Injuries and Other Problems
This page describes some of the different injuries and accidents that may be faced in raising or keeping parrots. I will attempt to describe symptoms and remedies for each of them. It is always crucial that you have an avian vet to consult whenever a problem is suspected. Most often emergencies occur when there is no one available for help. In these cases, it may be necessary to take it upon yourself to do "something" if it is a matter of life or death. I would never suggest that anyone should do anything to avoid veterinarian medicine, but there are times when emergency situations arise and there is no medical help to be found. You may have to take it upon yourself to diagnose and remedy a problem, or lose the bird.
The following are maladies that I classify as injuries because they are not caused by virus or bacteria, and are, therefore, not an illnesses. They are caused by improper care, negligence, accidents, and/or environment. Many of the described injuries are limited to babies still handfeeding, but some of them may be encountered with older parrots.
- Broken Blood Feather
- Constricted Toe
- Crop Burn
- Crop Punctures
- Sour Crop and Slow Crop
- Stretched Crop
- Splay Leg
- Slipped Tendon
- Crooked or Scissor Beak
- Excessive Sudden Growth of Beak and Nails
- Slit Sternum
- Ruptured Air Sac
This is probably on the most common, and easily fixed, of all injuries. There is nothing special about a blood feather. It is nothing more than a new developing feather that still has blood in the shaft. When a new feather is growing it has blood in it until it is fully developed. When it is fully grown, the blood recedes. The picture to the left show the blood feathers on a baby parrot. The arrows point out blue areas where the blood can be seen through the feather shaft. The shaft of a fully grown feather is white. If it should happen that an immature, blood feather is broken, the shaft acts as a straw, and the blood flows freely. It is very difficult to stop the bleeding of a broken blood feather. The best remedy is to pull the feather. The feather shaft should be held securely with a pliers about 1-2 inches from the wing, and pulled straight out so the feather follicle is not damaged or torn. Care should be taken that the shaft is not broke close to the wing so that it cannot be removed. After a feather is pulled, growth of a new feather will usually be visible within 2 weeks.
When clipping a bird's wings, do not clip any feathers that are still enclose in a shaft, or have any visible blood in them. Wait until feathers are fully grown before clipping them.
Constricted toe, generally caused by low humidity in the brooder or nest box, is a condition that develops in very young parrot babies. The toes of a parrot are covered by layers of skin that look very similar to scales. Low humidity may cause a ring of this layer of the skin to dry and begin to contract. As it does, it cuts off the circulation of blood to the end of the toe (Example 1). If the constriction is not removed, it will eventually cause the constricted part of the toe to dry up and fall off.
If constricted toe is recognized in its early stages (Example 3), the ring of dry skin may be removed, and the toe will be saved. If the constriction has begun to cut into the toe (Example 2), it should be removed by a qualified avian vet. A removal attempt by an amateur may cause excessive bleeding and infection. If the constricting skin is visible, it maybe softened with a quality skin cream and carefully removed. Removal of the constriction will save the toe.
If you are not sure of what you are doing, please have a avian vet take care of the problem. If you are looking for a pet, do not be discouraged by part or all of a toe missing. Think of it as one less nail to clip.
Crop burn is one of the most preventable of all of the maladies. It is caused by feeding food that is so hot it literally burns the inside to the crop. Crop burn is most easily recognized in babies that do not yet have their crops covered with feathers. A day or so after the incident, you will see a white patch through the skin of the crop. This is a blister that has been caused by the burn. If the food was hot enough, it can actually burn a hole through the crop and the outer layer of skin. Depending on the severity of the burn, digestion of food will become slow and infection can set in. A hole, burned through the crop, will have to be sutured.
Most often crop burn occurs when food has been rewarmed in a microwave oven, and was not checked for hot spots. Here again, using common sense will prevent this tragic accident from ever happening. Would you warm a baby's bottle without checking the temperature on your wrist? When it is necessary to rewarm food for a baby parrot, you should always remember to stir it with your finger to check for hot spots. If it is too hot for your finger, it is certainly too hot for the baby. This is another condition that it is necessary to empty the crop of any undigested food, at least once every 24 hour, to prevent souring and bacterial infection, until the crop is able to function properly.
If you suspect that your baby's crop has been burned, he should have immediate medical attention. Unattended, crop burn can, and usually will, be fatal.
Crop punctures are normally caused by either carelessness or inexperience in tube feeding. Tube feeding is a method of feeding, in which, the food is pumped into the crop through a tube that has been put down the esophagus and into the crop. If the tube is pushed too far, or if the baby jumps, the tube may be pushed through through the crop membrane and the outer skin to cause a puncture. If this happens, food put into the crop will leak out of the puncture. The only way to correct this problem is to suture the inner and outer layers of the crop and skin. Antibiotics must be administered to prevent infection. If left uncorrected, infection will set in, and the baby will starve to death because the crop will no longer hold food.
Tube feeding should be used only as a last resort for babies that will not swallow food without choking and coughing. For this type of baby, this method of feeding will prevent aspiration, but obviously, it may cause other problems. Except in emergency situations, tube feeding should be done only by the experienced handfeeder.
Dehydration can be found in any parrot species, of any age, and is caused by a variety of different conditions. It is recognize by a reddening of the skin and a loss of elasticity. Healthy skin is supple. When it is pushed together, or lightly pinched, and then released, it will almost immediately go back into place. Dehydrated skin will stay wrinkled in the pinched position.
In handfeeding baby parrots, dehydration can be caused by not mixing enough water into the handfeeding formula, or, by a bacterial infection that is slowing digestion. In parrots of all ages, this condition may be caused by a kidney infection or a bacteria that is causing a problem in digestion.
Although, finding the cause of dehydration is of utmost importance, a primary concern should be to hydrate the bird until the cause can be determined and remedied. In an some cases, a shot of ringers solution may be given under the skin. Normally, the body will almost immediately absorb this liquid. In handfeeding babies, either ringers solution or Pedialyte should be fed for a couple of feedings instead of the regular formula. Baby apple juice, being a natural diuretic, will also help with digestion and hydration. If your baby is dehydrated, the fluid is more crucial to his survival than food. Keep his feeding formula very fluid until you can see that his color is changing to a normal flesh color. If the formula is too thick, his system will absorb the fluid and leave most of the food in the crop to sour and cake. This will only complicate the already existing problem. The main concern is to hydrate the subject until the source of his problem can be determined.
These conditions will be observed only in a parrot baby that is still handfeeding. Each may be the cause of the other. A baby's crop must empty completely at least once in a 24 hour period. If the crop is slow to empty, the soft food in the crop will begin to grow bacteria, and sour. A sour crop will cause digestion to be slow, and, therefore, cause a slow crop. Although, a slow crop may be caused by a number of different problems, which will be described in the following topics, in every case, the condition will elevate bacterial growth, and possibly sour crop. If a baby's crop does not empty in a 24 hour period, it must be emptied in order to prevent further complications. This may be done with a piece of plastic tubing used for aquarium air line, or the baby may be held with his head lower than his body and the soured food massaged from the crop, through the esophagus, and out of the mouth. The latter method has a higher risk of aspirating the baby if he breathes food into his lungs in his panic while being turned upside down. The first method may be risky if the tubing is forced though the walls of the esophagus. If you have never emptied a baby's crop, it is best to contact an avian vet or an experienced breeder to do the task.
A stretched crop is a condition seen in handfeeding baby parrots. It is caused by trying to give a baby too much food in one feed, and, thereby, overfilling and stretching the muscles of the crop. The crop skin and muscles have a natural elasticity that assist in the digestion of food and retain their shape as the food is digested. When empty, the crop should be flat. If the crop is overfilled to the point of stretching the skin and muscles, it will hang onto the breastbone, and a portion of the food will remain in the part of the crop that is overlapping onto the breastbone. It will appear very much like a deflated balloon. If left uncorrected, the food remaining in the crop will develop bacteria, which will slow the digestive process even more, causing weight loss and possibly eventual death.
If your baby's crop should become stretched, you can help correct the problem by making a "crop bra" for him. The illustration shows a picture of a crop bra. Depending on the size of the baby, it may be made with a wide gauze bandage, or a strip of towel or rag. The wide area in the middle should be long and wide enough to support his crop, the strips should be long enough too be fastened around him. The upper strips should be fastened, or tied, around the back of his neck, above his wings, and the lower strips should be under his wings and around his back.
The crop bra should remain on the baby until his crop muscles are strong enough to empty his crop. Until then, the crop should be emptied completely, and cleaned with warm water, every 24 hours.
Splay leg is a condition that begins in very young babies that are not strong enough to hold their legs together on a slippery surface. It is generally caused by keeping the baby in a container that either does not have enough bedding, or, the surface under the bedding is so smooth that he cannot get his footing. His legs will spread out to the sides and very soon he will not be able to hold them under him at all. If this condition is not corrected at an early age, it may become permanent as he grows and the bones harden.
Splay leg is very easily corrected when it is recognized early enough. If the legs are secured under the baby at a distance apart that would normal for him to stand, the problem can usually be remedied in less than a week. The correction time will depend on the severity and the age of the chick. It is also important to correct the conditions that caused the problem to prevent it from recurring.
Depending on the size of the baby, the legs may be held together with gauze tape, a strip of cloth, or connected rings that his feet will fit through. Whatever you use, make sure that nothing is so tight on this legs that the circulation to his feet is cut off. If this happens, you may save his legs and lose his feet. Once his legs have become strong enough for him to support him, and stay under him, the supports may be removed. If splay leg is not corrected, the baby's legs will grow out to the sides, and he will never be able to stand normally.
This problem most often develops in very young babies that are still growing and developing. The tendon that normally fits into the groove at the heal of the foot slips to the side of the heal. As the tendon contracts it will cause the foot to turn to the side and the toes to clench. It will look as though the baby is walking on the side of his foot.
At less than 2 weeks, I have been able to correct this problem by securing the baby's feet on a piece of tape, much like standing him on a mouse sticky trap. As he gets a little older, the tendon may be surgically pinned in the correct position until it enlarges the groove in the heal to retain placement on its own. If the condition is not recognized early enough in the babies development, the tendon may shorten so that the baby's foot is permanently turned to the side. If the condition is corrected, there will be no residual side effects, and no evidence that the problem ever existed.
Scissor is a condition where the upper mandible is not straight and does not meet correctly over the lower mandible. There have been many theories as to the cause of this condition, e.i., improper incubation, improper feeding techniques, poor nutrition, heredity, etc. It is very possible that it may be caused by any one, or a combination of these. Feeding technique has often been blamed as the cause of this condition, but I believe that there are other contributing factors. I, personally, feed over 100 babies a year, and may have one or two of these that have scissor beak. All of them are fed the same.
Although feeding technique may, at times, be one of the causes,there are a number of other possible reasons for the condition. Heredity may be one of the causes, but I have seen this condition in a babies that were not consistently from any related parentage. This condition may occur in young babies that tend to clamp the top mandible tightly over the lower mandible to one side or the other doing the chugging, feeding motion. This causes a groove to develop in the lower mandible that the upper mandible begins to rest in. In time, the upper mandible begins to curve to one side as it rests in this groove, and the lower mandible grows longer on the opposite side.
Regardless of the cause, or the age of the bird, this condition is generally correctable with persistent trimming of the upper and lower mandibles and the cleft that the upper mandible rests in located on the under side of the upper mandible. The parrot pictured is a two year old Green Wing macaw that had scissor beak so badly that he could barely eat any hard foods. His lower mandible, on the right side, had grown to extend two inches higher than his upper mandible. His uppper mandible curved to the left and formed a long tusk that circled the side of his face and almost touched his cheek. I cut off the tusk and the extended lower mandible with a large nail clipper, and drummelled the both mandibles into shape. I also used the Drummel tool to shape the under side of the upper mandible and to straighten the cleft. The picture shows what this bird looked like after a couple of weeks of trimming.
Since a bird's beak is constantly growing, persistent trimming will eventually result in both mandibles growing normally, and the condition corrected. To be sure that the correction is done properly, shaping and clipping of the beak should only be done by an avian vet or someone that has had experience in this procedure. Incorrect trimming may worsen the condition.
Sudden excessive beak and nail growth is most often caused by fatty liver disease. Although excessive beak growth can also be caused by PBFD (psittacine beak and feather disease), if this disease is ruled out by testing, the cause may be caused in overweight parrots by a fatty liver. This problem is not limited to any specific species. This condition may be corrected by lessening the amount of fatty foods in the diet. In time, usually a few months, the liver will regenerate itself, and the abnormal growth will stop. An overweight parrot may also have fatty tumors that can be fatal if they interfere with and crowd internal organs. The heart may also be affected in overweight birds. Excessive beak growth may also be caused by damage to the cere or a bacterial infection, the most common cause is due to fatty liver disease.
Split Sternum is a term used to describe the splitting of the skin on the breast by the breastbone. This injury is normally caused when a parrot falls from a t-stand or cage to a hard floor, such a ceramic tile. A clipped parrot, especially one that has been severely clipped, cannot break a fall with lift from his wings. If he falls from the height of a cage top or a t-stand to a hard floor, and hits his breastbone, it may sever the skin on his chest causing it to spit open. If this happens, the skin on the bird's chest must be sutured. He should be immediately taken to an avian vet.
To prevent this injury, never allow a clipped, or very young parrot to be on a cage top or t-stand that is on a hard surfaced floor.
When this happens, it can take from a few days to a couple of weeks for the air sac to heal, depending on the age of the bird. For this baby, it was a matter of about 3 days. Until the air sac heals, the air must be allowed to escape from under the skin so that the crop and other organs can function normally. To do this, an incision must be make in the skin, and a tube inserted and secured to allow drainage of the air. The tube is necessary because the opening in the skin will begin to heal in a matter of a couple of hours requiring it to be reopened. The picture to the right shows the baby with a tube insert into the slit made for drainage(indicated with an arrow). The tube is taped to hold it in place. In this picture, the baby's crop has been filled with food, but as you can see the skin is no longer transparent. After the air sac was healed (about 3 days), the tube was removed, and the incision healed. After less than a week, the scab from the incision fell off without even leaving a scar. The baby recovered beautifully, and very quickly caught up to his clutchmates in size and development.
In an older bird, the drainage would have to be done in a way that the bird could not remove it. It may be necessary to make two incisions in order to make a loop of either string or a tube that is folded and taped on the ends to keep the drainage holes open. This procedure, whether for a baby or an older bird, should be done by an avian vet to reduce risk of complications and infection.