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  • Writer's pictureSandra Witt

Running Hot & Cold ...

A healthy bird in "good feather" will have little trouble regulating body temperatures, but there are circumstances when even healthy birds can suffer heatstroke and hypothermia. Extremes related to internal body temperature result in serious issues: heatstroke or hypothermia.

Heatstroke ...

We are all know that birds (or any pet for that matter) can become overheated if we sit them out in the hot sun with no shade or shelter. Overheating can also can happen if pets are left in a vehicle with poor ventilation (and no, cracking a window or two is NOT enough ventilation). Remember though, this doesn't only happen in the hot summer, even in spring and fall the internal temperature of a car sitting in the sun can get pretty darn high.

Birds can overheat if you are providing supplemental heat, like a heat lamp or warming panel, a heating pad or space heater. They can even become overheated if wrapped in a towel for too long a period of time. If your bird is overweight it will be more susceptible to heat stroke or heat exhaustion which is yet another good reason to maintain an normal weight.

Signs of heatstroke in a bird include panting (open-mouth breathing), holding their wings away from the body, and anxiety or agitation. Heatstroke can be fatal, so prompt attention is required.

To treat a bird with heat stress or heatstroke:

  • Move the bird out of the sun into a quiet, cooler location

  • Mist the bird with water until his skin is wet; not ice water, just cool water

  • Moisten the bird's feet and legs with cool water

  • Do not create additional stress; keep your bird calm

  • Offer water to drink or a piece of fruit (a grape would be a good choice here)

  • Monitor the bird closely and contact your veterinarian if she doesn't recover within a few minutes

Hypothermia ...

Since parrots come from warmer climates we need to be mindful of the affects of cold. Hypothermia is serious, but its not as quickly fatal to birds as heat stroke because a bird can succumb to heat stroke as quickly as 15 or 20 minutes. Hypothermia usually occurs when a bird is chilled for several days in a row and it starts experiencing negative effects. When that happens, exposure to extreme cold is very similar to that of heat stress in that it weakens the immune system. This is especially true if the bird is not eating well to start with, is on an unhealthy diet, or is already in poor health.

A bird's normal body temperature is 41 degrees Celsius (or about 106 degrees Fahrenheit); this is why birds usually feel warm to our touch. In order to maintain body temperature, your bird absorbs heat from the surrounding (ambient heat) and generates heat from the food it eats (metabolic energy/heat).

A healthy bird in good feather will have little trouble maintaining body temperature at average household temperatures; however, prolonged exposure to cold will divert energy to keeping warm and away from other, equally important functions and may cause illness.

A sick bird or a plucked bird will have a harder time maintaining body temperatures to begin with so the affect of lower ambient temperatures will be increased. If your bird is nutritionally compromised, in poor health or has compromised feathers you should add supplemental heat to the bird’s area; not all added heat options are safe for your bird so read our “Heat is On…” blog before adding space heaters. Birds that suffer from hypothermia look very similar to sick birds, they fluff out their feathers, they shiver, and they might squat on their perch to cover their feet or they may perch on one foot while keeping the other tucked up close to their body.

If your bird is sick and not eating much, metabolic energy stores will quickly decrease

and the internal body temperature will start to drop. To compensate, a bird “fluffs up” it’s feathers to trap more ambient heat near his body. As body temperatures continue to drop the bird can easily become hypothermic, go into shock, and die.

Sick birds need to be warmed up immediately; healthy birds may have more time. If the bird is SICK get it warmed and get it to the vet.

Putting a blanket over a cage or carrier won't help much since the bird is not generating enough heat for the blanket to trap any and keep him warm. If the surrounding area is cold then the blanket won’t do much of anything except maybe reduce drafts.

You can use your pet carrier as a “hospital” and put your bird in there with warm towels. Warmth can come from a heating pad (under the outside of the carrier); lightly warmed towels from a quick toss in the drier; or you can loosely wrap your bird in a towel and holding him close to your body for warmth. [Note: tightly wrapping or restraining a bird can result in suffocation.]

If you have power (electricity) obviously raising the thermostat set point is the first action (NEVER try to raise the temperature in your home using the oven). If the bird is sick or you can’t afford to keep the whole house warmer, then you can quickly warm him by putting him under a light. The heat generated by the bulb will raise the ambient temperature quickly and will make the bird much more comfortable. The bulb should be nearly touching the wire of the cage near where your bird is perched. Watch for signs of increased activity and keep the light on until the bird is no longer seeking its warmth. In this case a blanket would be a good addition in order to trap the heat in the cage. Be sure blankets are not touching the bird or the bulb, and that your bird cannot come into contact with the bulb.

By warming your bird up, you overcome hypothermic shock and allow a sick bird to direct its metabolic energy toward getting better. Try not to disturb or handle a sick bird too much and make sure she is eating. Follow your Vet's direction and call immediately if your bird takes a turn for the worse.

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