During my recent visit to Phoenix Arizona, I took Kili & Truman in to see Dr. Driggers. His is the first exclusively Avian and Exotic veterinary clinic in the country to have a CT scanner. He took some time to tell me about the machine and how it works.
It's really fascinating. The scanner takes 720 images in the span of about 30 seconds. The computer reconstructs these images into a full 3 dimensional display of the animal. The doctor is able to look through the organs and bones without ever hurting or cutting the animal open in the process.
I decided to get Truman scanned to check on how his prior injury has healed and also to check just in case for new ones because he is very accident prone. So they gassed him for a few minutes to anesthetize him. They need the animal to lay perfectly still during the capture so that all of the images line up for the final 3D image. Then they laid Truman out on the bed of the scanner. A team of several vet techs works together to make the process go as quickly and smoothly as possible. They hyperventilate the bird prior to the scan and then stop the breathing during the scan. It's like holding your breath to go underwater. Everyone gets out of the room while the scanner is going. The moment it stops, they were already getting a stethoscope on Truman and checking his condition. Once the scan was complete, they used a hand pump to get him breathing room air again.
The analysis of Truman's bloodwork and CAT scan showed him to be healthy and organs in good shape. A 3D look at his skeleton showed that his original injury has healed well and is barely visible any more. On the other hand it also revealed that he has a slightly crooked keel and that he has busted his tail at some point. Nonetheless, these do not currently affect him but it's good to know what's going on. It is also reassuring to know that the previous injury has not worsened and that his organs look healthy.
I am glad to see the new CT scan technology moving along so well. I bet in a case where there is organ issues, something lodged inside the bird's gut, or a hard to locate injury, being able to use this CT scan technology will drastically improve avian medicine.
Since the Avian and Exotic Clinic is the first in the country to have a CT scanner and since Truman is their first ever Cape Parrot to be scanned, most likely this is the first and currently only 3D CT scan of the internals of a Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus fuscicollis). Check out this video of Dr Driggers explaining the technology and Truman, the first Cape Parrot to get CT scanned, showing us how it's done:
This article is about giving medication to multiple parrots in a multi-parrot home. For instructions on giving medication to a single (particularly untrained) parrot, I previously wrote about giving medication to my Green-Winged Macaw.
My flock was diagnosed with Clostridium so now they all have to take medication for 21 days. Santina previously had it and received treatment but it did not stop the other birds from catching it as well. It is not clear if it is the food, environment, or other bird that is the cause. But regardless the entire flock needs to be medicated. The medication is administered orally once a day. The trouble is the duration for which it has to be given. This is a long enough of a period that the parrots must be trained to accept medication. Clever trickery may get you by a few days or a week. But anything longer and the parrot must be on board.
In most cases where a parrot requires medication in a multi-parrot home, the rest of the flock should receive the medication even if they don't show symptoms. My birds all seem to have it because they have been having smelly poop.
So on to the process of medicating a bunch of birds together. This may seem like a lot of work but actually if done right makes things a heck of a lot easier! Using modeling and a healthy dose of competition can get the birds to be more excited about doing something undesirable (like taking medication)!
I medicate the entire flock together and have turned it into a fun game for them. I have been taking advantage of each of my bird's strong points while avoiding their weaknesses in this medication process. This makes it appear to each of the other birds that the one they are watching really loves getting medication.
Kili is a super trained parrot so for her I set taking medication to be like a trick. I taught her to target the syringe, then to sip water, and finally to sip and swallow. Thus when I make the unexpected switch to real medication she just takes it. Santina is a great follower. She likes to do what the others are doing. So between the original medication sessions that I had with her modeling off of me and the recent ones of modeling from the other birds, she is doing very well. Truman is a bit of a runt and doesn't want to take medication but I've been working past that with him as well. He drinks water like a camel so I've been letting him get thirsty and then enjoy drinking a lot of water from the syringe. Because each bird appears eager to participate in the medication process (although each for different reasons) it encourages the remaining birds to cooperate and try harder. Nobody wants the competition to get more!
Here are some more elements that have made the process so successful. I practice the "medication process" with just water in the syringe twice a day although medication only comes once. For every 1 sip of medication, the birds are probably getting 40 sips of water. This makes the undesirable medication not only unpredictable but also fairly negligible in the greater scheme of getting water from the syringe. The birds get pellets as treats so this makes them more thirsty for water sips from the syringe. The pellets also soak up medication in their beaks and ensure that it is swallowed. Also I stopped providing water in the cage and have been giving it by hand only to ensure that the birds desire fluids at the necessary time. Spitting out and not receiving the medicine is far worse. So instead I let them sip some of their drinking water from the syringe and the rest they get from a bowl in my hands. This is similar to when we travel so they are perfectly used to it.
The thirstier/hungrier birds are far less picky. They used to spit out pellets that got medication on them from inside their beaks. Truman in particular would shake his head and spit out the medication. But now with this training system in place, the birds are far more cooperative. With practice, they now know the routine very well and are even more cooperative. In their competition with each other to get water and treats, they seem to forget their resistance to the medication and it is a win/win for everyone.
It is important to understand that the objective is not to simply get the medicine into the bird but to succeed in completing the entire medication process. Tricking or forcing the bird to take medication will only work a few times. In an emergency, you do what you gotta do. But if the bird is in condition to be trained, it is far far better to have a bird that wants to take medication than a bird that flies away or bites you because it knows what is coming. This is why even after the birds get the real medication, I keep practicing with them with the water. In fact, I would say they get the real medication about a quarter of the way into the session. This is when motivation is highest and it makes it least predictable as to when it will happen. Since they all come over to me when they see a syringe, I know I have succeeded in applying positive reinforcement to taking medication!
Kili, Truman, and Santina got microchipped and this article is about the procedure and the pros/cons. First off, I'm a believer in leg bands. I think leg bands are the simplest and most effective means of bird identification. Except when medically necessary, I think it is better to keep pet parrots banded. If given the choice on a new baby to band or not, I'd take the band.
Santina came from the rescue without a band. I was told that hers was removed for medical reasons so I would not consider open banding her again. This is why I first decided to look into microchipping for Santina.
The reason that parrots should carry some type of permanent identification is so that if it is ever lost, stolen, found, rescued, or disputed, there is a means of identifying the bird. In the case of lose or found, a band helps provide readily visible identification and may help the bird be returned. A band can lead to contact with the breeder the bird came from and that could help connect the bird to the owner. I also feel that if ever questioned by authorities about a parrot, showing that it is banded can help simplify things quicker. If ownership of the bird is disputed, having records pertaining to the identification can help resolve legal matters. Lastly for a bird that drifts from home to home through rescue, a band may help figure out the age of the bird and other information that may be helpful in its care.
Since Santina came without her band, I will never find out what breeder she came from. That kind of information could be useful to learn more about how the bird was raised and to confirm the age. To ensure that Santina can be definitively identified and because of the higher potential to get lost (since I fly my birds indoors and out), I wanted to get her microchipped as soon as possible. I decided to get Kili & Truman microchipped as well while I was at it. The one case where having both microchip and band is best is in the case of theft where bands usually get cut off.
A microchip is installed by injection into the pectoral muscle under the skin. Old microchips required the bird to be anesthetized and a surgical procedure. The new kind that I got from Microchip ID Solutions is even smaller and requires nothing more than a localized anesthetic. The old chips used to migrate around the body but the new ones are supposed to remain in place. Many clinics are unaware of these new smaller ones so be sure to ask which ones they use or recommend they use this smaller one. The chips aren't expensive and the procedure can be done by a vet tech rater than vet so it is not that costly. A location for the micochip is chosen and a mark is made with a maker. An injection is made to numb the area and once in effect, the microchip is directly injected. The microchip can be identified by a microchip reader at any vet clinic.
Microchipping parrots has its pros and cons. These are both physical and practical in nature. The benefits of a microchip over a band is that it is unobtrusive, cannot be removed, is recorded in a nationwide database with your information, and doesn't cause discomfort. The down side is that nobody can see it and few can use a device to read it.
Only vet clinics and large scale cat/dog rescues are equipped to read microchips. And even then, most don't bother scanning a bird unless it was brought in and known to be lost. When is the last time someone scanned your parrot for a microchip? For all you know it has one and nobody ever bothered to check. This is the problem of a microchip compared to a band. It doesn't ever get checked unless a bird is found and brought to a facility that has a reader.
In a study conducted by Dr. Todd Driggers DVM that found that the new microchips (like the ones I had implanted in my birds), cause very little tissue trauma. In the study he says, "the CPK increased by approximately 300 mg/dl in each bird. In comparison, CPK can elevate with a single antibiotic injection to over 1500 mg/dl. Because microchips do not create muscle necrosis (like antibiotics can) the relative amount of tissue damage to the muscle is very low." He also suggests that local anesthetics are maximum precaution necessary and that these chips are small enough to implant in parrots as small as lovebirds. In 2 days, Dr. Driggers implanted 22 chips in various species and concluded that "no post implantation infections have been observed so sterilization of the chips and a refined implantation procedure has proven effective."
For these reasons I think both bands and microchips have their place and the ideal combination may be a combination of both. However, the most important and reliable measures are the ones you can take to ensure the safety of your bird in the first place. Wing-clipping is NOT a valid safety measure to keep parrots from being lost. Keeping doors and windows closed, a carrier/harness outdoors, and a safety minded approach are the most effective measures for keeping birds from getting lost. But accidents can still happen so for the very unlikely event of one, that's where having some ID on your bird is a great idea.
This article is about how to do bad things to your parrot. Scratch that, you shouldn't be doing bad things to your parrot. Let's call it doing “sucky” things to your parrot. Sucky things may be inevitable or necessary such as going into a carrier, being toweled, going to the vet, putting on a harness, moving to a new house, getting groomed, receiving medication, etc. These aren't necessarily bad things, some may even be life saving, but they can certainly be seen as sucky and undesirable from the parrot's perspective. This guide provides some tips on making these things go by more easily. I'm not going to look into the specifics of each task (such as teaching the parrot to go into the carrier) but rather an approach to dealing with these situations in general.
The first step is to try to make the best of any situation. If you have to do something sucky to your parrot, try to make it as harmless as possible. For example if your parrot is terrified of carriers, towels, and grooming, perhaps you can do just the grooming at home without a towel to avoid making the experience triply terrible. Try to make uncomfortable situations go by quickly and smoothly. But do not rush or be too forceful in trying to make it go by faster. Instead try to be efficient by thinking the experience through in advance and even practicing it out before putting the parrot into it.
Whenever possible, try to use positive reinforcement to desensitize the parrot to sucky things or situations. Teach the parrot to go into the carrier by itself, teach it to put the harness on voluntarily, etc. Anything that is meant to be for the pleasure of the parrot must not be applied in a sucky way. In other words forcing the harness so the parrot can enjoy being outside is terribly counterproductive. The parrot will be so preoccupied being upset about the harness being forced on that it will miss the enjoyment of being outside.
Being wrapped in a towel for veterinary procedures on the other hand is not be for the parrot's pleasure (though it may be essential for the parrot's health, the bird does not realize this). Still, you can greatly eliminate the stress of the veterinary visit by ensuring that all the other aspects aren't sucky for the parrot. If you use positive reinforcement to train a parrot to be comfortable with the towel and use the towel in non-threatening ways at home, the experience of being toweled by the vet won't in itself be traumatizing. Nor will the carrier to get there, the handling, etc. This leaves the parrot to be stressed only by the actual blood draw or other medical procedures. Instead of being traumatized by all the uncomfortable handling and force, the parrot is left with much less to worry about.
A great counter condition to necessary sucky experience is to make it desirable beforehand. For example, rather than letting your baby parrot's first encounter with a towel be a bad one at the vet, make hundreds of good experiences at home first. Then when one bad exception time happens at the vet, the parrot won't hold a grudge because the good times far outweigh the bad ones. If your parrot hates towels already, you can take the time to undo the damage and counter condition the towel as something desirable. If hundreds of good experiences at home outweigh the infrequent bad ones, it will remain less sucky to the parrot and your parrot will suffer less for it.
Things like new toys should never be sucky at all. Sure, many parrots are scared of new stuff. But the last thing you want to do is make the bird scared of what it is actually meant to enjoy. For skittish parrots, hanging a toy straight into the cage figuring it will get over it is not always the best idea. The bird will still have prolonged anxiety in the process of desensitization. Instead, offer a social modeling form of learning by being proactive. Play with the toy yourself in view of the parrot or use targeting to teach the bird to come closer to the toy to get comfortable on its own.
The more “sucky” things that you turn into neutral or better yet “awesome,” the better prepared your parrot will be to deal with any life changes as they are to come. The more you train, socialize, travel with your parrot, and build good experiences, the easier this process continues to become.
As you teach your parrot how to overcome and even enjoy sucky things, your parrot will begin to develop a trust for anything you provide. For example, Kili used to get scared of new trick training props. I would work with her using targeting to have her walk around in the vicinity of the new toy and progressively closer until she was no longer scared. Over time, these targeting sessions became quicker and quicker because she was already familiar with the desensitization process. Eventually we reached a point where if Kili was scared of something new, I could just show her the target stick and ask "do we really need to even go through this?" and then Kili would stop being scared of the new toy and just proceed to learning the new trick. Not only are new toys not sucky to Kili anymore, she looks forward to them. I have reversed the appearance of something new from being sucky to something to look forward to. Kili knows that new training props mean fun new tricks to learn.
Occasionally there are some rare non-recurring sucky things that must be done. Preparation may be impossible. In those cases just get it done. But for all other things that you can control, take the time to make them pleasant and your parrot will have an overall better life. The fewer things that inevitably have to be sucky, the less stressed your parrot will be and the more trusting of people it will remain. Preempt experiences that may be bad with a lot of similar good experiences beforehand. Less suckiness in your parrot's life is already a better way to live.
Check out this video of how I handle Kili & Truman in a positively reinforcing way in preparation for grooming and other necessary handling. Basically it's just how we play but it has useful benefits in the long run:
I took Santina to the vet for her first checkup. Whenever taking in a new bird, it is important to have it checked by an avian vet. But when adopting from a rescue or other bird-crowded place it is even more important because the potential for communicable diseases is greater. In fact, many rescues require that you take the adopted parrot to the vet within a certain period.
During the first week and a half I've had Santina, all training efforts were focused toward preparing Santina for this vet visit. I knew a visit to the vet would be inevitable and I preferred it to be sooner than later for the peace of mind knowing she is healthy or dealing with issues as they come. However, I do not believe in manhandling parrots or traumatizing them. The phrase "it's better someone else groom the bird so it hates them instead of you" is a load of baloney. The parrot shouldn't be put in the position of hating anyone. These traumatizing experiences on the parrot come back to bite the owner. If not directly, then through the parrot's distrust of all other people.
Shortly after acquiring Santina, I called the clinic and pre-arranged all the tests that we'd be doing. I wanted the first visit to go as smoothly as possible and did not want to be spending time with the bird there discussing tests or prices. By having a list arranged in advance, it would cut the bird's exposure time significantly. I decided to go full board and get most tests done because it is my obligation to ensure that Kili & Truman are not infected by an outsider. I requested the physical exam, CBC blood panel, Chlamydia test, PDD test, and XRays. The XRays aren't mandatory but they are good for establishing a baseline on a new older bird. Perhaps it swallowed something, has a tumor, enlarged liver, calcium seepage, punctured air sack, etc. It's better to know up front. I would be much less concerned about an XRay on a baby.
I knew that Santina is carrier-phobic from the rescue, so I established a backup plan with the vet. Since I knew she steps up but doesn't go in carriers, my worst case scenario plan was to bring her loose in the car and have the towel her while still inside and bring her in. Since they would have to towel her inside or out, that would make little difference. Having this plan in place took all the pressure off of me to carrier train her and allowed me to focus on that task.
In the first few days, I noticed that walking around the room with Santina, so much as going near the carrier would send her into a panic. She would jump off my arm or run up my shoulder out of fear of being shoved into the crate. Thus my first task was desensitizing her to the carrier. I intentionally did not hide it. But I did leave it at the furthest corner of the grand bird room. Santina would be exposed to the sight of it from her smaller cage room and even more so whenever I took her out.
Then I proceeded to teach Santina to climb insider herself. I realized she began to really like the carrier when I put her in for a walnut and she didn't want to come back out. From that point I've been able to just put her in or take her out as needed. Thus I had no trouble loading her up to go to the vet for her checkup.
Lorelei, the chief nurse and office manager came out to get Santina out of the car. She was shocked to find that a week since we talked, the bird was safely in the carrier and did not need to be grabbed out of the car. Santina stepped up for Lorelei and allowed her to handle her. This all changed with the towel came into play so toweling is something we'll need to work on. Lorelei has a great feel for handling birds and is the main reason I take them to the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine. I am not bringing my pets to the clinic to be tortured. It is really important for me to know that they are in good hands and will receive not only a good health evaluation but also proper handling. Lorelei treats animals with respect and dignity and that's why they in turn like her.
The vet performed a physical examination of Santina and asked some questions. Then they brought Santina down to the lab and proceeded to perform some Xrays. I won't get into much detail about how they perform the process. I videoed it for those who are interested in the behind-the-scenes of how a bird is Xrayed and tested. When the anesthetics began to wear off, Santina looked like she was drunk. She wobbled around on the floor but walked toward me for safety. I picked her up and held her but also made sure that she'd go back to Lorelei and make up. I stayed at the center for another forty minutes to let Santina come to her senses but also to show her that being at the vet is not all bad. Less than half the time she spent in the clinic was discomforting so she has less reason to hate it than if she were brought in, handled, and then immediately taken out.
Santina had no problem stepping back into the carrier for me. In fact I think she was relieved to go in. And that concluded Santina's first vet checkup. I'm still waiting for the test results but on xray and physical examination she appears to be healthy.