Whenever one finds blood in the cage, or blood on a bird, the first thing to be done is to locate the source of the blood flow.  While a bird can certainly bleed to death from an injury, they rarely do because avian blood clots quickly and effectively.  Still, one must take immediate steps to staunch blood flow from a bird, as they have very little blood volume in their body.  Losing more than 10% of this blood volume is considered unsafe.

Blood Volume in Birds

So, how much blood in inside of your bird?  Birds normally have 6-11 mls of blood per 100 grams of body weight.  So a cockatiel weighing 100 grams would have about 8-10 mls of blood in its body, and could therefore only afford to safely lose .8 to 1ml of its blood.  This equates to about 8-10 drops of blood before the safety line has been crossed.

Each ml/cc equates to approximately 10 drops of  fluid.

Keep in mind that the amount of blood in the cage may look to be a much larger quantity than it actually is, because it spreads.  Take an eye dropper or measured syringe and slowly squeeze out ten drops of water onto the cage papers to get an idea of what one ml/cc of spilled blood would look like BEFORE an injury occurs.

Agents Used To Stop Bleeding

Styptic powder (such a Quickstop), cornstarch or flour, applied directly to the bleeding area, are good agents at staunching the flow of blood. Pure aloe vera will also serve to slow the flow of blood, has antibacterial properties and helps reduce pain. Aloe is effective in combination with cornstarch, either as a paste or with first an application of aloe followed by cornstarch. Styptic powders must be used with care, as there is a danger of toxicity if not correctly applied.

When a bird is bleeding, one wants to keep in mind the factor of blood pressure; in short, the more excited and distressed the bird becomes, the more its blood pressure will rise, and the harder it will become for the blood to clot.  For this reason, the caregiver must act quickly, and gently, and keep the bird as calm as possible.

If the bleeding area is a large broken blood feather, the feather can be pulled with needle nose pliers, hemostats, or tweezers.  If the area is a toe nail or beak tip, a Dremel can be used, if one is handy, to cauterize the area, and stop the flow, rather than one of the above powders.

It helps to apply pressure to the area just above the blood flow.  If the injury is to the toe, or nail, one can initially hold the bird in an angled position as pressure and an anti-coagulant agent are applied, if that is the chosen method of treatment. Placing the bird’s foot in a small bowl filled with flour or cornstarch will usually quickly staunch the flow of a severed, or clipped too short, nail. Dabbing the nail with aloe vera before dipping, if it can be done quickly and smoothly, is also recommended.

Ruptured Blood Feather

Many times, the source of unexpected bleeding is a ruptured blood feather.  Blood feathers are feathers that are in an incomplete state of maturation--they begin as a nub growing out of a feather follicle, lengthen within their waxy protective casing, and then, when mature, bloom into a brand new feather.  But while immature, a feather has a nourishing blood source running up the middle, and a very sensitive nerve.  So, the rupture of a blood feather can result in a great deal of  frightening blood flow, and a great deal of pain for your bird.

Sometimes, birds with ruptured blood feathers will circle on the cage bottom, screaming and picking at the injured feather—which may not be visible to you.  Until the ruptured shaft is removed, it will cause pain to the bird whenever it shifts within the follicle, and often, staunching the blood flow is difficult when the source is a feather.

There is a bit of disagreement, at this time, on whether a ruptured feather should be pulled by grasping the base with hemostats, needle nosed pliers, or tweezers—or whether the feather should be treated and left to fall out on its own.  There is evidence that pulling the feather can damage the follicle, and cause it to produce deformed feathers or a feather cyst, in the future.  However, leaving the feather in place can lead to further injury to the bird as it struggles with the pain of the damaged feather, additional blood loss, and possible infection of the follicle.

If a feather is painful and profusely bleeding, I recommend that it be pulled with the appropriate instrument.  The result is instant relief for the bird, and no more blood loss.  If one can get a bit of a coagulating agent (cornstarch or flour is recommended) into the feather to stop the bleeding, that method should first be employed.  But if a bird is in great pain, and struggling, consider removing the feather entirely.

Bleeding from a Nail Clipped Too Close

Another common scenario that causes bleeding in a bird is clipping a nail too close to the quick.  As with feathers, a ruptured quick can lead to a great deal of blood loss, and is very painful to the bird.  In this case, you should immediately apply a coagulating substance such as styptic powder, or cornstarch, to the bleeding area, and then follow up with an application of pressure to the tip of the affected toe.  Keeping the bird in a horizontal position will help staunch the blood flow more quickly.  Again, placing the bird’s foot in a small bowl filled with flour or cornstarch will usually quickly staunch the flow of a severed, or clipped too short, nail.

Bleeding from the Beak

Sometimes, birds will break off the tip of their beak, or injure their beaks.  Because the beak is a very vascular organ, it will often bleed profusely.

Beak injuries can be very serious in nature, and should always be evaluated by an avian veterinarian, as serious infections can develop if foreign material gets inside of a beak puncture, or injury.  If a bird is bitten by another bird, for instance, a certain amount of beak reconstruction may be necessary—certainly a job for the avian professional. However, if the tip of the beak breaks off, and bleeds, the best treatment is to cauterize the injured area with a Dremel tool.  One can apply pressure, and flour (not styptic in this case), but often, the beak will continue to bleed and the bird will be in a great deal of pain.  If the tip of the beak is broken, and the bleeding is successfully staunched, keep the bird in a darkened quiet area for several hours.  Remove abrasive perches from the cage, and hard toys,  and rearrange food and water bowls to discourage climbing within the cage until the beak tip is healed (several days, usually).  Feed softened foods only.  Place towels in the cage bottom in case the bird attempts to climb, but is pained by the beak, lets go, and falls.

Again, injuries to any part of the beak other than the tip require immediate professional care by the avian veterinarian.

Bleeding from Mouth, Nares, Vent

Bleeding from these areas, in general, requires immediate veterinary attention.  The cause of the bleeding will need to be identified, and the bird treated accordingly.

Excessive Bruising/Bleeding Under the Skin

If you note areas of bruising on your bird’s skin, and feel it is not caused by an injury, such as a fall, you should have the bird evaluated by your avian veterinarian.  Bruising can be symptomatic of bird disease.

Treatment After A Bleeding Injury

If you feel your bird has lost more than 10% of its blood volume during treatment of the injury, call you avian veterinarian for treatment instructions.  You may need to add special foods, or supplements, to the birds diet for the next several weeks to restore it to good health, even if an excessive amount of blood was not lost.

Always stay with your bird after a bleeding incident, to calm it.  Provide an additional heat source if the incident was traumatic, and ALWAYS RECHECK YOUR BIRD EVERY TEN MINUTES FOR SEVERAL HOURS TO MAKE SURE BLEEDING HAS NOT RESUMED.  Do this by checking for blood on clean papers, rather than holding or examining the bird.  The calmer your bird, the less the likelihood of resumed bleeding, so it’s imperative that the bird be comforted and placed in a warm, darkened area to recover.

Written by: Linda Brink

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