You’ve owned your African grey parrot for 18 years now and never had an emergency; all of your veterinary care has been on an “as planned” basis.
But here you are on a Saturday evening—with the nearest avian emergency clinic almost two hours away—and your bird has broken a blood feather.
With a little training and a good first aid kit stocked with the right bird care supplies, you can do a lot to stabilize your feathered friend until he can be seen by a veterinarian.
But before making sure you have all the supplies you need for a bird first aid kit, it is essential that you are properly trained to use these tools correctly and effectively. You can speak to your veterinarian or contact the local Red Cross to determine if there are any pet first aid courses in your area.
Once you’ve had some training in bird first aid, you can build your kit. Here are the types of things a trained bird owner keep in their avian first aid kit.
Choosing a Bird First Aid Case
Personally, I keep my pet first aid kit in a small toolbox because I like all of the compartments and space a toolbox offers. Plus, it is easy to take with you to the vet when needed.
However, there are a variety of options for a bird first aid kit case. Some people prefer backpacks, while others prefer toiletry bags. The important part is that it meets the needs of you and your pet bird while also being easy to transport or grab in an emergency.
It is a wise idea to have an emergency bird care kit in the car as well as at the house; being prepared will help you to avoid disaster.
Emergency Contacts and Important Phone Numbers
First and foremost, have all of the information that you may need in case of an emergency handy at the top of your first aid kit. This should include the phone number and directions to both your local veterinary clinic as well as the nearest avian emergency clinic.
You can write these numbers on a luggage tag to attach to your backpack or on a label that’s placed on the lid of your toolbox or first aid case.
When faced with an emergency situation, you should load your pet bird into the car first, and then call and notify the clinic of your estimated time of arrival.
You should also have the number for the Pet Poison Hotline posted on your fridge, kept in your kit and stored in your phone so that you can quickly take action in an emergency situation. Be sure to notify any friends or family as well.
Once you have decided on the right case and made sure that your emergency contacts and phone numbers are on hand, then you can start to pack it with the appropriate first aid bird supplies.
Supplies for Transporting Your Bird
Items: Bird towel, bird net, gram scale and travel carrier
Depending upon the nature of the emergency, you will likely need to get your hands on your pet bird quickly. This can be a challenge under good circumstances and more so when your bird is scared or injured.
That is why you should always have a towel in your emergency bird care kit—this is invaluable for preventing injury to yourself and your bird.
Make sure that you learn how to safely capture a bird in a towel as part of your first aid training, or talk with your avian veterinarian for tips on how to safely capture your pet bird. A very scared bird or one in a large aviary may need to be caught with a net.
Many times, it will be necessary to have an exact weight on your bird, so having a postal-style gram scale handy can allow you to provide that information quickly to the veterinary hospital while still en route.
Having the right-size carrier on hand can be very helpful should immediate transport or restraint in a smaller area be needed. I have been known to pack entire first aid kits within a carrier to keep everything together.
General Bird First Aid Supplies
Items: Scissors, tweezers, pliers or hemostats, disposable gloves, magnifying glass, penlight, wire cutters and nail clippers
These items should be staples in your emergency bird care kit. They will allow you to get a better look at any injury your bird may have sustained, and if there is something as simple as a broken nail or a blood feather, you can address the problem immediately.
Since many bird emergencies may be addressed using household items, there are quite a few regular items you can stock your bird care emergency kit with.
You should always keep a magnifying glass, penlight and gloves in your bird care kit. These items will allow you to examine your bird and spot problems.
You should also always protect both your health as well as the bird’s health by wearing gloves anytime you are dealing with bodily fluids of any type. So, be sure to keep extra pairs of gloves in your emergency bird care kit as well.
Nail clippers are also a good item to have because they can be used to trim a torn nail. Pliers, hemostats and tweezers can be used to pull a bleeding blood feather. Scissors or wire cutters can be used to help your bird if they get caught on a toy by allowing you to cut a piece of the toy and free your bird.
However, it will always be best to seek veterinary care as soon as possible—even if it appears that you have resolved the situation—since things like infection may still be a concern.
Hemostatic Products to Control Bleeding
Items: Cornstarch/commercial hemostatic products, paper towels and bird-safe lubricants
Many minor sources of bleeding can be stopped with simple pressure as well as application of either a commercial hemostatic product—like Remedy+Recovery Stop Bleeding styptic powder or Miracle Care Kwik-Stop liquid gel—or even cornstarch. This is especially helpful for discrete areas, such as broken toenails.
Be aware that larger wounds, or those that may penetrate into the chest or belly, should NOT have any of these products placed into them. Pressure should be applied to those wounds until a veterinarian can be consulted.
Small areas of inflammation as well as small wounds can be protected with a lubricant until they can be thoroughly evaluated by a veterinarian. In most instances, you should not apply ointments or creams to your bird’s skin or feathers, so do not use this product unless a veterinarian instructs you to do so.
Clean cloths and paper towels are always good to keep on hand because they can be used to wipe away blood or excessive product applied to a wound area.
Items: Gauze, nonstick pads, first aid tape, bandage rolls, wooden sticks, cotton swabs and stockinette
Knowing how to dress a wound properly and quickly can save your bird’s life.
A selection of gauze (both sterile and non-sterile) and other bandaging material along with your first aid training will allow you to triage the wound and then seek immediate care. Your veterinarian can help you select items that are most appropriate for your pet.
In instances of more significant bleeding or in the case of a potential broken limb, significant bandaging will be required. Should you require the items on this list, you will likely be heading immediately to a qualified veterinary hospital.
Items: Feeding tubes, avian rehydration/feeding solution, syringes of various sizes and an eye dropper
Sometimes a pet bird becomes quickly dehydrated and is in need of fluids or calories to become stable enough for long-distance transport (should the avian hospital be several hours away).
Having feeding tubes—and knowing how to use them—as well as the avian feeding/rehydration solution of choice from your veterinarian can be very helpful. Ask your veterinarian about proper rehydration tools and techniques for emergency situations.
Sometimes even something as simple as bird-safe oral electrolyte solution can bridge a bird to proper care. Syringes can be used to help administer these fluids (or even to help flush wounds or measure out medications) and are very helpful to have on hand.
Items: Heating pad/lamp and hot pack/hot water bottle
It is very important to keep your bird warm while transporting them during an emergency. When in doubt, keep the bird’s temperature as close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit as you can when they are not feeling well.
While traveling, using heat packs or hot water bottles is practical. You can place these items into the bottom of your carrier—heat rises—to warm it up. Remember, do not apply these heat supports directly to the bird! You are looking to warm the area around the bird to an appropriate temperature. We don’t want to add burns to the injury list.
Antibacterial Products and Sterile Washes
Items: Chlorhexidine, triple antibiotic ointment, eye wash, sterile saline
All of these medications may be appropriate under certain circumstances, and your veterinarian may even recommend administering them over the phone.
There may be other medications your veterinarian wishes you to keep in case of emergency, but these are some common and relatively safe ones that I would consider “must-haves.”
Again, proper training is required before you choose to use them or else you could make matters worse, particularly if home therapy delays treatment of an emergency. It’s still good to have them on hand if a vet is able to tell you over the phone how to apply them.
Knowing how to stabilize injured or ill birds before transporting them to a veterinary hospital for follow-up care is imperative for pet bird owners. Have a basic emergency bird care kit ready and look into pet bird first aid classes to help you prepare for the unexpected so your bird gets the care they need.
By Dr. Sandra Mitchell
Featured Image: iStock.com/Adrian Black