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What To Expect From Your Avian Vet ...

And what your avian vet expects from you.

By Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice)

Page 2 of 3

A checklist for an avian veterinarian
An avian veterinarian will perform a series of body examinations on your bird.

The Exam
During physical examination, a vet comfortable with birds should examine the pet bird systematically, just as he or she might examine a dog or cat. Many vets are trained to examine all animals according to a body systems approach. This involves looking step by step at each body system, including:

  • eyes, ears, nose, throat
  • heart, lungs, air sacs
  • chest/abdomen
  • muscles/skeletal system
  • urinary/genital tract
  • skin/feathers
  • neurological system

Other vets begin at the bird’s head and work their way down the bird, as they look at each body part. Regardless of what method is used, an experienced avian vet typically does the following:

  • Weigh the pet bird in a small scale, with the bird sitting in a basket on the scale or on a perch. Measurement is often made in grams and should be recorded in the bird’s medical record;
  • Look at the eyes, nose, mouth and ears for discharge, swelling, discoloration;
  • Feel the crop (out pouching of the esophagus located under the skin in the neck area) for lumps, fullness;
  • Feel the pectoral muscles and keel (breast bone) to assess its weight;
  • Listen to the heart and respiratory tract with a stethoscope to assess heart rate, rhythm, and breathing;
  • Palpate the abdomen, below the keel, for distension, fullness;
  • Extend and feel both wings to ensure they are symmetrical;
  • Check the vent (opening from which fecal droppings come) for growths, swelling, bleeding, retained fecal material;
  • Examine the uropygial (preen) gland at the base of the tail for symmetry, abnormal discharge, swelling;
  • Inspect the skin/feathers for color changes, loss, evidence of barbering (chewing) or other damage (from parasites, fungal or bacterial infection, trauma);
  • Look at and feel both feet to ensure that all toes are working properly and that the skin on the feet and legs looks normal.

The vet will also assess neurological function by determining:

  • Do both feet grasp and pull away with equal strength?
  • Do both wings extend and fold up symmetrically?
  • Is the blink response normal in both eyes, and do both pupils respond to light?
  • Does the vent sphincter (the muscles and nerves that open and close the vent) work properly?

If the vet performs each of these steps, the bird will have received a complete physical examination.

Diagnostic Tests
After finishing the physical examination, an experienced avian vet will likely recommend performing a series of diagnostic tests to help assure the pet bird’s health. These might include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) to measure red and white blood cells
  • Chemistry profile to check liver, kidney, and muscle enzymes; total protein and globulin levels; electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium) levels; blood sugar; calcium and phosphorus concentrations; and sometimes, cholesterol level
  • Protein electrophoresis to look at antibody concentrations in the blood as a general screening test for infection or inflammation
  • Psittacosis (or Chlamydiophila) testing to check for parrot fever, a disease commonly carried by parrots, often without clinical signs. There are many tests for this disease, and none are 100 percent perfect in diagnosing this condition.
  • Tests for specific infections, such as psittacine beak and feather disease virus, polyoma virus, etc. Which of these tests a vet recommends depends on what species the bird is, whether the bird has signs of illness, the bird’s age, and other bird-specific factors.
  • Bile acid testing to assess liver function
  • Sexing test performed on DNA in the blood. It is useful to know the bird’s gender so that owners can be educated in signs of egg laying/binding if the bird is female. 
  • Fecal examination under the microscope to look for parasites, yeast, or abnormal bacteria. Often, fecal examination is performed right in the vet’s office.

An experienced avian veterinarian should explain to the owner why he or she is recommending each of the tests and why these tests are valuable. Blood testing generally should be performed even in healthy new birds so that the vet has baseline results for an individual bird should it get sick in the future.

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