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When A Bird's Caregiver Needs Care

Chronic illness doesn’t always mean you have to give up your birds.

By Linda S. Rubin

Page 1 of 3

from the pages of Bird Talk magazineA dozen or so parrots depend on you for their care, upkeep and well-being. A few are companion pets, others are treasured breeder birds. Life wouldn’t be the same without your flock. Then catastrophe strikes – you suddenly fall ill. Are you prepared for the changes you and your birds are forced to face?

African grey parrot on perch
Courtesy Heather Strella, California
When a short-term emergency turns into long-term care decisions on whether you can still attend to your bird's needs on your own or if you'll need assistance must be made.

Although you may have backup plans with family members or friends who will care for your birds in the event of an emergency, what if it’s not an acute illness that passes quickly? If you become chronically ill, who will care for your birds?

When a short-term emergency turns into long-term care – often with months, even years, of rehabilitation, or a complete lifestyle change – decisions must be made. Are you still capable of attending to your birds’ daily needs entirely on your own, or will you only be assisting in your birds’ care? Are you now in the position where you are completely dependent upon others to look after all your birds’ needs? You will arrive at the most important answers when you are completely honest with yourself, learn all the options available and realistically come to terms with your unique situation before making any irreparable decisions.

Think It Through
Once denial wears off and acceptance takes place, feelings of loss are common to people suffering from chronic illness.  Physical loss may be more obvious – from the loss of mobility, to the loss of a former daily routine. However, the emotional loss suffered can be just as painful, for example: replacing a formerly active lifestyle with a sedentary one, losing friendships or undergoing the breakup of a relationship.

Because emotional losses may not be quite so obvious as the physical symptoms, it is crucial not to make rash decisions about parting with your flock or treasured pets without giving it a great deal of thought. For many, our birds are our comfort and solace, and parting with them could bring more pain rather than lessen the burden.

Make Adjustments
So, you have decided to keep one, or all of your birds. You must change your expectations to be realistic with your current lifestyle. For example, if you were used to breeding your flock, you may have to take time off, or consider reducing your collection. If you cannot interact with all your pets, you may decide to keep a more limited number.

Oftentimes, a compassionate therapist can be of enormous help in making realistic decisions that are both to your birds’ advantage and to yours. Many of the larger animal hospitals have social workers that work with such cases, or they may be able to refer you to therapists who can help with that type of decision.

Like many animals, birds can be therapeutic for the soul and may, in fact, speed healing. For those who are able to keep their companions, perhaps with help from others, they may find the incentive that can trigger the motivation to face the long, hard work back toward health and functioning again.

Make It Easy On Yourself
So you have now found an avian care provider to either assist or completely care for your bird(s). Whether you are working toward a complete or even partial return to health or adjusting to permanent disabilities, there are changes you can undertake that will make interacting with your birds much easier.

Many patients who enter physical therapy are warned not to return to the same repetitive tasks that caused the original injury. Disabled bird owners may find it painful to twist and turn around aviaries or reach in uncomfortable directions to service birdcages or retrieve supplies.

Back injuries are common (even in healthy bird owners), and it is easier to tolerate short visits to the bird room if the spine is kept straight. Therefore, painful moves that can cause further aggravation, such as bending forward, can be avoided by simply rearranging the height or position of cages.

Cages should be repositioned at a height that is most comfortable for disabled owners to access. The height will depend upon whether the bird owner will be able to stand upright, sit in a chair while visiting, use a walker or cane, or if he or she is confined to a wheelchair.

Aviculturists with larger collections or breeding birds may want to custom build their aviaries. When I first injured my back and went to physical therapy for a number of months, I decided to custom order my aviaries to my height dimensions so I did not need to bend my head down while stepping up to enter them.

I was warned this type of action performed repeatedly would only prevent my back from healing. The new aviaries were a great improvement to my daily functioning, and I learned not to dread having to enter the aviaries or move within a smaller, limited environment. (Besides, the birds loved the extra space too!)

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When A Bird's Caregiver Needs Care

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Reader Comments
My pet bird is my best therapy.
Gig, Tarpon Springs, FL
Posted: 10/16/2008 7:58:52 AM
stuff you dont uually think about
stephanie, no smithfield, RI
Posted: 9/20/2008 6:05:04 PM
A solid gemeral article
joan, franklin square, NY
Posted: 9/20/2008 12:14:31 PM
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