Here follows a comprehensive description of the supplies and protocols I use for emergencies with finches and parrots. I will list each product and then describe its use and application.
I use any small cage for this, can be covered for warmth, or not, depending on the severity of illness. The cage must have perches as birds don’t like to stand on the floor even when dying. I always use a heat lamp (see below) overhead. In addition, water is placed near the bird’s head so that minimal movement is needed for drinking. Similarly, spray millet is always placed near the head as well as favored foods like dry seeds. Usually when birds are sick they won’t eat well, so I usually only offer favored and/or fattening foods in a hospital cage. NOTE: I always keep a light on overnight in hospital cages because since most sick birds are starving, and since they are usually sleeping all the time regardless, the danger of them going too long without food overnight is not worth the risk.
Birds must have supplemental heat when ill because their bodies cannot manage thermo-regulation in addition to illness without severe stress and weakening. I use a metal cone-shaped clamp light from Home Depot or other hardware stores containing a 60 watt incandescent bulb. I place the cone about eight inches above the bird’s head. The bird needs an alternative perch in case the heat becomes too strong. This needs to be monitored.
I like to weigh sick birds daily to monitor weight loss or gain. My birds won’t stand on a scale so I use a lightweight towel to firmly wrap them including their heads, making sure they can’t wriggle out, and then lay them on the scale in the towel. Subtract the weight of the towel and you have the bird’s weight. Even tiny birds can be weighed this way as long as you have a tiny towel.
I buy whatever gram scale I can find at Amazon that is in my price range and gets good reviews.
Here is a fabulous video by Linda Bestwick showing a creative way to weigh larger birds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXpS8DpLKXI
One of the most common ways for birds to die is from starvation/dehydration due to anorexia. Anorexia in birds can be caused by infection, trauma, or numerous other sources. I save more lives via gavage needles than with any other method. Gavage feeding or tube feeding is a process where you insert a metal tube directly into the crop and then squeeze in food and fluids via a syringe attached to the needle. It’s nerve-wracking, and the danger of aspiration is present, but it is simply the only way to save a bird’s life in a large percentage of situations. If you have a bird, you probably need to know how to gavage feed. However, I only recommend gavage feeding if a bird has stopped eating and is either dying or moving quickly in that direction (and yes, any bird who has truly stopped eating is near death).
There are different size needles and you need to google or call the supplier to determine which sizes you need. The needle (it’s not really a needle!) attaches to a plastic syringe which you fill with formula/fluids/herbs etc. Make sure to purchase a syringe along with the gavage needle i.e. ask to make sure it will attach, but all the standard bird syringes do attach. I usually buy a 5cc or a 10cc syringe. I buy my gavage needles from Foy’s Pigeon Supply.
I recommend that anyone with a bird who they plan to treat themselves in case of emergency purchase the correct size gavage needles in advance for all their birds, along with a few syringes. You may only need this once, or never – but you will be thanking yourself for the rest of your life if you save a bird that would otherwise have died unnecessarily.
I am not going to give directions for tube feeding here as I would rather help people as needed on an individual basis. If you need to tube feed, contact me and I can hopefully walk you through it. And of course there are youtubes…
Administering sub-cutaneous fluids is not too hard, but I have never learned the technique. I encourage each of you to ask your vet to teach you this method, as it can be a life-saver in emergencies. What I have done is simply to administer frequent doses of raw honey-water (the honey must be raw, as raw honey contains numerous enzymes and other nutritional and healing properties which are not present in regular (heated) honey). I use raw honey-water in place of gatorade or other electrolyte solutions.
For finches and other small birds, I put a little honey-water on the end of a finger and drip it into the beak. Sick small birds usually drink quite well with this method. For larger birds I might need to towel them and drip the honey-water into the beak via syringe. I make sure not to aspirate the bird with this method i.e. I go VERY slowly and let them swallow each drop.
My feeling is that a sick bird can’t get too many fluids, so I tend to dose the honey-water every half hour or so if a bird is critical.
To make the honey-water I use about a teaspoon of raw honey per half cup of water and serve this very warm (place the honey-water into a glass container and place the glass into a hot water bath to keep the honey-water at a good temperature).
When I use a gavage needle, or even when I am feeding herbs directly into the beak via syringe, I do best if I have some feeding formula on hand. I buy formula about three times yearly and keep it in my refrigerator. I check the expiration regularly, and replace when needed. This is not optional in my situation, as having the formula as well as the gavage equipment saves several lives per year in my finch and small parrot flock. Again, I won’t go into all the details of how to use formula for gavage feeding, but basically I just add very warm water to the formula and make a slurry that will go in and out of the tube/syringe easily. It thickens as it sits so I have to add water for a while. And I always use formula very warm to the touch, not burning! To achieve this I place the formula in a hot water bath and monitor the temperature by touch. Birds will take formula well when warm, horribly when cold. So this is critical. To the formula I often add herbs as this is a great delivery system for bad-tasting herbs. Also, if you only want to get herbs or fluids into a bird, the birds are much more likely to aspirate if you are gavage feeding watery fluids. Adding some formula to fluids allows the bird to hold the fluids in the crop.
The best formula I know of for gavage feeding is Lafeber’s handfeeding formula which I buy via Amazon. It contains preservatives and all kinds of ingredients I dislike, however, I only use formula for short periods of time and having the correct texture makes the difference between saving and killing birds: with the wrong texture the syringe can jam and then suddenly give way, easily rupturing the crop. You have to use the correct formula! and Lafeber’s works well.
When I am not planning to gavage feed, I like to have soymilk and raw honey on hand as a mix of soy milk and raw honey can be mixed with herbs and syringed directly into the beak: this mixture is thick enough in texture to avoid causing aspiration.
So to recap: when birds are off their food and water, helpful tools include:
– correct size gavage needles
– glass eyedroppers
– Lafeber hand feeding formula
– raw honey
– medicinal herbs and essential oils
FOR SUDDEN INJURY:
– HOMEOPATHIC ARNICA – 30c
This remedy can be used to help staunch any type of bleeding and for pain (one time my dog was in the ER dying of internal bleeding from a dog fight and there was no time for the vet to save him with surgery so she used homeopathic arnica and he quickly came back to life and fully recovered)
Homeopathic arnica comes as little pills – dissolve one pill into a small amount of water and feed via eyedropper or dissolve five pills in a cup of water as sole source of drinking water
I usually buy Boiron brand arnica 30c via www.smallflower.com
– ORGANIC CAYENNE PEPPER POWDER – to stop bleeding from wounds
I sprinkle cayenne powder directly onto open wounds to stop bleeding and pain (I promise it works and won’t hurt!)
I buy fresh, organic cayenne powder from Frontier Herbs and make sure it hasn’t been lying around for ages on a dusty shelf – the fresher it is, the better it works so I always buy this online
– ORIGINAL SWISS AROMATICS OR YOUNG LIVING HELICHRYSUM ESSENTIAL OIL –
I use helichrysum EO for pain from sudden injury and also to prevent or reduce swelling and injury.
It’s hard to explain how and why helichrysum EO works, you have to see it to believe it. Violent wounds and injuries respond almost instantaneously to helichrysum. It’s most effective in the very early stages of injury.
To apply, I use neat initially and after one or two doses, I use diluted at five percent in sesame oil. I apply directly to the wounded area.
Often birds carry infections for a while and then suddenly become critical at which point we only have a day or two to save them. Sometimes they are too weak to get to a vet at this stage. There are internal infections which can be life threatening and can involve the respiratory system or the gastro-intestinal system; for the most part it’s one of the two. In the case of accidents, there can be infected external wounds.
FOR EXTERNAL INFECTIONS/TRAUMA:
– DRIED ORGANIC GOLDENSEAL ROOT (please not wildcrafted)
Goldenseal root provides the best topical antimicrobial I have used – it works extremely well on bacteria and fungus. I like to use it as a tea to wash and purify all wounds, infected eyes, feet. beaks etc. It is entirely safe to use on all body parts. To make the tea, I use one heaping teaspoon of the dried root per cup of water just off the boil. I pour the water over the root and quickly seal in a glass jar. I then leave to soak for at least one hour, longer is fine. Before using, I strain and re-warm in a water bath. I apply the tea as a very warm compress every two to five hours, depending on how severe the injury is. All infection should be gone within a day.
I make the tea fresh once per day.
Goldenseal root must be stored in a sealed glass jar in the dark. It will keep for two years, so I mark an expiration date on the jar.
I buy organic goldenseal root from www.mountainroseherbs.com
– PLANTAIN LEAF
I use plantain leaf for two things: bites or stings (birds rarely get these) and as a drawing agent. Plantain is phenomenal at drawing poison out of the body as in a bee sting or any kind of puncture-based infection. I use plantain if I am worried about blood poisoning or any time something is wedged in the body that needs to come out. Plantain draws out poisons, infections and even helps to draw out things like splinters…
I use plantain fresh or dried, though fresh is best. Most people have this weed in their lawns and if unsprayed, this is a great source. It can simply be chopped up and held over the wounded area with a bandage, or by hand, or it can be made into a tea and used as a very warm compress. It needs to be used liberally and very often for a couple of days after injury. To make the tea for fresh plantain, I place just-picked, minced plantain leaves in a glass jar, pour water just off the boil over the leaves, just enough to cover them, seal the glass jar and leave this to soak for about half an hour, then strain. I then place the jar of tea in a water bath to keep very warm, the warmer the better, but never hot enough to burn. To make a tea from dried plantain, I place a tablespoon of dried plantain in a glass jar, add one half cup of water just off the boil and let this soak in a covered jar for half an hour, then strain.
Warm compresses need to be held against the injured area for up to ten minutes. I then take a ten minute break, repeat the ten minute soak, and do this for three sessions of ten minute-compresses. I will do this up to five times daily. It works! Note that goldenseal root can be added to plantain after the first couple of days to prevent infection further…or goldenseal can be used in between the plantain drawing sessions.
I use fresh or buy dried plantain from www.mountainroseherbs.com
FOR INTERNAL INFECTIONS:
– NATURE’S ANSWER OIL OF OREGANO:
This is a health store product that is made for internal use. It is the ONLY essential oil product that I will recommend that is not either Young Living or Original Swiss Aromatics, and this is because it is manufactured for internal use. No other store-bought EO product is manufactured this way. NA oil of oregano is oregano essential oil mixed with olive oil. It needs to be further diluted with olive oil for internal use in birds, but I do use this product internally when properly diluted.
This is the biggest gun in my arsenal and it is probably the most important in terms of saving lives.
NAOO is a broad spectrum antibacterial, anti-fungal and antiviral. It is also a powerful appetite and central nervous system stimulant. I only use NAOO for emergency situations because it can cause burning to the GI when used for long periods. It’s great for short term use because it works so rapidly, but once the bird is out of life-threatening danger, I switch to other remedies that carry less long-term risk.
I use NAOO when birds are puffy, sleepy, anorexic, showing signs of infection or listless due to illness. If it is going to work, it will start working within about an hour, which is really nice!
For every one drop of NA oregano oil, I use 20 drops of olive oil and place this into a separate dark glass jar for storage. Note that this is only the dilution rate for Nature’s Answer oil of oregano, please don’t extrapolate from this for other products. After diluting, I either use the NAOO directly in the beak or I mix it into formula or soymilk for syringe (into the beak) or gavage feeding. If using straight I will use two drops for a finch, three drops for a budgie, and up to only about five drops at the Hyacinth macaw size. I can’t really explain how to administer NAOO via formula because this will vary wildly depending on my purpose and how much formula I am feeding etc etc but the bottom line is that I don’t exceed the ballpark of the doses above.
NAOO will burn the tongue, crop and GI if used for long periods. I don’t use NAOO internally for more than three to five days. The other problem with this product is that when it gets onto feathers around the beak, birds will rub incessantly until they rub off all their feathers which causes swelling/more rubbing and so on. Therefore, whenever I use NAOO I make sure to keep a kleenex with me and wipe the beak quickly after administering in order to prevent any oil getting onto feathers. If oil does get onto feathers and there is a fiasco it will resolve itself eventually and at least the bird survived.
I buy NAOO via Amazon.
– LIQUID KYOLIC
I use liquid Kyolic (aged garlic extract) for parrots who have GI infections, i.e. vomiting, loose or abnormal stools, odors coming from the GI, etc. It does not work well on finches. Kyolic is very aggressive to candida (yeast) and also ecoli and other bacterial infections, but only if they are in the GI. You don’t need to know the exact type of infection as Kyolic is broad spectrum in action. The dose ranges from 2 drops two to five times daily for a budgie to twelve drops two to five times daily for a Hyacinth macaw. I administer this either on a warm piece of food that can be handfed such as banana, toast, etc. or I use an eyedropper and place the drops directly into the beak. Or it can be added to formula and fed via syringe or gavage needle. Kyolic is very useful when feeding sick handfed parrots – it can be added to formula at two drops per tablespoon of formula.
I buy Kyolic online or at health stores and store in the refrigerator after opening.
– GRAPEFRUIT SEED EXTRACT – please see article to dispel concerns regarding GSE safety. I feel that this product is entirely safe for birds.
I use GSE as a very broad spectrum antimicrobial for bacteria, fungus, parasites and viruses. For emergency purposes, I use it for cleaning, disinfecting, and I will use it in the water to boost anti-infection protocols. The dose is 3 drops per cup of water as the only water source. For cleaning and disinfecting, I use 6 drops GSE per ounce of soapy water.
I only buy Nutribiotic GSE, available online or at most health stores.
– GARDEN OF LIFE PRIMAL DEFENSE PROBIOTIC
Primal Defense is a soil-based probiotic blend that is similar to the type of probiotics that birds would have access to in the wild via soil-foraging. It works really well in all birds to prevent and help cure all types of infections. It also helps with building/restoring whole-body immunity. For sick birds I always use PD sprinkled onto their food as well as in whatever foods I might be hand feeding. Work up slowly to a dose that ranges from 1/32 teaspoon daily for a finch/canary to 1/4 teaspoon daily for a Hyacinth. When birds are very ill, I like to feed PD via syringe in a little formula or warm soymilk/honey and place directly into the beak at least an hour before or after administering any antimicrobial herbs. Once daily is plenty for syringe-feeding, but it can also be lightly sprinkled onto all softfoods throughout the day.
Buy PD online or at health stores – you want the plain version in the 81gram blue jar.
– YOUNG LIVING THIEVES BLEND ESSENTIAL OIL
Thieves is a highly aggressive antimicrobial that works well for bacteria, fungus and viruses. I like to place five drops of Thieves on a kleenex and place the kleenex near the sick bird’s head. If the bird is extremely weak, I may cover all sides of a hospital cage with a towel, leaving the front open and place the kleenex inside the hospital cage to create a kind of nebulizer. Sometimes it is enough just to place the kleenex on the side of an aviary…it depends on how sick the bird is. Thieves is invaluable for preventing contagious disease in birds who have been exposed, so I use Thieves in all my aviaries if I have something infectious going on. I might use three kleenex for an eighteen foot long aviary. pinned up at equal distances along the flight.
I refresh the kleenex with five new drops three times daily. Kleenex can be left overnight.
I have used Thieves kleenex treatments on baby finches and with parrot babies – it does appear to be safe for baby birds…
NOTE: I always observe birds when they are first exposed to Thieves or any essential oils to ensure that there are no negative reactions. If the bird begins to act abnormally in any way, I take away the kleenex and bring the bird outdoors to fresh air.
Thieves and other EOs work by quickly penetrating the air sacs for delivery into the bloodstream, so can be administered via the respiratory system which is a less invasive system for microbial control.
Young Living essential oils can be purchased from any YL member or from ebay.
– YOUNG LIVING PURIFICATION BLEND ESSENTIAL OIL
I use Purification in addition to Thieves to achieve the broadest possible spectrum of action against infections. Purification is similar to Thieves in being a very broad spectrum antimicrobial, but they work a little differently. I like to alternate between the two blends, so I might use Thieves one day and Purification the next, or I might use Thieves in the morning, and Purification in the afternoon. I do not mix the two blends as I feel that would be too many EOs with too many signals/messages for a sick bird.
See the notes re Thieves for how I administer – all the Thieves info applies to Purification.
– ORIGINAL SWISS AROMATICS THYME THUJANOL
This is one of my very favorite essential oils because it is an extremely effective antimicrobial, similar in effects to oregano or Thieves, and yet it lacks the caustic burning nature of oregano and Thieves, which allows it to be applied to skin.
Often a bird will develop an infection in the GI which causes a blockage to the point that food is backing up, droppings cease, and we see vomiting or regurgitating. Birds die very quickly when this happens. I use thyme thujanol in these situations because you can’t administer oral remedies when nothing is moving. Thyme thujanol can be diluted with sesame oil down to 5% thyme/95% sesame and then applied as one or two drops rubbed onto the skin. If a bird is dying, you will have to put up with a little oil on the feathers, but thyme works so fast that you won’t need to use it for long. It can be applied to the crop or the abdominal region. I would not use topical thyme thujanol for more than about five doses over a two day period – but usually it will get things moving by then at which point oral remedies can be used.
OSA thyme thujanol is available at www.originalswissaromatics.com
ECHINACEA ANGUSTIFOLIA ROOT
I use echinacea root when I need to jack up the immune system dramatically to fight something like PDD, polyoma, Pacheco’s or other really aggressive viruses. It can also help with something like septicemia where high immune function is needed in order to save a bird’s life. In emergency situations where echinacea root is needed, I will make a tea and then mix the tea with raw honey or formula and syringe or gavage feed the mixture. To make the tea, I use a tablespoon of echinacea root per cup of water just off the boil, pour the water over the root in a glass jar, seal the jar and leave this to sit for at least one hour.
Echinacea root is an herb that needs to be administered extremely liberally – like water. The dose is basically as much as I can physically administer, as often as I can administer it. You can’t overdose, you can only underdose.
I buy echinacea angustifolia root via www.mountainroseherbs.com. The root must be stored in a glass jar in the dark and will keep for two years, so I label the expiration date.
– ORGANIC SESAME OIL
I keep organic, unrefined sesame oil on hand in my refrigerator at all times. Sesame will penetrate skin quickly and deeply, unlike most other oils which sit on top of the skin. As sesame penetrates it serves as a carrier for any EOs or herbs that have been mixed into it. This is my oil of choice for delivery of topical EOs and herbs.
Organic, unrefined sesame oil is available through any health store.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, or by any veterinarian. All information, including any product or technique mentioned, is for educational purposes only. None of the information is intended to diagnose or treat any disease.