The bird-friendly practice

3 June 2024

Birds are widely kept as pets in the UK and so, to coincide with Parrot Awareness Week (3rd-9th June 2024), here we look at some of the ways in which a veterinary practice can be equipped to provide the essentials for avian medicine and satisfy their clients’ expectations. The array of specialised equipment required in the practice will depend on the level of avian care and range of bird species that the practice deals with, but here we explore the conditions in practice that ensure an avian patient’s visit is as stress-free as possible.

Practice personnel

Reception team

  • Receptionists should be trained in avian telephone triage and identifying species seen in practice, as well as an understanding of the pricing structure for common procedures.
  • A list of clinical signs that require immediate attention (emergencies) and those that should be seen within 12 hours (urgent) should be available.
  • A list of species competencies of each veterinary surgeon and presentations that should, instead, be referred to more specialised colleagues should be available.

Nursing team

  • Veterinary nurses should have husbandry knowledge of the species seen in practice, including handling, nutritional support and basic clinical techniques.
  • A familiarity with the normal behaviour of different species will help with species-specific nursing and critical care.
  • CPD for nurses who work with birds regularly is available, as well as resources such as the BSAVA Manual of Exotic Pet and Wildlife Nursing.

Veterinary team

The practice

Waiting rooms

  • Clients should be advised to arrive at the practice with birds in carriers or transport boxes (for some patients, it may be advisable to wait in the car until they are ready to be seen).
  • For many practices, having time put aside for bird-specific clinics, or an area of the waiting room dedicated to avian patients, is not feasible; in such cases, seat patients appropriately to avoid potential patient-patient stressors (e.g. cats seated next to birds).
  • If there is more than one bird from the same taxonomic order in the waiting room, seating them as far apart as possible will prevent potential spread of airborne pathogens.
  • Having clean towels on hand for owners who have not brought their own can be useful to cover carriers to prevent birds from being able to see stressors in the environment.
  • Waiting rooms should be designed to prevent escape (e.g. low ceilings, no wall-mounted lighting for perch opportunities, automatic door closers, windows fixed closed, a long-handled net readily available for potential escapees).
  • Allowing windows to be ‘made visible’ to any potential escapees (e.g. using posters or stickers) will prevent potential injuries from flying into window glass.
  • Temperature and ventilation should be controlled by air-conditioning instead of opening and closing windows and doors (a temptation in warmer weather).

Consultation rooms

  • Using a room with no, or blacked out, windows will allow the room to be much darker when the lights are turned off, aiding in reducing stress and bird capture and handling.
  • Making sure the door has a peep hole for anybody who wishes to enter to check whether a bird is loose will reduce the potential for birds flying through opened doors.
  • Arrange the room to minimise the amount of perch space for escapees (e.g. box in spaces above cupboards) and keep ledges free from dust which can harbour pathogens.
  • All equipment should be ready for the consult to negate the need to open doors (e.g. scales, separate towel, oral specula, otoscope, ophthalmoscope, disposables, etc.).
  • The ideal height for an avian consult room is 2.5 metres (although not always an option); a long-handled net should be ready for potential escapees.

Hospitalisation rooms

  • The hospitalisation area for birds should be separate to the area used for cats and dogs, as being within sight and sound of cats and dogs is very stressful. (Equally, predatory bird species should be kept away from prey species.)
  • Birds will also require a higher environmental temperature when hospitalised than other species, so a separate area will help achieve this.
  • Hospitalisation cages, as well as being easy to clean and complete with perches, should be transportable so they can be moved to different spaces when required.
  • There should be hospital cages available (for a range of species sizes) where oxygen concentrations and internal temperatures can be controlled, and nebulisers connected.
  • A range of normal foods should always be available in the practice, including diets for carnivores, omnivores, frugivores, insectivores and granivores.
  • Microsurgery instruments should be available for surgery, as these are preferred for safe manipulation of fragile avian tissues (some form of magnification is also advisable)
  • Some additional equipment required for avian patients (alongside regular radiographic, endoscopic and laboratory equipment) include ring removers for different size rings, rings for identification in different sizes, beak repair materials, supplies for making tail guards, a Dremel for beak and nail re-shaping, and a long-handled net for potential escapees.

By following these suggestions, a bird-friendly practice can be created which provides excellent care and welfare provision for avian patients. So, in this week where we celebrate parrots, lets look to include all their avian cousins and take steps to ensure birds visiting veterinary practices have positive experiences, driven by species-specific considerations.