Danger Signals and Emergencies

There are many problems which you should be prepared for. We do not intend to list them all. Any time a bird has any of the following symptoms: stops eating, sits fluffed on the bottom of his cage, is bleeding from mouth or vent, has uncontrollable bleeding, has runny eyes, can’t breathe, sneezes with discharge, has diarrhea, has constipation (straining to defecate), has loss of balance, depression, lethargy… do not wait! Take your bird to the veterinarian!


Birds do not have much clotting agent in their blood. A broken blood feather, or a minor cut can be life threatening. The blood feather must be removed, or bleeding stopped by use of Quik-stop or a styptic pencil. If bleeding does not abate, apply pressure and rush the bird to the veterinarian.


The question of antibiotics has been raised on many occasions. Should the bird owner administer antibiotics without having the bird seen by a veterinarian? The answer must be a resounding NO! The reason for this is that not every antibiotic can eliminate every bacteria. And, of course, antibiotics do not work on viruses. It is most important that the bird is seen, that blood work or cultures are done by the veterinarian before any antibiotic are given. Most antibiotics need to be taken for specific amounts of time, with varying dosages not only by weight of bird, but by species, since some birds are far more “sensitive” to drugs than others. Also, most veterinarians will wish to administer an anti-fungal medication along with the antibiotic. Avian internal systems are extraordinarily susceptible to yeast and fungal infections, which can sometimes do more harm than the original bacterial infection!

There are antibiotics available over the counter at pet stores. Do not use them. the most common antibiotic available “over the counter” is tetracycline which is value in very few, and only very specific, avian illnesses. Tetracycline can cause severe fungal infection if not used with systemic anti-fungal drugs and should be avoided unless under veterinary care!

A sad, true, anecdote about over the counter antibiotics: An elder lady recently told us about a cockatiel she used to have. One morning it wouldn’t eat and was very quiet. Having limited means, rather than calling and going to an avian veterinarian, she went to the pet store that she had purchased the bird from. They sold her a package of over-the-counter antibiotics to “add to the water”. Within a day or two the bird died.

It is our opinion that reputable pet stores should not sell these drugs.

Egg Binding

One of the common problems a bird owner may encounter is egg binding. Some female birds, particularly budgies and cockatiels, are notorious for laying eggs even if no male is present. And in a breeding pair, the chances of problems is, of course, multiplied. The chances of egg binding is most likely in very young, old, or calcium/mineral deprived birds. This is a very serious condition which can lead to death. Your female bird should be immediately seen by a veterinarian if she is sitting fluffed up at the bottom of her cage, and/or is straining. and/or has a swelling/bulge near her cloaca (vent) which she seems unable to pass.


It is not uncommon for large birds to bite smaller birds, or for a jealous mate to either bite his mate or his competitor. Lovebirds, for example, will bite (occasionally removing) the toes of other birds landing on their cages. It is important to take care when introducing birds to one another. One of the more dangerous bites can be from a larger bird to a smaller bird. Some birds, such as Macaws and Amazons, are reputed to bite the beaks off smaller birds! Among smaller birds, where damage isn’t as obvious, bird bites can be serious. Even if the bleeding isn’t serious or can be stopped, bird bite sites are prone to infection. After stopping the bleeding, take your bird to your avian veterinarian.

Night Frights

Some birds, especially grass parakeets and cockatiels are prone to night fright. This occurs when a sudden noise or passing light sets off a flurry of random flying within the aviary or cage. Birds can seriously injure themselves, flying into walls, breaking beaks, wings are causing head trauma.

A bird suffering head trauma should be seen as soon as possible by an avian veterinarian. Broken wings must be carefully set to ensure there is no loss of mobility after healing. Cracked beaks can usually be mended for a long enough period of time for the beak for grow out past the crack. Sometimes, when the crack needs reinforcement or the break is great, a prosthesis (an artificial beak made out of plastic or Fiberglas) needs to be surgically applied to the remaining portion of beak so that the bird can continue to feed itself during the period of time that the beak grows out.

Please note that some of these same injuries just described are relatively common among young birds just learning to fly.