In Case of Emergency
Bird owners need to be equipped with both the right first-aid tools and an understanding of when and how to use them in order to deal with emergencies quickly and effectively.
Dealing with an emergency situation with any animal can be difficult, and stores can truly be a lifesaver to pets and owners by knowing what to do if a bird suddenly becomes ill or is injured.
For starters, a store should always know veterinarians in the area that specialize in exotics such as pet birds. Full contact information for these vets, as well as nearby emergency clinics, must to be readily available for customers with a sick or injured pet, or if an emergency that requires a medical attention comes up at the store.
A bird that appears ill or lethargic, is not eating well or is acting strangely might be sick and must see a veterinarian immediately. Birds will conceal that they are not well until they can’t hide it anymore, at which point they are very ill. That is why if any owner calls the store and says they believe their bird is sick, they must be told to bring it to an avian vet as soon as possible.
Sometimes a bird’s injury requires immediate first aid before the pet owner can get to the veterinarian. This is usually the case when a bird is bleeding. In many cases, the bird has broken a blood feather, which can bleed quite profusely and cause death if not dealt with immediately. The bleeding must be stopped before taking the bird to a clinic if necessary.
Blood feathers are new feathers that are also called pinfeathers, since they look like a tube with a pointed end when they first grow out. Once the feather shaft has reached its full size, the blood supply that nourished it during growth is cut off, and then the shaft opens up to show off the beautiful and colorful feather inside.
Small pinfeathers on the head and body are not likely to cause any issues, but if a large blood feather in the tail or on the outside of the wing is broken, it can cause a bird to bleed to death fairly quickly. The flight feathers in the wing are most vulnerable to injury, as they can be easily damaged or broken if they hit a solid object as a bird flaps its wings.
When a parrot’s wings are clipped, it is important to be sure none of the flight feathers are blood feathers, which cannot be cut. It is also vital to ensure that no feathers are left at the tip of the wing like the last two longest flight ones. Without the support of the other feathers behind these, the chances of one or both of these breaking increases dramatically.
Note that both wings must be clipped—and not just one—so that the bird does not fly in a circular and erratic way that may cause it to crash into something and hurt itself. Usually around six to 10 feathers at most need to be clipped from the outermost flight feather inward on each wing. When the wings are clipped correctly, the bird cannot fly but will be able to “helicopter” down to the ground slowly and safely. Never clip too many wing feathers or the bird will drop like a stone, which can cause serous injury, and young birds should have less flight feathers cut than mature birds.
If a blood feather is broken and bleeding, then putting something like clotting or styptic powder at the broken end will probably not stop the bleeding because the shaft is a rigid tube going into a blood vessel. The broken feather shaft itself needs to be pulled out. Then, if needed, styptic powder can be put on the area where the feather came out.
To pull a blood feather, grasp the shaft as close to where it attaches to the skin as possible. In some cases tweezers or hemostats can make this much easier. Like pulling a tooth, be sure to yank out the feather shaft strongly and quickly in the direction that the feather is growing. Once the shaft is out, the bleeding usually stops completely.
Toenails have a blood vessel that is located in the center called the quick. If a nail is cut too far back or breaks, the quick can bleed and be very difficult to stop. A styptic agent can be used to stop the bleeding. Cornstarch or flour can be used in a pinch, but the styptic works better. Anyone that has pets should keep some styptic powder on hand, just in case there’s an emergency. Pressure where the nail meets the skin part of the toe can also help stop the bleeding especially if a clotting agent is used as well.
Customers should be informed that if a bird has lost a lot of blood or is acting strange in any way, it should be brought to the avian veterinarian right away. The same holds true if there is a lot of trauma to the injured area. If the pet is acting normal and there was not a lot of bleeding, watch the bird carefully for at least 15 to 20 minutes and then check it every 10 minutes for the next two to three hours to be sure the pet is fine. If there is any doubt, however, it always is best to be safe and have the bird checked out by a veterinarian that specializes in exotics like birds.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.