Ask The Vet – with Kevin Eatwell

On a daily basis, what should a fancier be looking for when he observes his birds in the flights?

All birds should be watched for any signs of ill health twice a day. Each individual must be observed at rest to identify any problems early. Many diseases are brought on by being low in the pecking order, these birds suffer malnutrition and secondary disease follows. It is also important to note that the pecking order will vary. Moulting birds or birds that have been breeding or shown recently are more likely to suffer. In these cases removal of these birds prior to showing obvious illness is prudent. Isolation and good feeding is all that is required in many cases. All too often when I recommend removal of a bird from a flight the owner comments it is not sick and returns it to the flight, sure enough these birds become ill. Isolating the bird for a week gives time for the bird to regain strength or indeed proper assessment for disease. If you are in any doubt about the health of a bird, even if it is just moulting isolate it.

Signs of ill health can vary from discharges from the cere, mouth or vent, vomiting, weight loss (sometimes the only sign) down to a fluffed up bird.

How can you tell that a flight is overcrowded?

Over-crowding is a major problem in many studs. This leads to problems with health and moulting birds are particularly prone to becoming ill in this situation. Generally one has to consider the number of high perches in a flight that the birds are happy to roost on. In most cases this will be only the top three or four perches. Each bird needs ample space to roost. I would suggest at least six inches per bird. So a three foot wide flight with two banks of perches would hold up to forty eight birds.

How do Probiotics work?

Probiotics are a foreign bacteria introduced into the birds intestinal tract. As a result these bacteria are subject to competition from the natural bacteria and very soon die off when the natural bacteria increase in numbers. Their use is to fill up “gaps” in the birds natural bacteria that have been removed by antibiotic treatment. They also will provide competition for pathogenic infections including fungal diseases such as Candidiasis. The best time to use them is after antibiotic treatment. Personally I can see no long term benefit in routine treatment with these.

Is there any merit in giving antibiotics routinely, say twice a year?

None what so ever! It just promotes bacterial resistance and secondary fungal infections. Some antibiotics cause enteritis by upsetting the birds natural gut bacteria; oxytetracycline is a well known cause of this.



What causes a feather cyst and how can it be treated?

Feather cysts can arise as a result of the bird’s feather type. In most cases the feather is too coarse to develop through the normal skin. As a result it grows in a cystic shape, which can impair fertility if covering the vent or causing discomfort. There is a hereditary link, most likely due to the buff feathering. Ethically treatment is not advisable in birds intended for breeding and they should be removed from the stud. In practice this may lead to the removal of some very good birds. A compromise may be achieved by mating these birds to unrelated fine feathered individuals to reduce the recurrence of the cysts. Surgical removal is possible but it may lead to the bird being bred with by another breeder without the knowledge of a genetically linked disease.

What would be the ideal contents of an aviary first aid box?

1. Abroad spectrum antibiotic to be used for enteritis. An example would be amoxycillin.

2. Dimetridazole for Trichomoniasis.

3. Amphotericin for Megabacteriosis.

4. A suitable antibiotic and steroid eye ointment for conjunctivitis.

5. Syringes and crop tubes.

6. A probiotic.

It would also be useful to have isolation facilities and a heat lamp for sick birds. Some fanciers may be able to have injectable antibiotics available to get therapeutic levels of drugs into their birds quickly.

How can a fancier best help their vet to help them?

Firstly by actually discussing their set-up with their vet and explaining that the birds they possess are not “pets” but require a different approach based on stud management and disease prevention. In many cases where a specialist vet is not available you may find discussing the problems that you face helps to get the vet in the right frame of mind.

A veterinary practice can only help if they are aware of the problems. It is certainly worth while considering post mortems on your stock to identify diseases before they become a welfare issue and lead to high mortality. Even if the practice itself is unable to carry out the post mortems the laboratory that they send their samples to will be able to help.


Filed Under: BeginnersBreedingFeaturedHealth



About the Author:

Kevin graduated from Bristol University Veterinary School (UK) in 1995 and started off in mixed practice whilst developing clientele with exotic pets. He obtained his certificate in zoological medicine in 2001.

Subsequently his time was spent working for wildlife hospitals, zoological collections, commercial clinical pathology laboratories and exotic pet practices.

He obtained his diploma in zoological medicine in 2006 and became an RCVS recognised specialist in zoo and wildlife medicine in 2007. In 2009 he was the first person in the UK to be awarded the ECZM diploma and specialist status.

He has lectured internationally about exotic animal species and is widely published. He works as a Lecturer in Exotic Animal and Wildlife Medicine at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, providing clinical services to the exotic animal and wildlife service.

Kevin also has a keen interest in avian medicine and surgery. His family has been keen aviculturists and Kevin has kept birds since he was 12 years old. He currently keeps a variety of South Asian Softbills and with his family maintains an exhibition stud of budgerigars. He advises the UK based Budgerigar Society.

RSSComments (6)

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  1. Very interesting article thank you Kevin.

    Habib Ur Rehman,Pakistan

  2. barrie shutt says:

    Nice to hear from you again Kevin

  3. john jarvis says:

    Hi Kevin thanks for a very interesting article. Could you tell me if there is any treatment for a bird that is going light, if so what is the procedure please, Regards
    John Jarvis.

  4. katey hart says:

    please can you tell me why my budgie is plucking it’s feathers out from under her bottom and in between her wings and has left her red but not bleeding she is not distressed or ill so i can’t think what is wrong with her.thanks.

  5. Terry Tuxford Terry Tuxford says:

    She could be bored and needs a partner.

  6. I agree with Terry.

    The term ‘plucking’ is not appropriate but we will speak as ‘preen’ or ‘peering’ under cage.

    In birds preening its natural but we have to understand briefly what’s preening?

    1.As per dictionary (of a bird) straighten and clean its feathers with its beak: “robins preened at the pool’s edge”; “the pigeon preened her feathers”.
    2.(of a person) Devote effort to making oneself look attractive and then admire one’s appearance.

    As cage bird breeder my experience seen that;

    Preening is the process by which birds’ groom, trim, smooth and care for their feathers.

    When a bird is preening uses beak, tongue to pick through his feathers for removing any debris (trash or waste feathers), arranging feathers that are out of place, and distributing special oil that is secreted from a gland at the base of the tail and around by all this bird exercise oil helps a bird’s feathers stay healthy and shiny.

    Must go on Dr.Rob Marshall Article and read carefully all about health self diagnosis and behavior

    Keep your bird/cage always clean and budgerigar are full flock behavior birds and they love/live in community.

    Hope you will learn Katey Hart and nice to see you here, feel free.

    Best Regards
    Habib Ur Rehman,Pakistan

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