Well-Bird Exam: An Important Veterinary Tool

By Julie Rach

Most pet-bird owners know the importance of taking their pets to the avian veterinarian when the birds become ill, but some owners may not appreciate the importance of routine, "well-bird" examinations. These exams provide your avian veterinarian the opportunity to see your bird in a normal state, and allow you to learn about the latest developments in avian nutrition and other-bird care information that your avian veterinarian's office can provide.

Well-bird exams also are important because birds are masters at hiding illness. By the time some birds start to show obvious signs of illness, it can be difficult for them to recover from a disease. In the wild, birds that show signs of illness are vulnerable to predators, and this ability to act and appear normal and healthy carries over into today's pet birds. This is why you, the bird owner, must observe your pet carefully each day and report any changes you see to your veterinarian's office immediately. If your bird suddenly loses its appetite, stops talking, loses interest in its surroundings, or sleeps more frequently than usual, call your avian veterinarian's office for an appointment.

Please notice that, in the paragraph above, I said "signs" rather than "symptoms." Veterinarians often draw this distinction: Signs are outward indications of illness that a person can see, whereas symptoms are described to a doctor by the patient. Since most veterinary patients can't describe their symptoms to their doctor, veterinarians discuss "signs" instead of "symptoms."

Signs of Illness

Some signs of illness in pet birds include:

Fluffed-up appearance

Loss of appetite

Tendency to sleep all the time

Change in the appearance or number of droppings

Weight loss


Drooping wings


Partially eaten food stuck to the bird’s face

Food regurgitated onto the cage floor

Labored breathing, with or without tail bobbing

Runny eyes or nose

A lack of talking or singing

What The Veterinarian May Ask You

Bird owners should not be afraid to ask their avian veterinarians questions, but they may not expect the number of questions the vet may ask them. When you take your bird for an exam, the doctor may ask you these questions:

Why is the bird here today?

What's the bird's normal activity level?

How is the bird's appetite?

What does the bird's normal diet consist of?

Have you noticed a change in the bird's appearance lately?

How long have you owned the bird?

Has the bird recently been exposed to other birds?

Has anything in the bird's home environment recently changed?

What type of cage does the bird live in?

How much time out of the cage does the bird receive each day?

Does the bird have any long-standing health problems?

Be sure to explain any changes in as much detail as you can, because changes in your bird's normal behavior can indicate illness. In the case of well-bird exams, though, descriptions of your bird's behavior help your veterinarian determine what types of behavior are normal for your pet.

During the initial examination, the veterinarian probably will take his or her first look at your pet bird while it is still in its cage or carrier. The doctor may talk to you and your bird for a few minutes to give the bird an opportunity to become accustomed to him or her, rather than simply reaching right in and grabbing your pet. While the veterinarian is talking to you, he or she will check the bird's posture and its ability to perch. He or she also will look at the cleanliness and general condition of your bird's surroundings, and evaluate the bird's overall appearance. Finally, your veterinarian will determine whether or not your pet is breathing easily and if it seems interested and aware of its surroundings.

Next, the doctor should remove the bird from its carrier or cage and look it over carefully. He or she will note in particular the condition of your pet's eyes, beak, and nares (nostrils). The bird should be weighed, and the veterinarian will probably palpate (feel) your pet's body and wings for any lumps, bumps, or deformities that require further investigation. Feather condition will be assessed more closely, as will the condition of the bird's vent, legs, and feet. Your veterinarian also will listen to your pet's lungs with a stethoscope, and he or she may also check the bird's mouth, throat, and ears.

Recommended Tests

After your veterinarian has completed your bird's physical examination, he or she may recommend further tests. These can include:

Blood workups, to help determine whether a bird has an infection, is anemic, or has certain avian diseases. Blood tests also help a veterinarian determine how well a bird's internal organs are functioning.

Radiographs or x-rays, to help determine whether a bird has broken a bone, ingested a foreign body, or developed some other internal abnormality.

Microbiological exams, to determine whether a bird has an infection and, if so, to guide the course of treatment.

Fecal analysis, to indicate whether a bird has a parasitic infestation or a bacterial or yeast infection.

Once the examination is over and you've had a chance to ask questions, the veterinarian probably will recommend a follow-up examination schedule for your pet. Most healthy birds visit the veterinarian annually, but some have to go more frequently.

Julie Rach is a freelance writer based in Oceanside, California.

For More information

Association of Avian Veterinarians - http://www.aav.org

Ampersand Communications

Back to Top