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  • Writer's pictureSandra Witt

Best Laid Plans ...

The plans we are talking about here are Health Plans. First lets speak to why is it so important to start with an “Avian” Vet.

Veterinary medical decisions are often made by comparing the patient to an established animal ‘model.’ So your dog or cat can be treated based on the anatomy and physiology of any other dog or cat regardless of the breed. This comparison approach works very well because of the relative similarity between the breeds. Any respective difference in an animal’s response to a drug or infection is easy to assess when compared to a generic species model.

The problem is that this is not the case with an avian patient. An avian Veterinarian could see patients that belong to five different taxonomic Orders. (Remember your biology? taxonomic ranking is Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.)

Each Avian Order is unique and has evolved specific anatomic, physiologic, and behavioral characteristics to support effective competition within a specific ecological niche. In this circumstance which could serve as an appropriate comparative model (i.e., generic bird patient)?

There isn’t a great deal of scientifically-derived information available on variations in avian dietary adaptations, behavioral characteristics, and responses to drug preparations and infectious agents. The clinician must compensate by applying a broad, medically-sound, check and balance system based on the use of diagnostic and therapeutic tools. Medical decisions for a particular Genera must be based on the interpretation of several factors that support the hypothesis to determine if an abnormality is truly an abnormality and not simply a difference. For now avian veterinarians have to diagnose and treat a variety of medical problems subjectively until results from avian research begins to satisfy the demand for information.

So, what can YOU do?

You an be an active participant in developing a health plan for your bird. First, try to gain a view of the world from your bird’s perspective to gain some empathy / insight into the emotional and physical well-being of your bird. The purpose is not for you to project anthropomorphic (human) characteristics on your bird; it’s for you to see the world from your bird’s perspective.

If a bird’s total needs are not met (nutritional, environmental, and psychologic), then disease will inevitably follow, so this is step one of your health plan. This “plan” should support avian health through a holistic approach rather than medical intervention and drug therapy. By being familiar with the behavioral attributes and species-unique problems that may occur with your bird, you can provide critical information to your Vet who could then use that information to recognize the early signs of disease in you bird. After all, you know your bird better than anyone.

My personal health plan includes documenting:

  1. A spreadsheet of all blood tests over time. By monitoring these records your vet will see trends that will help in the diagnosis of subtle issues.

  • I added the reference ranges for MY bird’s species into the sheet (yes, the ranges differ by species).

  • Where there is a result that is ‘out of range’ I color code it and research the possible causes, and I look at all of them rather than just a select few.

  • For results that can be altered by diet, like calcium, cholesterol, glucose, protein, I make adjustments to the diet to improve those results.

  1. Chart of weight over time. We weigh our birds every week at the same time (Saturday morning… after poop and before breakfast) to get measure that is as close to “controlled” as possible … i.e., not influenced by a large meal.

  2. Keep a Journal of vet visits and discussions, medications, and any general observations/concerns that I may have. This is good to refer to during the vet visit so your mind won’t go blank when your Dr asks “do you have any questions for me”.

We tell people all the time to get copies of your records and keep your own file. This is so you have everything at your fingertips if your vet retires or moves or you find yourself in an emergency situation and your vet isn’t available. Since you have these records you might as well organize them to make it as easy as possible for your vet to assess your bird's health profile.

You are the steward of your pet’s health and you take responsibility for good record keeping, do your research, and present this comprehensive file to your Vet, then your Vet can better assess the history and use that information while examining your bird. The result will be that you become an informed patient advocate and, to me, that is the best laid plan.

Source: Avian Medicine: Principles and ApplicationsRitchie, Harrison and Harrison, Chapter 1: The Avian Patient, Ross A. Perry

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