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Parrots/african grey not feeling well


Hi. I have a wonderful almost 19 yr old Congo African grey who has been my boy since he was 8 months old. The last 2 weeks he has been not himself..very sleepy and falling off perch, not playing at all or walking around is cage. His whistle is kinda hoarse and he sounds funny. I have read about calcium deficiency and for the last week have been feeding him calcium rich food. (He doesn't really like people food and mainly eats pellets and peanuts). I took him to vet but he is not a bird vet...the only one is an hour away and it is snowy and -10 here. He says he looks healthy and breathing and everything is normal. I'm so worried I don't know what to do...please help Harley:-(. Thank you.

--  There is only so much you can do at home.  Importantly, we cannot treat something we have no idea what it is.   This could be an internal tumor pressing on nerves and causing the vertigo, it could also be liver or kidney disease;  perhaps a cardiac disorder.  Literally, a hundred different things will present with the exact same symptoms.   

---  I need to repeat that:  A hundred DIFFERENT things will present with the exact SAME symptoms.

 Here's the dangerous part:  If we treat for, let's say, a bacterial infection - if it's actually a fungal infection we'd be making it worse.  Sometimes so much worse that we might kill the bird.

 If it's a tumor, wasting any amount of time treating something else will often kill the bird

If we can make a deal with the fates and have illness or disease wait for better weather, a more convenient time or a new job with a raise -- it would be extremely fair of the universe.   But, alas, life is not 'fair' and we have to do what we have to do.

By the time a bird is noticeably ill, chances are that the problem has been brewing for some time.  Birds are among the most masterful at hiding illness, weakness or injury because just one mistake in the wild and their life could be over.  
You aren’t the only they can confuse:   A bird may show their weakness, illness and lack of energy one moment, even for a few hours or days - and then “suddenly” seem to be fine.  This is their getting a second wind.  Finding the strength to ‘mask’ the illness or problem.   And since this masking can continue for a while, the underlying issue is only getting worse.  The next time you see the bird acting ‘off’, it might be really, really bad.
If your bird is acting ‘off’, no matter what – no matter when, they need to be seen by their vet.  Infections and disease are far more successfully and inexpensively treated when tackled early.  Unlike mammals, avians don’t fare well with a “watch and wait” protocol.  

Just in case you’re wondering, Pet Store antibiotics like Ornicycline or Tetracycline  lines are not useful and potentially dangerous.   Added to a bird’s water, they can make the bird go off drinking, resulting in severe or life threatening dehydration.

These are obsolete  antibiotics for bacteria that have likely evolved beyond responding to them.     Also, you need to know whether the problem  is gram positive or negative bacteria,  or if a bacteria at all.   These products  are a complete waste of time and money, frequently being linked to causing even worse problems or loss of life.   All they care about is sales and profit.

So between dehydration and medicating for a non-specified bacteria (remember, this could be a viral infection or other disease and no antibiotic will work on those) - there’s nothing at all good about the pet store products.   Don’t take a chance with your pet’s life  

For the bird’s safety, if it’s not able to perch well or maintain balance, lowering the perch or even removing it is suggested.  
Putting a heat source into the cage may be necessary since a sick or distressed bird may lose body heat.  I prefer a non electric source and use rice socks.
Use a thick, clean sock and fill it ¾ with plain, raw white rice. Knot the end and microwave it for about 1 ½ minutes.  Shake it afterwards to distribute the heat and be sure it’s not too hot.  

You can layer a thick towel on one side of the cage, secure with clothespins out of the reach of the bird’s beak – then clip a heating pad over the towel and set on low.   Check often to be sure it’s not overheating and that the bird isn’t gnawing through.  A side attachment like this will allow the bird to move closer or away as needed.  


If it becomes bottom-bound or is especially weak, you may need an emergency brooder
For a makeshift brooder,  use a small box lined with soft clothes like tee shirts.
Use a thick, clean sock and fill it ¾ with plain, raw white rice. Knot the end and microwave it for about 1 ½ minutes.  Shake it afterwards to distribute the heat and be sure it's not too hot.  Tuck this in just under the cloths.
A heating pad under the box is also helpful, set on low.   This is one of the few times I’d ever use both heat sources if necessary to maintain incubation temp (90-105 degrees).
 If ever using an electric source for heating anything in anyway, please be vigilant and constantly double checking carefully.
Gently drape a light cover over this box to further help hold heat in and keep light low.  

Have an eyedropper ready to administer a few drops of plain water, or better yet, children’s Pedialyte every 20-30 minutes.  Put the dropper gently inside the beak and let the drops fall into the bottom beak under the tongue rather than trying to get into the back of the throat.  We don’t want to chance the bird inhaling the fluid and developing pneumonia.
Another feeding option is to offer ½ spoon of all natural, organic baby food (squash, yams, sweet potatoes, mixed vegetables) which many birds take readily; also try some pabulum or baby rice cereal and a few licks of natural (no artificial anything) yogurt.  


Always remember that this little life is depending on you for everything. If someone near and dear to you were to present with what you knew for a fact was an illness, disease or injury – chances are you wouldn’t take any chances and would have them off to their doctor or emergency clinic without  a second thought.  This bird needs that from you right now.


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Rev. Dr. S.August Abbott


Certified Avian Specialist; Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council member; Own animal rescue org; National Wildlife habitat #66378; bird care, nutrition & behavior consultant; International Assoc. of Animal Behavior Consultants Associate; National Wildlife Federation Leaders Club member; published bird care, info and behavior articles and guides. Ongoing education in exotic bird behavior and nutrition I can answer behavioral, nutritional, environmental, characteristic/personality questions as well as general health and health care. No animal emergency can ever be addressed on the internet. We cannot see your animal, perform an examination, provide necessary care or medication. Please value your companion for the priceless, living creature they are; not for what you might have paid for them.


Certified Avian Specialist. For more than 30 years I've worked with veterinarians, protective facilities, nature centers, preserves and on my own in providing care and education with regard to multiple animal species, including raptors (hawks, kestrals, owls, etc) and marsupials. In recent years I've focused on parrots, usually rescued from abusive or less than ideal situations and helping educate owners as to proper care. Expert in behavior studies and modification of problem behavior.

4AnimalCare is the organization I run as an animal ministry; World Wildlife Association, Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, National Wildlife Federation Leaders Club and more

Bird Talk Magazine articles about rescued and problem macaws.

Doctorate, Ordained Minister

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