Geriatrics for The Pet Bird
“Age is NOT a disease”. one of my (Dr Phil) favorite sayings
Getting old gracefully is a luxury rarely given to any bird. Avian Geriatrics is a relatively new field in Avian veterinary medicine where pet parrots , just like humans, are living longer once their age appropriate needs are met. Wild birds and aviary birds usually die long before they become geriatric and rarely have long lives like that of the well cared for pet bird.
Can we be doing more and philosophically should we be doing more to promote health and longevity? The aim of geriatric care is to maintain and continue GOOD QUALITY LIFE into the birds older years, usually twice to three times as long as the longevity of birds in the wild. This is not surprising as people live about three times as long as they did 100 years ago.
The geriatric pet bird is usually a bonded pet and seen as a “family member” – and with the owner’s common sense and empathy good geriatric husbandry can be fostered.
Bird vVet Dr Phil recommends the following guidelines:
1) Adjusting Perches and sleeping perches and cage furniture.
As birds get older they lose muscle mass, they lose strength and their ability to grip decreases. The higher perches need to be lowered a bit and replaced with broader ones. The bed or “sleeping perch” should be broader and often a “shelf” is ideal as arthritis sets in . See FIG 1. In the first picture note the steps or stair case, the large diameter perch and the shelf like perch. This set up limits the bird “falling down” or being stranded on the floor . Birds prefer to sleep resting on their “tummy” and lifting up at least one leg. A comfortable relaxed sleep is not really possible on a thin smooth perch where the bird is forced to grip tightly all night. Even younger birds prefer having a broader sleeping perch. Our oldest Buderigar patient is 14 years old and sleeps on a "bed" - a material covered platform. It is heated of course!
2) Additional Heating
Our ability to regulate body temperature decreases with age. Older birds (and Dr Phil) prefer being at temperatures of about 25 degrees. That is why so many people like to live in warmer climates. Birds have much higher body temperatures than other animals eg: Humans temperature is 36.5 degrees, dogs and cats about 38.4 degrees and birds about 40.3 degrees, which is very high. The biblical Garden of Eden is probably 25 degrees! Older birds need additional heat if temperature falls below 22 degrees. This is even more important if the birds plumage and feathering is becoming sparse. Heat lamps are cheap to buy and economical run and are safe if appropriately chosen. See Fig 1 with a ceramic heat lamp attached at the top of the “stairs”. Fig 2 Heat sources. Heat can be obtained from the ducted heating, heat lamps, ceramic lamps , heat pads both electric and microwavable and even incubators. Incubators cost about $200 to buy, cost very little to use and are a great safe sleeping “cage” for the older bird. Heated throws are now the rage !! recommended By our Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic
3) Diet and Nutrition
Feed your older pet healthy food. Healthy food is balanced nutritionally and low in fat and sugar. Birds need the appropriate vitamins, minerals, amino-acids, proteins etc. Feed your bird a healthy VARIETY of foods. Seed only is BAD! … and usually results in the bird never becoming a geriatric. Feed your bird some seed, sprouts, dark green vegetables and pellets, as well as some low fat and low sugar human foods. Most parrots are social eaters and the single pet bird benefits psychologically and physiologically by sharing healthy human food. The big seed eaters, as we often see, are given various tonics and supplements in an attempt to balance their diet; which is not ideal.
4) Companionship, Security and well being
Every single pet bird should be able to sleep during the day feeling secure by being protected. Take a tea towel and cover the corner of the cage –permanently. (The cage should still be covered at night.) In the day keep the geriatric bird inside –ideally in the living area. Birds are flock animals and love companionship –many are “love sponges”- make sure the single bird has enough companionship and stability of environment.
5) Vet care
Find an Avain veterinarian that is both empathetic and understands you and your pet bird! There are not many avian veterinarians as there is such a small demand. We in Australia are just starting to nurture and embrace the companionship of the avian geriatric, especially when they get over 20 years.
Here are examples of two older birds, a rooster and a love bird.
Geriatric case 1: Eros a 9 year Roster – sleeps indoors in the owners bedroom – Yes on the owners bed, drinks only bottled water, has had three cancer masses removed that would have been life threatening, goes for physiotherapy and myo-therapy as needed for the arthritis that is gradually setting in. Eros is loved and nurtured . Chicken Vet Melbourne sees pet chickens daily, our chicken vet patients are a significant number. The chicken vet clinic has incubators purchased for chiucken use.
Geriatric story 2: Moo a 23 year old love bird – yes 23 years old ! Moo falls asleep every night on her owners warm soft chest and is then gently removed and placed on a heated “shelf perch” for the night. Moo has her cage beautifully set up, for her limited mobility.
Conclusion : Owners mindsets are changing. Captive birds used to be seen as wild birds eating only seed and kept outside as “nature” intended. We are seeing an increase in pet owners enjoying their avian “friends” for much longer and with stronger pet –human bonds. Owners are embracing the same values and thoughts that we place on geriatrics in dog and cat medicine for a longer quality life.
Figure 1. An example of the cage set up for an older bird with limited mobility. Note the stairs, perches and heat lamp.
Figure 2 . Heat lamps, heat discs, heat pads can be used to assist the older bird in keeping warm.
Figure 3. “Chickie” an 11 year old getting his monthly beak “pedicure”.
Geriatric bird Medcine - bird vet
At our Melbourne bird veterinary clinic we stock ideal perches and perching platforms for each stage of your birds life.