Avian Emergencies Part II

Last month in Part I, I discussed some emergencies that may arise with your bird. This month’s column covers additional ones. Some emergencies such as landing on a hot stove or eating lead solder from a planter can be prevented, but many cannot and occur at the worst possible time. Here are some of the more common emergencies and how you can handle some of them at home. In many cases, a veterinarian needs to evaluate and care for your bird. In these cases, here is what to do until you can get to a veterinarian.

Leg Bands

Leg bands can sometimes lead to emergencies. If your bird has a leg band – and it is a closed band – be sure to inspect it frequently, making certain that it isn’t too tight. Birds are banded when they are very young to identify the breeder and to designate that they are domestically raised. At a very young age, the breeder is able to slip the band over the foot. I have seen numerous cockatiels, canaries and keets present with leg bands that are too tight, cutting off the blood supply to the foot. These bands must be removed – and they can be very difficult to cut off. Birds can lose their foot if the blood supply is severely damaged as a result of a constricting leg band.

Open bands are even more dangerous. The bird can chew on the band tightening it. Conversely, the band can open and catch on items in the cage. These bands should be removed. For legal purposes, carefully save the band and information about it’s removal.

If a bird is caged, be certain that the bars don’t narrow near the top. Bands can be caught in these narrowed spaces causing the bird to hang, trapped in the cage. Severe damage can occur to the leg if the bird is not freed quickly. Strings on toys, chains or cage decorations can also catch on a band. Be sure to check these as a preventative measure.

Threads, Strings and Rope

Threads and string may also wind around a leg, cutting off circulation. Nesting hair and certain rope toys may be especially dangerous because of this. If your bird has string wrapped tightly around its toes or leg, try to remove it or seek medical help immediately. Anti-inflammatory medicine, antibiotics and warm soaks may restore circulation, so that amputation is not necessary.

Bleeding or Bitten Toe Nails

A nail can be clipped too severely or be broken or a larger bird may chew on the toenails of a smaller bird, causing the nail to bleed. The first thing one should do is to try and stop the bleeding with gentle, but firm, pressure. Do NOT keep blotting the foot – as this may keep a clot from forming. If you are unable to stop the bleeding, apply pressure and seek medical help. Bitten toes or legs become very swollen. Antibiotics, analgesics and bandages are often necessary to prevent infection and to keep the bird from picking at its foot because it is painful.

Beak Trauma

Beak trauma may occur if a larger bird bites a smaller bird or if two birds fight. Birds have been known to fly into mirrors, doors and windows, injuring themselves. Beaks have also gotten caught on and been punctured by toys, chains or protrusions in the cage. Tongues have been cut on sharp edged or broken toys. Medium and larger size birds especially, have the beak power to bite into toys and chains. Choose toys carefully and avoid chains with open links.

The beak is essential for the bird to eat. It may be necessary to wire the beak or use acryllics to repair the beak. If the germinal layer has not been damaged, the new beak will grow in normally. Debriding or removing damaged tissue and antibiotics are frequently necessary. If the tongue is bleeding, it may stop. Even so, call your veterinarian, as treatment for infection and/or repair may be required.


Seizuring is a medical emergency. A bird that seizures may fall off its perch, thrash about, stiffen its body, and then recover. It is extremely important to stop the seizure with medication and to discover the cause of the seizure, if possible. Many things can lead to seizures such as liver disease, low glucose or calcium, heavy metal intoxication (lead or zinc poisoning), infection, previous head trauma, epilepsy, etc. If the cause can be found, it is treated appropriately. If the bird is found to have a seizure disorder, it may be put on an anticonvulsent such as phenobarbitol. If a bird is seizuring repeatedly, do not wait to get the bird to a veterinarian. Time is of the essence. The longer this continues, the more likely that brain damage can occur.

Take preventative measures to ensure your bird’s safety. Have a first aid kit and your veterinarian’s telephone number readily available. And in the event of an emergency, remain calm, know what can be done and follow the suggestions in these articles. Be prepared, the life you save may be your bird.

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