Tuesday, February 21, 2012

PSA - Avian Veterinary Care

In response to Farewell, Sir Spudly, an anonymous commenter wrote:

Did you have his death investigated because you wanted to make sure you could not blame Danielle for his death?

I replied:

Whenever a bird dies, especially in a multi-bird household, it's always a wise precaution to ask for a necropsy. This ensures that if the bird died of something contagious, the others can be properly protected. In this case, even though we were 90% sure Sir Spudly had died of a heart condition, we still wanted to make sure that there weren't other unknown pathogens that might have contributed to his passing.

We never suspected Danielle had done anything nefarious or contributed to his death in any way.

This post isn't going to focus on my usual topics relating to foster care or adoptive parenting.  This post is really going to be more of a public service announcement regarding avian veterinary care.

The perception seems to be that birds are "cheap" pets, and that they don't need much in terms of veterinary care.  Just this morning, I found an article on Bankrate.com that claimed the average veterinary costs for a bird amount to $9 a year.

I cry baloney.  I have never spent as little as $9 a year on a bird.  I regularly spend a lot more.  Hundreds more, in fact.

If you are going to take good care of a bird, you'll bring him to the vet at least once a year, just like you would your dog or cat.  Your bird should have regular medical care, just like any person or critter living in your family,  Your bird needs to be seen by a qualified avian vet, who has specialized experience in caring for birds.  Their biology and physiology is different enough from mammals that their care providers need a different skill set and training.

Just like regular vets, avian vets cost money.  If you are going to have a bird in your home, this expense goes with the territory.  In fact, this is probably more true for birds, because they tend to hide illness when they aren't feeling well.  You might not notice your bird is feeling unwell, but your vet might discover there's a problem.

Birds are not cheap pets by any stretch of the imagination.  Even if you are lucky enough to find an affordable vet, the cost of food, cages and toys can run quite a bit more, especially for a larger bird.  A happy, busy bird (especially a parrot) will destroy his toys, so they have to be replaced, regularly.

If you have started out with an inexpensive bird, such as a cockatiel or parakeet, over the course of his life you could spend many hundreds (or even thousands) more in veterinary care, supplies and food than you originally paid for him.

That is if you want to take exceptional care of him. 

It seems quite a few bird owners (especially those who have the smaller, "cheaper" birds) never bother with veterinary care.  If a bird gets sick, people often decide that it's cheaper to replace him than it is to go to the vet.

Sad, but true.

Every bird that has come into our home received a full medical workup right away.  We even did workups on Beeper and Bitey, even though they were tiny, "cheap" birds that we could have replaced for less than the cost of the medical workup.  We did this to ensure not only their health, but also the health of our existing birds.  We wanted to make sure that we didn't unknowingly bring disease into our previously-healthy flock.

Each time a bird has passed, we've asked for a necropsy.  We've done this, not only to ensure the health of our surviving birds, but also to make sure that we didn't do anything wrong.  Since it is very common for seemingly-healthy birds to die for what appears to be no reason, it's always good to know what went wrong.

Going back to Anonymous' question for a moment, we never suspected Danielle of foul play in any of our birds' deaths.  Beeper died in my hands in the middle of the night, Bitey died when Danielle wasn't even home, and Sir Spudly passed quietly overnight in his sleeping cage, which is kept in our locked bedroom.  There was no way Danielle could have done anything bad immediately before our birds died.  We ordered the necropsies, not because of suspicions of wrongdoing, but simply because we wanted to know what had happened.

Despite the myriad times that Danielle has threatened to kill our birds, she hasn't actually done so.  Now she has tried to hit Chicken, who fortunately got away, but she's never actually caused any physical harm to our feathered buddies.  I wish I could say the same for the emotional health of our birds.  Danielle's rages have been incredibly upsetting to all of them.

Of course the truth is that we don't give Danielle the chance to hurt one of our feathered friends.  She's never left alone in the house, or left unsupervised with the birds, so the chances of her hurting a member of our flock are reduced.  Granted, it doesn't completely eliminate the possibility of her hurting a bird, but it does make it a lot harder.

The truth is, Danielle has difficult relationships with our birds, just like she has difficult relationships with all of the people in her life.  It seems she has a love/hate relationship with everyone, even her friends.  Since the birds aren't large enough to completely protect themselves against potential threats, we simply make sure that Danielle's interactions with them are always supervised.  This means that the birds are safer, Danielle is safer, and we have a lot less to worry about.

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