Administering Medicine, Supplements and Herbs

Many supplements and herbs may be administered in the drinking water or prepared with food. However, there will be times that it’s best to administer any medicine or supplement directly to the beak, via a syringe. This may require you to first capture your bird.

If you suspect your bird is ill, please take him to your avian veterinarian. If medicine is prescribed, take these steps before leaving the vet’s office.

When capturing your bird for medicating, one wants to always keep the experience as pleasant and unstressful as possible. This means you must, yourself, mentally go over what it is you will be doing, and prepare. Before capturing the bird, lay out all the materials you will need: medication, already drawn up in the syringe; nail clippers; a scale, if you wish to weigh the bird, the proper size towel for holding the bird. Always follow the prescribed dosage and recommended method of administering supplement.

If you are capturing a bird to medicate it, this is also a good time to give it a thorough examination, to trim a long nail or two, to feel it’s overall weight by tracing the prominence of the keel bone, or by weighing the bird. Capturing a bird is always stressful for the bird, to some degree, so try to do as much in one capture as you can reasonably accomplish.

Always use a clean, dry syringe to measure your medication. Again, when getting your medication from the vet, ask for several syringes in case you lose one, or one becomes damaged by the bird’s beak.

Using a Syringe

  • Shake the medicine bottle if necessary. Place the tip of the syringe deeply into in the bottle. This way you will draw up less air. The goal is to draw up all the medicine the dosage requires.
  • Draw up medicine into the syringe by slowly pulling up the plunger. Pull up a little more than is required.
  • This is an example of a .05 mg (milligram) dose of medicine. BE VERY CAREFUL NOT CONFUSE THE AMOUNT OF YOUR DOSE: For example, small birds such as finches through cockatiels will rarely get a dose of medication in excess of .05. When looking at a 1 cc syringe, the one usually provided by the vet, you will see these markers:.1, .2, .3–up to .9 and 1cc. Looking closer, you will see that before you get to the .1 (POINT or BLACK DOT one cc) mark, there are 9 small black dashes on the syringe. These are your .01, .02, .03 markers. The .05 mark is usually a bigger dash than the others.
  • Always carefully read the instructions on the medicine label, and carefully measure the amount indicated. Don’t confuse .05 with .5–the amount of medicine involved is huge. This an example of a .5 mg (milligram) dosage. Too large a dosage can be lethal to your bird, so always double check recommended dosage and be precise in your measurements.
  • For a .15 dose, you would go to the .1 mark and then up 5 small dashes more, away from the tip. A .15 dose is exactly halfway between a .1 dose and a .2 dose.
  • Remove the syringe from the bottle, and hold it, tip upward. What you will have in the syringe is both air and medicine. If you have air in the syringe, the air is displacing the medicine and taking up space. Unless you tap the air out of the syringe, the bird will not be getting the proper amount of medicine. For any air bubbles, tap lightly with a flick of forefinger and thumb, and bring the liquid up to the tip again if necessary. Tap out the air by drawing the medicine away from the tip, and then flicking at the syringe with your fingers. This will force the air out of the medicine and up into the empty portion of the syringe.
  • You can also gently push the plunger up and down–this, too, will work the air out of the medicine. When you have what appears to be a solid area of medicine with no air bubbles in it, slowly push the plunger in so that the medicine is forced upward to the top of the syringe, toward the tip. If you have a .08 amount in the syringe after all the air is out, and your dose is only .05, hold the syringe above the bottle and turn the syringe tip straight down Depress the plunger enough to push the extra .03 back into the medicine bottle, leaving you with the correct dose: .05.
  • Immediately after drawing up your medicine dose, recap the medicine bottle and return it to the cupboard or refrigerator This way, you won’t accidentally forget to do this, leaving it open and exposed, which may rapidly erode its potency. Also, there will be no danger of accidentally knocking over the bottle, and losing the precious contents.

Administering Medicine

Your are now ready to medicate your bird. And remember, if you are nervous, this is very normal. Everyone dreads medicating their bird! Although administering medicine is best done with two people, it can be done alone, as Linda demonstrates here with Oliver, her Goffin Cockatoo. Using our suggested techniques for capturing your bird, secure it in an appropriately sized towel.

  • Adjust the towel to make sure the head is free of the towel, and that no part of the towel will be able to get in the bird’s mouth. If the towel gets in the mouth, it can absorb the medication placed there, so be very careful to keep the towel out of the bird’s mouth.
  • Note hand positions, the forefinger pressing lightly on the side of his head, in line on that spot in the jaw where the upper and lower mandibles meet. The thumb is holding his head on the other side, always keeping the towel between fingers and bird’s skull.
  • You now have the syringe in one hand, and the toweled bird in the other.  Wonderful!  Holding the bird at a comfortable angle, bring the syringe close to the bird’s face.  Most will open their mouths without a problem, allowing you to deposit the medicine in the cup of the lower mandible–the cup of the lower beak.  Be careful to keep the syringe at an angle so the bird cannot grab it from you. Note Linda’s thumb is hidden under the blanket fold, securely gripping Oliver’s head.
  • You can deposit all, or part, of the medicine–whatever works. Here, Linda pauses a moment to let Oliver swallow.
  • And continue until the syringe is empty.

It’s very important that you now gently tilt the bird’s head back a bit to allow the bird to swallow the medicine.  (Picture 12)  Keep in mind that this is how a bird drinks, and giving the bird medicine this way is actually quite easy and much less stressful than trying to get the syringe into the proper part of the bird’s throat, above the tongue and between the snapping upper and lower beaks–but do make sure the medicine is swallowed.  If your bird coughs, immediately place it upright and let it go free of the towel—this means part of the medicine dribbled into the airway, and the bird must immediately clear the airway or it will aspirate (inhale the medication–which can be fatal).

When you are finished, gently clean his mouth and give him a good look over. Praise him and scratch his head before you release him.

Written by Linda Brink