By Sam Vaughn, DVM, Dip, ABVP — Avian Practice
I have two pet birds in my home. While I was out of town for vacation, my house sitter walked in to discover a raccoon chewing on my African grey! Apparently, the raccoon had dragged the bird off of the T-stand, which he stays on during the day. The bird was taken immediately to an avian specialist hospital and his life was saved, but one wing was amputated. He also has nerve damage in the left leg, but it is slowly getting better. What are the psychological and physical implications for my pet, now that he only has one wing and, possibly, a crippled leg for life?
Thanks for the excellent question. While this may seem like a pet bird question, it has paramount importance to breeders as well. Especially in the southern states, raccoons often chew off legs and wings of birds, especially at night as the nocturnal creatures grab hold of the birds through the wire. I have seen many wing amputees live long and happy lives with no psychological or physical repercussions (other than the obvious of being flightless). I have also seen wing amputees be psychologically unstable. The one that comes to mind was a Peregrine falcon, from the wild, and I imagine this had much more to do with not being able to fly and hunt. If your bird has been wing trimmed most of its life, I would expect no problems.
The leg is another story. You need to know if there is femoral nerve damage, and if the head of the femur was fractured or dislocated. If so, there is a surgical procedure that can remove the head of the femur and relieve your bird's pain. Fibrous scar tissue will build a new joint and your bird will probably use the leg normally, if not somewhat less than normal. I have also seen leg amputees do very well. Build special perches that the bird can lie down on, so they are not placing weight on that one leg 24-hours a day. These birds seem to take to this rather quickly. These perches are easily constructed out of a board, and I like to cover them with felt. Use staples on the bottom of the perch to secure the material to the board, not toxic glues, and count the number of staples you put in and check daily or weekly to make sure the little bugger is not chewing those out and potentially swallowing them. We do not want to fight heavy metal toxicosis in this poor little guy, too!
Good luck with your precious pet, and trap those raccoons and take them out to a wildlife refuge somewhere. Keep all pet food covered in steel cans so raccoons cannot get into the food and start a pattern of getting a free meal at your house. Raccoons also carry a roundworm (Bayliascaris procyonis) that can infect the central nervous system of birds and humans, so get all your birds fecal examinations. I have seen one aviary that placed an electric fence about 6 inches high around the entire property to keep out raccoons and opossums, and it seemed to have been effective. Do not forget that opossums are the culprits of that horrible disease we discussed a few months ago called Sarcocystosis, carried to your birds from opossum droppings.
Thanks for your question and I hope your bird returns to a full recovery with a happy and healthy life!
Sam Vaughn, DVM, Dip., ABVP — Avian Practice is an avian specialist based in Louisville, Kentucky. Certified in Avian Practice by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, Dr. Vaughn owns Avian Medical Services Inc. (an avicultural service and consultation practice) and is a partner in Veterinary Associates Stonefield, a full-service avian/exotic and small animal practice. Dr. Vaughn holds degrees in biology, chemistry and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Auburn University. Feel free to visit his web site at http://www.vetcity.com. Telephone consultations by appointment are available by calling (502) 245-7863.