Your Avian Vet

There’s nothing more stressful than to have your bird appear ill, for the first time, and not have any idea where to turn for veterinary help. Normally, a vet specializing in dogs and cats will not be prepared, or have the basic skills, to treat an avian patient. So, where do you turn?

There are two categories of vets that can capably treat birds:  avian certified vets, and exotic vets.

Avian Certified Veterinarians

Avian certified vets have passed rigorous avian specific exams to achieve this very special certification.  An avian certified vet is your best choice, usually, if one is available—but they are few and far between, so you may not be able to find one in your area.

Here is a link that lists Avian Certified Vets througout the U.S. by state:

*2008 List of American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, Certified in Avian Practice

Avian certified vets are often associated with dog and cat vet practices, as they are legally licensed to treat animals other than birds.  They don’t always have a bird specific practice.

Exotic Veterinarians

Often, vets listed as Exotic Vets can very capably treat birds.  These veterinarians have avian experience, but usually are not avian certified.  Exotic vets often treat reptiles, as well as birds, dogs, cats, and small animals.

Here’s a website that lists avian vets who are members of  the Association of Avian Veterinarians:

*Find your local Avian Veterinarian

This is a good place to start, as you can simply type in your zip code, and the avian vets closest to you will be listed with an address and phone number.

You can also contact your dog and cat vet, and ask who, in your area, can professionally treat birds.

Important Questions to Ask An Exotics Veterinarian

Before taking your bird to a vet that is NOT avian certified, be sure to call and ask these questions:

  1. Has the vet had good experience drawing blood from avian patients?  This is extremely important, as the basic tests required to determine a bird’s health require the drawing of blood. If the vet draws blood from the leg rather than from under the wing or the jugular vein, that will alert you to the fact that s(he) does not know how to draw blood from birds.  The vet should always be the one to draw blood, not the technician, and it should be a smooth and quick procedure.
  1. Is the practice prepared to keep an ill bird overnight for treatment?  This, too, is very important.  Vets that routinely treat birds have the necessary bird specific facilities—and this is important.  Always go with the vet who is prepared to keep a bird for treatment, as they are the ones that, usually, will have the most extensive avian experience.
  1. Approximately how many birds does this vet treat in a month?

These are perfectly legitimate questions to ask a veterinarian, so don’t hesitate to ask them.  Dog and cat vets attempting to treat birds can, and have, harmed them.  Birds are very easily stressed, and an ill bird can be done untold harm if inappropriately handled and incorrectly treated.


Once you have located a vet that can appropriately treat your bird, press for the first available appointment.  If your bird is noticeably ill, take the bird in immediately as an emergency.  There is often only a small envelope of time available for successfully treating an ill bird, because birds mask symptoms of illness.  If your bird appears ill, it has probably been ill for a while—but masked the symptoms.

Transporting An Ill Bird

Birds that are ill need supplement heat—immediately providing this one thing can help save your ill birds life.  Transfer your bird in a solid carrier, if possible, to avoid exposure to drafts or cool outdoor temperatures.  If the weather outside is cold, warm up the car first—and make it very warm.  Wrap your carrier in a towel to provide additional protection from sudden wind gusts.  If the trip is a long one, fill a plastic bottle with hot water, place the bottle inside a sock or thin towel, and secure it inside the carrier so your bird will have a heat source.

Put a towel on the carrier bottom, as birds can grip this, and won’t slide.  Newspaper does not provide a grip, and the print can stain your birds feet.  When cleaning their feet, the print may be ingested.

Things To Bring With You

Be sure to write down the symptoms your bird is exhibiting before leaving, so they can be accurately reported to the vet.  Take a dropping sample from the cage floor (cut the cage floor paper for the sample and place it in a baggie); if the bird has vomited, bring that sample as well.

Don’t forget to bring a container of the food your bird normally eats, and some fresh food for your bird, as well.  Bring a favorite toy—you can even bring its cage, if that’s feasible.  Anything that will remind your bird of home will help reduce its stress during its hospital stay, if one is required.


Don’t wait until your bird is ill to locate an avian vet.  Research the vet well in advance.  Don’t hesitate to contact local bird clubs or web groups to ask for references of avian vets in your area, as some vets are better than others when it comes to treating birds—or perhaps, one facility is better equipped than another.  If you have other animals, visit the vet with them for vaccines or whatever, so that you establish a rapport, and get a feel for the skill of a particular doctor.

Be protective of your bird.  If you bring your bird to a vet, and the vet has difficulty handling the bird or seems unsure, bring the exam to a halt and leave.  Examples of this would be excessive roughness holding a bird, multiple punctures when trying to draw blood, or the use of gloves.  Avian professionals do not use protective gloves.  A vet with avian experience knows how to catch a bird, examine it with confidence, draw blood with one stick.  A vet inexperienced in these matters truly can hurt your bird.  This is why references obtained from other clients are so invaluable.

When first investigating who will be your avian vet, we advise you take your healthy bird for a wellness exam, or a nail trim, to get an idea of how the vet interacts with, and handles, his/her avian patients.  This screening visit is well worth the investment of time and small expense, as the vet can get an idea of how your bird appeared when well, and you can gage the vet’s expertise and technique prior to actual illness in your bird.

In summary, if you have an ill bird:

  1. Act quickly to get it professional help.
  2. Keep it warm and transfer it carefully.
  3. Take notes regarding the symptoms you’ve observed, to better prepare your vet.
  4. Take samples of droppings, vomit, urates.
  5. Take a small quantity of your birds regular food to sustain it during hospitalization, plus a favorite toy, or even the cage.
  6. Carefully observe your vet in action.
  7. Do not be afraid to ask questions.  Remember:  there are no foolish questions, just questions in need of answers.
  8. Don’t be afraid to leave if the vet examines your bird in a way that demonstrates a lack of experience.

written by: Linda Brink

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