Getting First-Aid Right

Retailers can arm pet owners with accurate information and the right first-aid products necessary to address a range of avian injuries or emergencies.


Every bird owner faces the possibility of having to deal with an injury or emergency at some point in their pet’s life; therefore, it is imperative for store personnel to understand and be able to explain to customers what to do and how to be prepared. Owners of caged birds should always have certain first-aid products available in the home or while traveling, so any accidents can be taken care of quickly and safely.

birdThe most common injuries that avian pets sustain are broken toenails or blood feathers. These can be scary events, since the bird can lose a large amount of blood very quickly. Stopping the blood loss as fast as possible is essential if the bird is to survive, and all new pet owners should be shown what to do if one of these injuries occurs.

The first thing pet owners should understand is that applying pressure will not help in the case of a nail that has been broken or cut to the quick—the blood vessel inside the nail. Sometimes, putting pressure right above the nail on the scaly part of the foot can help a little bit, but it is best to put a clotting agent on the end of the nail where it is bleeding. Although flour or cornstarch can work fairly well in a pinch, nothing works better than styptic powder, especially if the break or cut is high up on the nail. A small number of manufacturers make this blood-clotting agent, which all bird owners and stores that sell birds should have at hand for emergencies.

Styptic powder can also be used on smaller broken blood feathers, which are brand new feathers that are growing out in a shaft and have a very good blood supply going into them until the feather is fully developed. During molting, it is easy to see new feathers, called pinfeathers, growing on a bird’s head. If one of these small pinfeathers gets broken, it rarely bleeds much, if at all, and the styptic powder can be used. If the feather shaft broken is one of the larger feathers, such as the flight feathers at the end of the wings, it can bleed very heavily and quickly cause a serious problem. Until these feathers have matured and the shaft has come off, pet owners and store employees should always look out for these new feathers and avoid them when trimming a bird’s wings, since they will bleed just as strongly as a broken feather if cut.

Large blood feathers are literally open tubes going into a blood vessel, which is why they bleed so heavily when cut. Styptic powder at the point of the break or cut may not be able to stop the bleeding well or at all if the new feather coming in is large. At this point, the best way to stop the bleeding is to pull the rest of the feather shaft from the bird’s skin as quickly as possible. Using forceps or small needle-nose pliers may make this easier with larger birds. To pull the feather out, grip the shaft as close to the skin as possible, then yank in the same direction that it is growing. A quick yank can help make it less painful, but it will still hurt the bird just as much as pulling out a small clump of hair from your head.

Although styptic powder has an antiseptic agent to help keep infection at bay, there are also other products on the market to disinfect the area. “Vetericyn can clean the nail or shaft where the feather was removed prior to applying a clotting agent such as styptic powder,” says Tabitha Cromer, marketing communications and trade marketing manager for Innovacyn in Rialto, Calif.

Vetericyn can be used for a few days afterward as needed to prevent infection and help with healing, especially if the skin was wounded when the blood feather shaft was pulled. 

“Vetericyn can be used on scratches, burns, cuts, sores and skin irritations,” says Cromer, adding that all of Innovacyn’s gels and sprays are non-toxic, and antibiotic- and steroid-free. “Vetericyn is safe if it is licked or ingested by the bird, and it can even be sprayed on a bird’s face.”

Cromer does warn that if a wound is large or will not stop bleeding, the owner should apply light pressure and bring their pet to a veterinarian right away.

Broken feathers or nails are not the only injury for which pet owners need to be prepared. Since birds cannot recognize window glass or mirrors as solid objects, they will try to fly through them, leading to severe injury. A bird can be knocked out or even killed if it hits a window or mirror with enough force. This is one of the reasons why it is best to trim birds’ wings, especially birds such as parrots that are often let out of their cage. Trimming the wings can also keep the bird from flying out an open door or window.

However, if a bird does fly into a mirror or window, the owner needs to keep their pet bird quiet and warm to help with any shock that may occur. The best way to accomplish this is by wrapping the pet lightly in a towel if there are no broken bones, and take the bird to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

If a pet bird gets injured and breaks a bone, such as in a wing, the bird needs to be wrapped up snugly—yet not too tightly—with sterile gauze bandage or vet wrap, so it can still breathe easily. This helps to immobilize the broken wing and prevent further injury.

Pet birds are sometimes hurt by other pets in the house, whether by accident such as a large dog getting a bit too rough with a small bird, or on purpose when a bird is attacked because it suddenly flew in the path of the family cat. It is important to try to keep pet birds safe by keeping them away from any pets that have not grown up around birds or are easily over-excited or large—many small birds have lost toes to large parrots. If a bird is attacked, it needs to be brought to the vet right away, as even a small bite can get seriously infected.

It’s always best to try to avoid any accidents with pet birds, but that’s not always possible. Owners need to be aware of some of the most common injuries that can occur and what to do in case of emergency. Items such as styptic powder and a safe wound-care product like Vetericyn should be considered necessities to have on hand for situations that can be handled at home. Last, but not least, know which veterinarians in your area specialize in birds, and find out what their procedures are when there is an emergency. Being prepared can help save a bird’s life.

Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.

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