New bird owners should seek out a veterinarian who specializes in avian medicine and sees many bird patients, as they will be more up to date on the latest medical and husbandry information. While birds don’t require regular vaccines or preventatives the way cats and dogs do, it’s helpful to have a veterinarian who can check in on your bird’s general health and wellness yearly, as well as any time illness or injury is suspected. For recommendations in your area, visit or call your local MSPCA Adoption Center. Angell Animal Medical Center employs several avian specialists in the Boston area.
Your veterinarian will also offer advice on at-home grooming, including nail and wing trimming, bathing and misting, maintaining beak health, and weekly weigh-ins. She will also share recommendation on bird proofing your home. Many commonplace household items can injure or kill a bird, including ceiling fans, other pets, boiling water, burnt Teflon pans, plate glass windows, glass sliding doors, and electrical wires.
What a bird in good health looks like will vary species to species, but generally speaking they will have feathers that are smooth and held close to the body, with no evidence of damage. Your bird should be active, bright, and alert, and sitting on his perch. Notice how your bird perches; his weight should be evenly distributed on both feet, except when sleeping.
Birds who appear listless, are sleeping more than usual, or are sleeping on the bottom of the cage may be ill. Other signs of illness include: loss of voice, a drop in weight, a change in their droppings (waste), discharge from theirs eyes or mucous membranes, labored breathing, a loss of appetite, or vomiting. With any of the above signs, you need to seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
Remember to transport your bird safely to and from the vet. For little birds, a dark container with air holes covered with a towel is best. For larger birds, there are special transport cages that won’t damage their feathers. Dog or cat carriers can be used for some birds. Be careful with cardboard carriers or boxes, as these guys love to chew their way out of them. In the cold weather, the car should be warmed up prior to transport and the cage should be covered with a thick blanket.
For more information on caring for each pet bird species, visit our Suggestions for Housing Birds page.