First Aid for Your Bird

By Dr. Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate APVP (Avian Practice)

We’ve all been there – you’re clipping your bird’s nails, you cut one nail just a little too short, and blood gushes everywhere. Or maybe your bird was out flying around your house and flew right into a mirror, chipping the tip of its beak which is now dripping blood. You start to panic while trying to hold on to the bird and get a piece of paper towel to put pressure on the toe or the beak to stop the bleeding.

This could all be avoided if you had a bird first aid kit prepared ahead of time. What should you include? It doesn’t have to be fancy – ideally a clear plastic bag so you can see and grab things easily. It should have towel appropriately sized to your bird which you can gently wrap around it to prevent flapping and struggling. It should also contain some items to help stop bleeding such as cotton balls, gauze pads, and Q-tips – all of which can be used to apply pressure to a bleeding beak, toenail, or skin wound. Your kit also should contain styptic pencils or powdered styptic (both available at drug stores). Styptic can be placed on the end of a bleeding nail and left to clot. It can also be used on the tip of a bleeding beak or blood feather but must be gently flushed off with water after the clot forms so that the bird doesn’t lick it with its tongue or ingest it. Styptic should not be used on open wounds or directly on skin, as it is caustic. Additional items to have in your first aid kit include over-the-counter triple antibiotic ointment that you can apply sparingly to a wound, if necessary, as well as some self-adhesive elastic bandage material (typically called “vet wrap” at animal hospitals or cohesive bandage material in drug stores) that can be used to cover a gauze placed over an open wound. In addition, it’s great to have a scissor in your kit to help cut bandage material, especially if you’re dealing with the emergency alone and don’t have two hands free to tear off a piece of bandage material. Finally, you should have a notecard available with the address and phone number of your veterinarian or a local 24-hour emergency veterinary center, plus the toll-free number for the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline in case your bird ingests something toxic. With all these items ready ahead of time, it may still be stressful dealing with a bird emergency that requires first aid, but it will be a little less so because you planned ahead.

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