Helping Your Veterinarian Help You and Your Parrot-family
by Sally Blanchard
KEEP YOUR PARROT SAFE IN A CARRIER
A veterinarian’s waiting room can be a pretty chaotic place. Because of this, avian veterinarians prefer that you bring your birds to their clinics in a carrier. The parrot should be left in the carrier until the veterinarian or a member of his or her staff comes into the examination room. A great deal of valuable examination time can be wasted if clients have to struggle to get their parrots off of their shoulders. There are also many variables in a pet clinic waiting room that it is difficult to predict what will happen if a parrot is not in his carrier. Barking dogs, snarling cats, screeching birds, snakes, poking children, and overly curious people are just a few possible hazards. There is no way to know how other animals in the waiting room will behave and even your usually well-mannered parrot may exhibit some unpredictable behavior resulting in injury for you, your parrot, another client or animal, a clinic employee, or even your avian veterinarian.
Should your veterinarian allow you to be present during all of the procedures that are necessary when your parrot is examined? I have been asked this question many times and I do not believe that there is an absolute yes or no answer. I think it depends on the veterinarian, the client, and the parrot. I believe that people should be able to stay in the room with their parrots during basic exams because the verbal exchange people have with their bird's veterinarian can be an important learning experince. However, it is important for people to realize that companion parrots pick up on their energy. A high-energy client or one who is very worried about his or her parrot may actually make examination and treatment more difficult. We need to face the fact that very few (if any) parrots appreciate being captured, restrained and prodded even if it is good for their health. Sometimes veterinarians and technicians have to handle parrots in a manner that may seem too aggressive to some owners and causes them concern. Veterinarians should always tell us what they are going to do and why before they take our parrots to another room. However, if you can’t guarantee that your worry will not transfer to your parrot and/or that you won’t get in the way, you should not insist on being there. While veterinarians will most likely have to do examinations, testing and/or procedures that will make you and your parrot uncomfortable, the general atmosphere should always be protective and benevolent towards the parrot.
GETTING YOUR PARROT USED TO BEING HANDLED AT THE VETS
Parrots who are comfortable being handled by several people are usually more comfortable during a veterinary visit. If they are used to having their body, toes, wings and beak touched, they will not be as apprehensive about being poked and prodded in the vet’s office or while they are being groomed. If your parrot is tame, play silly little games with him. Teach him to raise his wings with the cue “Eagle Boy” and then praise him while you gently stroke his wing feathers one at a time. Play “this little piggy” by counting his toes and touching and even pulling on each toe gently. Use a wet Q-tip to clean each toe. Touch his beak and clean it gently with a fresh moist Q-tip or a wet washcloth. Make up your own fun games but remember that our parrots love praise so use it liberally.
If parrots are used to being toweled in a friendly manner, they are usually less stressed during a veterinary visit. There is no reason for parrots to be inherently afraid of being toweled. Most of their fear comes from the way they have been toweled or the fact that they have only been toweled when they are being examined or groomed. If they are toweled from behind (like a Harpy Eagle looking for lunch), it makes sense that they would have a prey response to being toweled. Some parrots have little problem if they are approached from the front with the towel by a person who is calm and decisive but others want nothing to do with “the predator towel.” If a parrot is afraid of the sight of a towel coming towards him, there is still a way to get him used to being toweled. Set up a “neutral room” (a room that he is not used to where he has not established any territorial agenda) by putting a large plain colored towel on a bed or a couch. Put some of his favorite toys and a healthy treat or two on the towel. Once the room is set up, bring your parrot in and place him on top of the towel. Sit down with him and play “peek-a-boo” by slowly raising one corner of the towel. Gradually increase the amount of towel that you lift and start covering him with it. Keep it friendly with lots of praise! Eventually cover him completely with the towel and then lift him up to give him a hug while he is in the towel.
THE IMPORTANCE OF VITAMIN A
Vitamin A is one of the most important nutrients in your parrot’s diet. Not only does it help keep the immune system healthy, it also is necessary for proper cell, tissue and feather growth. The body converts the Beta-carotene from dark yellow-orange and green vegetables and greens into Vitamin A. High Vitamin A foods include dark fleshed yams and sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, peppers, broccoli, pumpkin, kale, and collard, mustard, turnip, and dandelion greens. Feed them in a variety of ways; mashed, grated, baked, juiced, pureed, chopped, etc. until these healthy foods are from 20-30% of your parrot’s diet. My parrots love “glop” made with sweet potato or carrot baby food, low salt whole grain bread, nonfat yogurt, chopped collard greens, and other healthy foods all mashed together.
IF YOUR PARROT BECOMES STRESSED OR TRAUMATIZED
While many parrots recover quickly from any stress they develop during a veterinarian examination, some are sensitive enough that they remain traumatized. This can be true even if the parrot has been handled gently; it often has more to do with the parrot’s personality than what happens to him at the veterinarian’s office. Some of these sensitive parrots will get over a trauma once they are home but a few will continue to be vigil and exhibit phobic behavior for some time after a perceived trauma.
True phobic behavior is not when a parrot is afraid of new toys or new experiences, but eventually adjusts or accepts the change. True phobic behavior is when a parrot becomes afraid of just about everything and everyone. There may be no evident reason or the parrot may have experienced an obvious trauma. Parrots are prey animals and I think when a parrot becomes phobic, he goes into a sustained prey mode.
If your parrot seems unusually apprehensive or afraid after a veterinarian examination (or after any potential traumatic situation), your behavior towards him can make a big difference in how long it takes him to get past his fear. A stressed parrot’s posture is usually thin and tall with feathers flat against his body. He is overly reactive to his surroundings. First of all, if he seems afraid of you — don’t take it personally. If you approach too directly, even if it is to comfort him, you can actually create more fear especially if you are worried. The best way to get him past his fear is to be very indirect with him. For example, I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and there were occasional earthquakes — some minor and some pretty scary. Parrots can become quite traumatized by these earth tremors. If they tried to fly, they often ended up thrashing in their cages and their fear became even greater. Years ago I would rush over to my parrots to make sure they were all OK and my alarmed presence would increase their semse of alarm. I eventually learned to walk into the room slowly and sit down in the middle of the floor. I lower my head and hummed softly. Within a minute or so, I could start to make soft eye contact with my parrots to make sure they were OK without it being threatening to them.
One of the best ways to get your traumatized parrot to relax with you again is to just leave him be for a while after you get him home. Keep your energy low and don’t show your concern or try to commiserate directly with him. Trying too hard will just make problems worse. Being with him without making any demands can help win back his trust. Simply sit in a chair close to the cage and read a book or magazine. Every now and then look up at him for just a second and then lower your eyes submissively. When he starts to move towards you, continue to keep your energy low and avoid any strong eye contact until he is relaxed with you again. This Chair Exercise is often all it takes for a sensitive parrot to get past his fear after a traumatic situation.