How Do I Know if My Parrot is Sick? By Dr. Brenna Fitzgerald, DVM

In general, healthy parrots are alert, bright-eyed, active and interested in what’s going on around them. Of course, individual birds differ in their activity level and behavior, and all parrots spend some portion of the day resting and napping. A normal, healthy bird can be expected to spend portions of the day eating, playing, vocalizing, and interacting with other members of the household.

Bird owners often notice that their birds are most active and noisy in the mornings and evenings, when household activity is at its highest, and are more restful during the intervening periods. When assessing your bird’s health, consistency is very important: Provided that a stable home environment and routine are in place, a healthy bird should be fairly consistent in his or her behavior, activity level, and appetite. For this reason, you should be alert for changes, even if they may seem insignificant.

It is a good idea to regularly monitor your bird’s body weight. You can do so at home using a small scale that weighs in grams. Although you can purchase a scale marketed specifically for birds, you can also obtain an inexpensive postal scale from an office supply store that works just as well. Checking your bird’s weight once a week or so can help you recognize significant changes; both large losses and gains can be important and should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian. You can also feel your bird’s breast musculature to assess his or her pectoral muscle condition. The pectoral muscles of most birds are well developed to support flight, and lay on either side of the “keel,” a pronounced bony ridge that is part of the sternum. Begin by gently feeling your bird’s breast to identify the keel, and then slide your finger to either side to feel the softer muscle tissue. Pectoral muscle is more developed in some individuals than others, and may be somewhat reduced in birds that do not fly frequently. What’s important is familiarizing yourself with your bird’s normal muscle condition, so that you can better recognize changes that can accompany illness.

In addition to familiarizing yourself with your bird’s normal behavior and monitoring his or her pectoral muscle condition and body weight, you should also pay attention to changes in your bird’s energy or activity level, appetite, droppings, or behavior. Birds are notorious for exhibiting very subtle early disease symptoms, with signs of illness not becoming apparent until the illness is very advanced. Some have theorized that this represents an evolutionary adaptation: birds that can disguise illness are more likely to avoid being picked off by predators in the wild. Regardless of the reason, early symptoms are often overlooked or discounted by bird owners, such that veterinary care is not sought until the bird is very ill. Clearly, early awareness is very important, as it may make the difference between life and death. Birds that are not feeling well may become quieter and less active, and may show reduced interest in socialization or play. You may notice that he or she spends a greater proportion of the day sleeping or resting, keeps his or her feathers fluffed, or is less energetic when going about normal activities. Furthermore, a sick bird may choose to stay on a lower perch or on the cage bottom, often because it takes less energy to do so. Changes in a bird’s typical behavior, including the way he or she interacts with others, can also be important. You should also observe your bird for changes in appetite. This not only includes a loss of appetite (termed anorexia), but also a relative increase or decrease, or a change in preferred foods. Birds can sometimes become more “finicky” when ill, showing interest only in highly palatable foods and abandoning their primary diet.

In addition, the character of your bird’s droppings can provide a wealth of information. The dropping contains three components, the feces produced by the gastrointestinal tract, and the urates and urine produced by the kidneys. Fecal color, volume, and consistency can vary tremendously and are affected by numerous factors, including dietary intake. Birds on a seed-based diet typically have primarily green feces, while those on formulated diets (pellets) have more voluminous feces that take on the color of the pellets consumed. Looser feces may be produced when birds consume a greater portion of fresh fruits and vegetables. Urates, a waste product eliminated by the kidneys, are typically white in appearance, but can also be cream-colored or light yellow in color. Urine, accounting for the liquid portion of the dropping, is most often clear, light green, or may take on the color of colored pellet varieties offered in the diet.

Be alert for changes in your bird’s droppings, or in your bird’s ability to pass droppings, as these can be indicative of disease. Notable abnormalities include passage of black feces (called melena), which can occur with upper gastrointestinal bleeding, blood in the feces, loose feces (diarrhea), passage of undigested food, or malodorous feces. Abnormal urates may appear bright yellow, green or pink, and abnormal urine may be dark green, brown, or contain blood. Changes in urine volume can also be important; if you notice a consistent increase in urine volume, especially if this is accompanied by increased thirst, you should consult your avian veterinarian.

WHEN SHOULD YOU CONSULT A VETERINARIAN?
The best rule of thumb is: If in doubt, GO. When it comes to birds, it is always preferable to err on the side of caution. If you are unsure, call your veterinarian’s office to discuss the situation. It is also important to locate a veterinary emergency center that is equipped to handle bird emergency care after-hours. It may be unrealistic and unfair to expect emergency veterinarians to be well versed in all aspects of avian medicine, but it is fair and appropriate to utilize their services to stabilize your bird prior to transfer to your regular veterinarian. This may include control of bleeding, fracture stabilization, pain control, and fluid therapy.

No one knows your bird better than you. For this reason, you should always trust your intuition if you think that your bird may be ill. Even if the signs are subtle, they should not be discounted because they may truly be significant.

Published in Bird Basics, Bird Care

Is Cardboard Safe for my bird?

Is Cardboard Safe for my Bird?

Over the years, I've incorporated the use of a variety of boxes into my toy designs because my birds have always enjoyed destroying empty food boxes, corrugated boxes and paper towel tubes. All of these items make for great bird toy components and they can also quickly serve as inexpensive and impromptu foraging devices.

One of the topics that I often see being discussed on the internet is the question of whether it is safe to use cardboard in homemade bird toys. For example, numerous times I've read that the glue used in paper towel tubes is toxic because it contains zinc. As is the nature of the internet, once a tidbit of information is posted it often gets, please forgive the phrase, parroted over and over again on multiple websites and forums until it becomes "conventional wisdom".

My nature at times is to challenge conventional thought and to not always accept things at face value. However, I also want to make sure that I am making reasonable decisions when it comes to the safety of my flock (not to mention everyone else's birds). So, in order to address the all important safety question, I did some homework and would like to relay what I found.

First, let's take a brief look at the cardboard manufacturing process…

Cardboard is primarily composed of wood pulp from pine trees. The pulp has the consistency of runny oatmeal, which is then heated and pressed into sheets of paper.

Single ply cardboard, such as the type used in food packaging, does not contain any glue. However, glue may be used in the assembly of the boxes used for food packaging. The FDA regulates the type of glues that can be used for this purpose and they must be "food safe".

For cardboard food containers that will receive an ink image, paraffin or vegetable oil wax is sprayed onto the surface. This wax protects the cardboard from wicking liquids and allows ink to attach to a smooth surface. Again, the waxes used on any food container must be of a safe, food-grade quality.

Corrugated cardboard, the type used for shipping boxes, consists of multiple layers of paper. Glue is used in the manufacturing process for corrugated cardboard to bind the layers. The glue is sprayed onto the surface of the cardboard to facilitate the attachment of the fluted interior section to the two outer flat layers of paper. Glue used in corrugated boxes does not have to be "food safe".

So, what's in the GLUE?

The glue used in the manufacture of corrugated cardboard boxes is commonly prepared from corn starch, wheat starch, potato starch or tapioca starch. In fact, the biggest industrial non-food use of starch is as adhesive in the papermaking process. Making adhesives from food starches is much less expensive than using other chemicals so it is doubtful that this practice will ever change.

Although starch glues are mostly based on unmodified native starches, they also sometimes include an additive such as borax in small quantities (<1 %). Borax is a term used for a variety of closely related minerals all containing the element boron (an essential mineral). Although borax is banned in the U.S. for all food-related uses, some Asian cuisines traditionally use it as a food additive, preservative and meat tenderizer. The reason for this ban appears to be related to adverse fertility and reproductive issues observed in mice fed extremely high levels of borax.

In researching the potential toxicity of borax, I noted that borax has a health hazard rating less than that assigned to common table salt and baking soda. Certainly these are not items we would want our birds to consume in great quantities but they also aren't something that would hurt them on a minimal exposure basis. Based on this, combined with the fact that it is extremely rare for our birds to actually eat foreign non-food objects, I don't think that the use of corrugated cardboard in bird toys presents a hazard to our birds.

Oh, and as far as the presence of zinc in the paper towel rolls, this appears to just be a rumor that won't go away. Steve Hartman from The Parrot University contacted both Proctor & Gamble and Kimberly Clark, the primary manufacturers of this product in the US, who both responded that there is no zinc used in the manufacture of their paper rolls.

So, is Cardboard Safe?

We all have our own tolerance level when it comes to issues of this nature and, as such, you will have to make up your own mind. But, after reviewing this issue I know that I will continue to allow my birds to have fun shredding the occasional cardboard goodie. Of course, we all should monitor our bird's play style and habits to make sure they don't exhibit the very unusual propensity for eating foreign, non-food items.

The really good news is that the paper bagels and tubes found on the http://www.MakeYourOwnBirdToys.com website are all from a known and trusted manufacturing source and they are bird-safe!

Published in Bird Care, Bird Dangers

If you’re not doing anything 1/27/13 afternoon…

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come meet with the "bird people" of the OAS.  We're having a dinner and a movie event at the Hardesty Library, 8316 East 93rd Street, where we'll share a meal and then watch "Life with Alex".  If you are the parent of an African grey parrot, or wanting to learn more about them, this will be of interest to you.

So plan to join us at 2:00.  Check the event board at the library lobby to see what room we're in.  Bring the family and plan to have a good time while learning more about what the Oklahoma Avicultural Society is all about.

Hope to see you there!

Published in Activities, Meetings

Working. Working. Meeting.

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Cockatoo w-pen

This is the first day of 2013.  Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and is planning for a prosperous and fulfilling new year.

I have finally had a chance to update the website, and have made some changes that were needed.  Because this is an activity that I do on a volunteer basis, I haven't  had a chance to complete the membership functions.   If you are an OAS member and have had difficulty with this new site, please bear with me.  I'm still trying to learn how to use the software.

But, in the meantime, plan to come to the next General Meeting.  It's on Sunday, January 27 from 1:30 to 4:30 at the Hardesty Regional Library off Memorial and 93rd Street South.  We've got a new calendar of activities lined up, and you'll want to be a part of the fun.

And you may want to start gathering those things you'd like to donate to the raffle table at the March 2, 2013 Spring Fling Bird Fair.  I know the Board would also appreciate if you could look at your calendar and plan some time to help out at this very popular and busy day at the Green Country Event Center.

Published in Activities, Bird Fair

It’s Live!

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You may have noticed that the OAS website is a little different.  We've updated using a WordPress format, and I think it's pretty nifty.

You'll see some blog posts about caring for our birds.  These are articles which were buried on the old site, but have a lot of information.  If you have the time, you may want to read through them.  Some information may be dated, but it's generally a worthwhile read.

A further note-November 18 is the last meeting for 2012.  It's our Holiday meeting, where we enjoy good food, good fellowship, and play "dirty Santa".  All members are invited.

And if you have any ideas, please contact us through that link.  Your comments will be read and considered.

Published in Uncategorized