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Selecting an Avian Veterinarian for your Bird

December 12, 2009


Writer’s note:  If you are fortunate to have an avian veterinarian diplomate within a relatively close distance, you are one lucky person!  I have actually driven a total of six hours (three hours each way) to have my birds treated by an avian diplomate.  I initially located this veterinarian when Amigo was diagnosed with aspergillosis (aspergillus [mold]).  The first veterinarian I took her to, when she had not yet been diagnosed with asper, came back into the examination room to tell me that she had an 80%.  Of what?  Of dying.  I then immediately drove to one of the top rated avian veterinarians in the city (my usual avian veterinarian).  After examining Amigo, he gave her a 50% chance of surviving.  The veterinarian began her treatment by prescribing Amphotericin B mixed with Saline solution (nebulized), and Ancobon mixed with Lactulose (administered orally).  I decided to further research asper, and within a few days I contacted a top avian aspergillosis expert, Dr. Pat Redig, Co-Founder and Director of The Raptor Center / University Minnesota – Minneapolis.  Dr. Redig suggested that Amigo would benefit from using Itraconazole, a fungicide.  Amigo’s current veterinarian refused to change the medications, stating that he was “comfortable” with the medications he currently had her on.  I then contacted World Bird Sanctuary and spoke with Walter Crawford, Executive Director, in hopes of locating a veterinarian that was more familiar with aspergillosis.  I explained that per Dr. Redig’s suggestions, Amigo needed to be placed on a more aggressive treatment plan.  Walter put me in contact with two veterinarians who worked at the sanctuary.  Amigo was finally placed on Itraconazole.  It was also decided to continue nebulizing Amigo with Clotrimazole and Saline solution, which had been prescribed by the prior avian veterinarian.  In the interim, friends that had recently lost their African Grey to aspergillosis told me about Dr. Ken Welle, an avian diplomate.  They told me that Dr. Welle had an 80% success rate in the treatment of aspergillosis.  The following day I put Amigo in my car, and took off for Dr. Welle’s clinic.  After examining Amigo, Dr. Welle told me that we could get her through this.  And we did.  Amigo was treated for aspergillosis for approximately four months.  Amigo was pulled off of Itraconazole on December 13, as liver problems were suspected.  Amigo was tested again for aspergillosis and liver problems on December 15.  Samples for aspergillosis testing were submitted to the University of Miami.  The liver test results indicated that indeed, the fungicides were beginning to effect her liver.  I was notified of the aspergillosis test results on December 20.  Antigens were negative, antibodies positive.  The test results proved to be a wonderful Christmas present! 

 This experience has convinced me that there are some situations that need the advanced knowledge and expertise that only avian diplomates can provide.  I truly doubt that Amigo would have recovered from the fungus had I not put her under the care of an avian diplomate.  And those that  question my belief on this subject will never change my mind.


Finding an avian veterinarian that you trust and are comfortable with should be a top priority.  When I moved to Idaho this was a somewhat daunting task, being accustomed to having a choice of high quality avian veterinarians  from which to choose from.  Based on the fact that I knew few people in this area, I hit the Internet searching for avian veterinarians in this area.  I jotted down the veterinarians’ names, and then did another search on each name I found, looking for any comments that were posted on the web.  To me, educational background of any veterinarian is most important – followed by good comments from the public.  At that point, I made a trip to each of the clinics.  I was looking for clean facilities, and an opportunity to talk with the technician assistants and the veterinarian, if possible.   In addition, I did a tour / visual inspection of the clinic noting items, such as if there were incubators setup for birds, did the tech assistants seem comfortable handling the larger parrot species?  Does the veterinarian spend quality time with the clients during appointments?  Is the clinic clean?  How does it smell?  How long are scheduled appointments with the veterinarian?  Don’t be afraid to ask to see the avian examination room(s), recovery area, and the surgical area of the clinic.  Ask yourself if you would want your bird, perhaps in a life or death situation, receiving medical attention at that clinic.   

Set up an “interview” appointment with the veterinarian.  After all, he / she will be responsible for providing medical care to your bird during a possibly critical situation.  Spend time asking questions that you may have regarding his/her services, expertise, experience and cost estimates. 

I will also suggest that every bird owner check the emergency animal clinics around their surrounding area.  Some emergency clinics do NOT accept birds (even though a bird is displayed on the outdoor sign, or the name of the clinic is “All Pets.”).  If you are suddenly confronted with an emergency involving your bird, and the avian veterinarian’s clinic is closed, you will have no time to go through the telephone book listings in an attempt to find an emergency avian veterinarian.  You could ask your regular avian veterinarian to recommend an emergency clinic that accepts birds and has experience with treating them.

At the point in time when you finally find an avian veterinarian that you trust, schedule a “wellness” appointment for your bird.  During the initial appointment, the following tests should be performed:   

1)  Physical examination

 2)  Fecal Parasite Check and examination of droppings

 3)  Fecal and Choanal Gram Stain

4)  Chlamydia Testing

5)  Polyoma Virus Testing

6)  Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease Testing

7)  Complete Blood Count

8)  DNA Sexing

The results of these tests will provide information that will not only be beneficial to your bird’s overall health, but will supply a baseline for comparison during other visits. 

Always remember that your bird is the patient … do not be afraid to ask what you feel may be “stupid” questions, and even questions about what your veterinarian has just told you!  You are responsible for keeping your bird healthy.  You.

If you are looking for information regarding how to tell if your bird is sick, please see the post “How To Tell if My Bird is Sick.”   This post applies to ALL birds.

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