September 1998 Magazine
If your bird appears to be "under the weather", I would strongly advise your taking it to an avian veterinarian instead of "playing doctor" and trying an over-the-counter medication. Birds are unlike other animals in that they hide their signs of illness until they can no longer do so. It is a form of self preservation. In the wild, they are preyed upon by many animals. So a bird that appears ill will be quickly noticed by a predator.
By the time a bird's illness has become apparent to us, it has probably been declining for a period of time. Quick diagnosis and treatment can be critical. Owners are often shocked when they are shown that their bird is very thin, having lost body weight. Feathers - especially when fluffed - are very good at camouflaging weight loss.
If a bird is sneezing or has a nasal discharge, an owner may think the bird has a cold. Unfortunately, birds don't get colds - but they do get chlamydia (Pscittacosis), sinus infections and possible allergies.
Loose droppings are often thought to be diarrhea - but are usually a symptom of excessive water consumption. This could be the result of diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, or some other systemic illness.
Giving a sick bird antibiotics is wasting valuable time. The owner has no idea what the problem is. Is it viral? Bacterial? Fungal? Systemic? Antibiotics only work on bacteria. Further, some antibiotics are only effective against certain bacteria. So giving them, when the cause of a disease is not known, may not only be a waste, but can lose valuable time in saving a sick bird's life. Unfortunately there is no "magic bullet" that will treat all diseases.
Putting medication in the drinking water may be ineffective. Many sick birds are not eating or drinking - so may not ingest the antibiotic anyway. The antibiotics designed to be put in water are often not the most effective ones to use, even if a bacterial infection is present.
Over-the-counter antibiotics that are sold at pet stores are often not approved by the FDA and are manufactured by unknown standards of quality. So you are not assured of the potency of what you are giving.
Low doses of an antibiotic will contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance. Should your bird need this antibiotic in the future, it may have become ineffective.
In addition, giving the antibiotics may interfere with the veterinarian's diagnostic tests, further compounding the problem. Important symptoms may be masked and vital treatment may be delayed as a result.
We all want what is best for our birds. If your bird is ill, give him the best chance for survival and take him to a veterinarian.
Winged Wisdom Note: Dr. Linda Pesek graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. She has a small animal and avian practice in New York. Linda also writes columns for The Long Island Parrot Society and The Big Apple Bird Club and is a frequent lecturer at their meetings. She is the owner of an extensive collection of exotic birds.
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