has one good foot. The other one had all the toes on it twisted up and barely useable to begin with, but one day, he was one of those birds that got out. I had him in the other room, thought he was secured in there, and started vacuuming. I stepped backwards.
It was the most horrible feeling in the world. I thought I'd killed him, because he actually passed out.
That bad foot and his tail have never quite been the same since. The vet said it looked like a pinched nerve but he couldn't be sure without tests he knew I couldn't afford - I had just started my grooming academy, I had no money after buying the kit, and he worked in the same building.
Orsino doesn't care, he hasn't missed a beat. He just knew I kept him in a box in the bedroom a few nights, and watched him, and took him to work (when I was grooming) in a travel cage one day, and doped up his water with something that made him feel really nice.
His left foot is now permanently twisted, the toes clumped together, and he just uses the stub of his ankle rather than his actual 'foot' area. Sometimes his tail seems to loll a little bit, but he can still use it well enough.
And he climbs up and down his cage bars almost as well as the other two birds - hasn't slowed him down one bit.
That's the good thing about birds - they are so resilient, they don't even think about it. It took him less than a week to realize "that foot's not grabbing" so he uses his beak more, and learned to use the 'stub' part, and how to lay his motionless toes the right way over something to provide him with the balance he needs.
A Caution if You Find a Stray Bird!
Remember how I said Orsino was found on the street? He's had what I call (I haven't had any medical confirmation on this, mind you) a weak immune system - he gets sick fast, and easily. Not the right temperature in the house, he sits in front of the fan because he likes the breeze, whatever the case may be, we try to take care of him as best we can, but sometimes there are factors we can't always control.
I think I took him to the vet about four or five times the first year we lived in Missouri. He'd get sick easily, throw up - not that kind of "I love you" regurgitation that some birds do when they want to show affection, but violent projectile vomiting - and I'd freak out. A round of over-the-counter bird antibiotics from the local pet store would sometimes work, but not always.
It took the vet about a year to figure out what it may or may not have been - and Orsino hasn't thrown up since he got treated for it "just in case".
Giardia is a bacterial parasite that can effect all animals, not just birds, but humans as well. It's an intestinal parasite, usually acquired by drinking dirty water or food, often somewhere with residue of feces.
So, at some point during his life on the streets of Inglewood, California, Orsino picked up a parasite.
Once the vet gave him an antiparasitic, he hasn't thrown up since, he's eaten better, and looks a lot better.
If you find a stray bird and can't find an owner for it, so you decide to keep it, get it checked out by the vet immediately, tell the vet the story of how you found it, and ask about treatments for parasites. Be careful changing any tray liners or parts of the cage where bird droppings may have touched, and wash your hands religiously after handling both bird and cage before you stick them in your mouth, until you know your bird is parasite-free.
Birdie First Aid and Care
- Styptic Powder or All-Purpose Flour. Mixed with water, they form a paste, and help coagulate blood when you've trimmed a nail too far back or they've broken a wing feather.
- Tweezers - If they break a wing feather and it won't stop bleeding with Styptic or Flour paste, you'll need to pull it from the root and styptic/flour paste it at the source. A sturdy, small pair of tweezers should do the job for small or medium sized birds.
- Over-The-Counter Antibiotics for Birds. In your pet store's bird aisle, they will probably have something like Ornacyn-Plus or Ornacycline - this is Tetracycline for birds, similar to the human antibiotic. It helps with respiratory infections, intestinal problems, and bacterial issues in general. Consult your vet before using, of course. Also, I highly recommend the powder - I know there are a few brands of liquid bird antibiotics, but between what my vet said and what I saw from Orsino, they don't work as well - in fact, the vet said it usually makes birds throw up more because it's rougher on their systems.
You can't always prevent your bird from getting sick, but doing as much as you can is in both your best interest and the bird's. Birds can be expensive pets, and like I always tell people, they are an ongoing investment - protect your investments!
A few things to keep in mind and keep around the house to keep your bird in good condition are:
- Keeping the cage clean. Most websites will tell you to change the paper every day and do a full cleaning every week. I'm going to be honest, I don't usually get to do all of that. But don't let piles accumulate, for crying out loud. If your bird has a favorite perch, which he/she probably will, a cone of feces can pile up pretty quickly. Clean it up before it gets to the cone stage. It's better for the bird, and prevents airborn bacteria for you, too.
- Balanced Diet. Contrary to what my vet says, I don't think my birds need pellets. I'm sorry - I'm into whole food when I can get it, I think my birds should get whole foods as well (in fact, right now they eat better than I do...). I have an independantly owned local bird store I buy a personalized seed mix from - with it I get a bag of dried fruit and vegetable mix, which I sprinkle over their food to make sure they're getting more nutrients than what only comes from the seed mix - your birds might like fresh fruit and vegetables. Orsino does not...except for broccoli. Go ahead and feed them human food as a treat when you can - whole grain pastas, beans, vegetables, fresh fruit, and even meats can be very nutritious for both you and your birds (make sure to stay away from dairy products, onions, shallots, and do NOT under ANY circumstances ever let your bird get a hold of chocolate!). Supposedly a pellet diet will provide your bird with all the nutrition they need, but to me, that's like eating "fortified" white bread - it's processed, so the processing takes good stuff out, and they they need to add good stuff back in, but it's not naturally occuring stuff, so it doesn't work as well. Some people will probably disagree with me, but to each their own. That store I go to also has a bean mix to cook up for the birds as a treat. Don't be afraid of smaller stores, they have some good things in them, just because it's a big chain doesn't mean they sell the most nutritious things for your animals (I used to work in a multi-national chain pet store, trust me - beneful is the worst food you can feed your dog and we had it up front on sale all the time...)
- Vitamins. There are a variety of birdy vitamins and additives out there that you can put in their food and water to help them if you don't think their diet is giving them enough nutrition. I started out with vitamins going in Orsino's water. They do help, I just don't have the energy to scrub the dish out every day because otherwise they sour and he won't drink it. So I put the fruit and veg mix in his food dish and he eats it along with his seeds, and his feathers are healthy and shiny. All of my birds get that, in fact, not just the 'tiel, and the vet complimented me on how good my lovebird looked last time I took her in for a check-up.
- Temperature. When I lived in California, this wasn't really an issue. But in Missouri, when it gets to negative temperatures a couple times a winter? Yeah. 99.9% of your pet birds will come from tropical climates - Cockatiels are native to Australia, Lovebirds to Africa, Conures to South and Central America. You may be comfortable at fifty degrees in winter, but your bird needs it at least seventy, preferably seventy-five.
- Exercise. Let your birds roam! Okay, maybe not completely free, but let them move around outside their cage - preferably supervised. If not, you have to bird-proof your house, which is a topic for another day. That could take five hubs to go over completely. Think about it, birds in the wild are constantly flapping around, going from one tree to another. Your bird stuck in its cage all day every day? Not compatible. Whenever I'm home, my birds have free roam of the livingroom. They're happier and healthier that way...and especially in Dori's case, it lets her burn off energy, because Lovebirds have ADHD and can't hold still for five seconds.
- Interaction. Interacting with your birds is important. It's good for mental health, and it will prevent a lot of accidents on both sides - being bitten by a bird, or accidentally mishandling a bird, can be a bad thing all around.
- Regular Maintenance. Your car needs oil changes, your bird needs toenail clipping, wing clipping, and beak checks. Cracks in the beak can be a serious problem especially - give your bird a cuttle bone and she'll naturally keep her beak trim and fit while playing with it. Toenail clipping is a must - remember in Volume One where I said Nino's toes were turned to the side? That's because nobody clipped his toenails when he was little, they got too long, and it started misshaping the actual bones in his feet. Wing clipping is a controversial subject for some - some people say birds were meant to fly free. I have ceiling fans and stuff that can kill them if they get into it in the rooms I keep the birds from going into. Wing clipping SAVES LIVES. I was a member on a bird forum for a little while, I can't tell you how many frantic bird keepers would post there in a panic saying their vet was closed and their bird lost a wing in the ceiling fan or got something stuck in thier beaks because they flew around and got into something before they could find them! Just do it!! Clip the first five or six feathers UNEAVENLY about 2/3 of the way to 1/2 of the way out from the wing bones, and you will prevent lift. Be careful of new feathers and don't go too low on the outside two feathers - both new feathers and the outside ones are considered blood feathers - they still have a vein in them and clipping them too far down will cause your bird a lot of distress, not to mention freak you out when they're bleeding everywhere. If you're scared, have a vet do it and show you how. There is also a theory out there that wing clipping will make your birds depend on you more and thusly more friendly to you, and I say...it depends on the bird. Orsino got more bitey the one time I let his wings grow out, and stopped as soon as I clipped them back again. Dori...is...Dori... no matter what.