Vital Signs
by Robyn Bright
January 31, 2012
Retailers who can read the signs pointing to an illness can help bird owners take appropriate action at the right time.



One of the most disheartening phone calls a pet store can get is from an owner who believes their pet bird is sick and wants to know what they should do. Employees must be familiar with the signs and symptoms of bird illnesses if they are going to be of any help to bird owners. Early detection is key to obtaining an accurate diagnosis and the proper veterinary care for a sick pet.

A bird that is kept in a clean environment and is given fresh food and water daily is unlikely to get sick. A bird owner can also increase the odds that the bird will stay healthy by being observant and knowing the signs of illness.

Customers should check their birds everyday for physical symptoms, such as heavy breathing, shaking, discharges, lumps or changes in appearance. Changes in the consistency and color of fecal matter may also signal that something is wrong (unless they have eaten something like blueberries that may change color temporarily).

The most important and telling factor to watch for, however, is a change in behavior. For a bird owner to note any changes in behavior, they must observe their birds to know how their bird normally acts, as all birds are individuals and don’t do the same things.

A bird that usually babbles and calls but is suddenly quiet in the morning may be feeling unwell. Birds do take naps during the day, especially the young ones, but if they seem to be sleeping more than usual, acting lethargic and not as active, that can also be a sign that a bird is sick.

Birds often preen less, or not at all, when they don’t feel well, and may not play at all or very little. Changes in eating or drinking habits can be a clue that something is wrong, as well—for example, if the bird is eating much less or much more.

Still, a change in behavior that happens quickly but only lasts a day or two may be due to alterations in the environment, or if the bird itself is going through something, such as reaching sexual maturity, that may cause it to act differently for a while.

Tell owners to be sure to observe their birds every day so they will have a good idea of the way they normally act. If anything changes for more than a couple of days, the owner should contact a bird veterinarian right away before the disease goes too far and becomes more difficult to treat.

If the owner calls the pet store first and the bird is showing signs of illness, retailers should instruct the owner to call a bird vet immediately. Customers need to keep in mind that a bird is likely to cover up an illness for some time before the owner notices actual physical symptoms. (Birds do not want to appear sickly, as predators will take out the weak birds first.) Retailers should be pushy about it, if need be, so the owner understands how important it is to have their bird checked out as soon as possible.


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