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Starling Talk
Care and Rehabilitation of Injured and
Orphaned Starlings

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Illness in Pet Starlings
Signs of Sickness and Choosing an Avian Vet

Things to Look for in a Sick Bird:

Birds in the wild must hide any signs of illness, as any weakness will make them easy targets for predators. As a result it is normal for birds to hide any illness until they are so ill they can no longer do so. Any sign that a bird does not feel well should be a warning that the bird needs to be seen by a vet. DuPont Teflon® and other non-stick products can kill birds if overheated. Please click on this link to read about the dangers: Non-Stick products

It is important to be very observant and watch for minor changes in behavior. Small things such as any swelling of the toes, feet or legs, not playing, not talking as much, not taking normal baths, keeping the feathers rumpled or fluffed instead of sleek and smooth, a bird that looks sleepy, runny nose, shivering, glassy, red, or watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, mucus in nose, rapid breathing, vomiting, hiding the head in the plumage, loose stool (this could be caused by a change in diet) If the bird is lethargic, lame, twitching. staggering, or twisting the head, are all reasons to contact a vet right away. Any bird that has been in a cats mouth needs to go on antibiotics right away, even if you don't see anything wrong with it. Learn as much as possible about your bird, such as the normal weight and diet, as most vets have little experience with starlings and may not know that they eat mainly insects, or their normal weight. It is always a good idea to find a vet before you really need one. A well bird check-up will give you some basic information that will came in handy if he becomes ill later.

If You Need a Veterinarian, Some Things You Should Know:

Avian medicine is very new, and contrary to what most people think, most veterinarians are not trained in treating exotic animals. At the Va. Tech Vet School you can graduate with a DVM without a single course specifically on birds (except poultry), I think this is true at most vet schools in this country.

Veterinarians who specialize in birds have generally sought their own additional training in the field of avian medicine. They are members of the AAV (Association of Avian Vets) so they are receiving the latest information on bird care. This is so important, as new information is being discovered all the time. Just in the last ten years the knowledge in avian medicine has almost doubled. You can call the AAV and ask for the names of members in your area. Their phone number is (407) 393-8910. You may also search for an AAV Veterinarian in your area by clicking on the following link title: AAV - Find your local avian veterinarian

If you have a pet bird club in your area, check with the members about who they use and recommend. My own preference is to try to find a vet who has worked with a wildlife center, as starlings are very different from the parrots that most avian vets see. However, a veterinarian with some bird experience is generally better than one with none. If you have a vet for your pet dogs or cats ask him/her for a recommendation.

When you call for an appointment it is perfectly okay to ask what percentage of the vet's practice is made up of birds. It is also important, if you have a European Starling, to say that you are making the appointment for a pet bird. Keep stressing "pet bird" because it is very important that they know this is your pet and not a wild bird, as most vets do not treat wild birds. It is also a good idea to download your states wildlife laws, as they pertain to starlings, and take it with you for many vets believe that they are a protected species, and refuse to treat them. In some areas it will be hard to find an avian vet, and in this case what you will want to look for is someone who admits that he or she does not know much about birds but who has an interest in them. Vets who say they "don't know something but will try to find out" get high marks in my book. The vets who will not admit that they don't know much about birds yet work on them with confidence anyway are the ones who really scare me. A vet who tries to bluff his way will not treat my birds, and I hope not yours either.

Once you are at the vet's office one thing to look for would be bird literature in the waiting room, a gram scale so the vet can get the birds weight, (an accurate weight is important in order to figure the correct medicine dose). Other important things to look for include the vet doing a physical exam, (after observing the bird in his cage), handling the bird gently, checking the eyes, inside the mouth, the ears, and listening to breath sounds. If the vet does not pick the bird up to do an exam, take your bird and run. In some cases of extremely ill birds, however, handling will be kept at a minimum and the examination will be very brief, or not at all, and will only be done after oxygen supplementation or other emergency care. If your bird is sick, the vet will need to be able to do some basic testing if the patient is stable enough. Gram stains, bacterial cultures, fecals and a complete blood count are tests that are needed in most cases. There are other tests that your vet may feel is necessary as well, but expect some testing to be done. No one can treat a sick bird fully and properly without doing some basic tests.

Some of the antibiotics that an avian vet commonly prescribes are Trimethoprim and Sulfamethoxazole, Bactrim, Cipro or Baytril. It would be very unusual for a bird to need something such as Amoxicillin, and this would only be used for very specific circumstances such as for a bird that has been attacked by a cat. Vets inexperienced with birds consider Amoxicillin a broad spectrum product for dogs and cats, and do not realize that it is not a good choice for birds. Sometimes an antifungal such as Nystatin will be prescribed along with antibiotics.

The last item is perhaps one of the most important. You should feel comfortable with the vet of your choice! He/she should answer your questions fully and should have scheduled enough time to do a good job of checking your bird. Be sure to write down any questions you have before going to her/his office.

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