Emergency and First Aid Procedures in Birds

By | 2011-06-13

Because any injury or illness in a bird can lead to serious complications and even death, you must be prepared in the event of an emergency involving your pet. Some of the more common emergency situations that might arise include bleeding, broken bones, respiratory distress, and poisonings. As far as first aid is concerned, minor injuries such as bleeding toenails or minor lacerations can be effectively doctored at home. On the other hand, those first aid procedures related to more serious injuries or illnesses are only palliative, and must be followed up immediately with a visit to your veterinarian. Remember: The life of an injured or ill bird is fragile and could easily be lost unless prompt action is taken.

Ideally, transport your bird to the veterinary hospital in its original cage. Remove all perches and empty all water containers prior to moving. Also, place a cover over the cage for seclusion and warmth. If your bird is so debilitated that it cannot stand or balance itself, gently wrap it in a towel large enough to prevent movement. Keep the temperature within the car above 85 degrees Fahrenheit to minimize stress.

First Aid for Birds

Bleeding (Hemorrhage), Cuts, And Wounds

Apply direct, firm pressure over the area for a minimum of 5 minutes using a cloth, towel, or article of clothing. Be aware of how you are restraining your pet; don’t grasp it so tightly that breathing is impaired.

After applying pressure for 5 minutes, remove the covering and observe for further bleeding. Reapply pressure if necessary or apply a clotting cream or powder (if a toenail is involved). Do not use clotting powders or creams on other open wounds. Instead, gently wash the wound with soap and water, and rinse thoroughly. Apply an antibiotic ointment to the wound. In addition, if the wound is large, cover it with a sterile dressing. If the wound and/or bleeding is severe, wrap your bird in a towel and transport it to your veterinarian.

Breathing Difficulties And Nasal Discharge

These two clinical symptoms indicate respiratory disease or heart disease, both of which can be rapidly fatal if not treated promptly. Do not try to treat these symptoms at home. Take your bird to your veterinarian immediately.

Diarrhea And Constipation

Bird owners should not attempt to treat diarrhea in birds at home, because of the high probability of an underlying infectious disease. The longer you postpone professional treatment, the greater the chances are for your bird’s condition to worsen.

For the constipated bird, try adding mineral oil or more fruit to the diet. If the problem persists for more than 2 days or if the bird shows other signs of illness, immediate veterinary attention is indicated.

Cloacal Prolapse

If such a prolapse occurs, gently clean the prolapse with warm water and soap, and rinse well. Coat and lubricate the prolapsed region with lubricating jelly and attempt to gently push it back in. Then take your bird to your veterinarian. If it won’t go back in easily, discontinue your attempts and enlist the help of your veterinarian. Prolapsed birds should be placed on antibiotics to prevent secondary infections from developing.

Egg Binding

There is no specific treatment that you can do at home for an egg-bound bird. This condition requires immediate veterinary attention.

Oiled Birds

Loosely tape your bird’s mouth shut to prevent ingestion of the oil. Flush the eyes, nose, and mouth to remove any oil that may be present. Using mild dishwashing liquid, wash the feathers thoroughly and rinse well. Repeat as necessary. Blot the feathers dry using a towel, and take your bird to your veterinarian for further treatment.

Nontoxic mechanic’s water-less hand cleanser can be an effective tool for removing oil and dirt from the feathers of birds. Just be sure to dry the feathers thoroughly after use.


If the poison was ingested, rush both bird and poison container to your veterinarian as soon as possible. If the poison contacts the skin and feathers, rinse the bird well with copious amounts of warm water and blot dry with a towel. Transport to your veterinarian at once, being sure to take the poison container with you.


Wrap a seizuring bird gently in a towel to prevent self-injury. Transport immediately to a veterinarian.

Eye Injuries And Disorders

If a noxious substance gets in the eye, gently flush the eye liberally with an ophthalmic solution or tap water. Use a tissue or soft cloth to wipe away any discharge or foreign matter from the skin surrounding the eye. Transport to your veterinarian.

Heat Stroke And Smoke Inhalation

Quickly remove the bird from the offending environment and provide free access to fresh air. Fan the bird to increase air circulation. For heat stroke, wrap the bird in a cool (not cold) moistened towel and transport it immediately to your veterinarian.

Fractures And Broken Bones

For broken wings, immobilize the wing by pinning it against the bird’s body using gauze wrap or a small towel. Be sure not to wrap so tightly as to impair your bird’s breathing. Transport it immediately to your veterinarian. For leg fractures, toothpicks, pens, or pencils can be used as temporary splints while you transport your bird to the veterinarian.