Although birds are generally very hardy occasionally they get sick. When they do their natural instinct for survival often prevents them from showing outward signs of disease until it becomes well-advanced. In order to prevent undetected advancing illness there are some precautions you can take. First, it is an excellent idea to have a quality bird scale at home to weigh your bird on a regular schedule as weight loss can be an early indicator of illness.
Providing your bird with periodic veterinary examinations, (once a year for healthy birds) is strongly advised for the well-being of your pet. The cornerstones of your bird's veterinary exam are a thorough history and physical exam. However, because birds hide or mask signs of disease as mentioned above, veterinarians must rely on testing to uncover problems early before they become serious and also to arrive at a correct diagnosis.
Fortunately, there are numerous tests available, but no one test will consistently provide the answers. That is why it is often necessary to run different tests to piece together the puzzle.
The brief explanations provided below are offered to help you understand the more common diagnostic tests that may be recommended for your bird. They are generally recommended for a general well-bird check:
>>> Blood Tests: Infection or disease frequently cause changes in the blood picture indicating a problem. A Complete Blood Count, commonly called a CBC, provides information about a bird's immune response. Blood Serum Chemistries evaluate various organs and values in the bird's body. These tests are especially valuable routine health screens for newly acquired birds and at yearly health checkups. Your bird's blood will be collected from a clipped toenail or directly from a vein (now preferred because this way of taking a blood sample is less painful for the bird). If the blood is taken from a toenail it will be much shorter, but will grow back normally.
>>> Microbiological Exams: These tests check for a variety of organisms not normally found in a bird's body and which may cause illness. Gram Stain Screens check for the presence and quantity of bacteria and yeast. Culture and Sensitivity refers to growing and identifying any abnormal bacteria, yeast or fungi and determines the most effective drugs for treatment.
>>> Fecal Exam: This test refers to the microscopic examination of a bird's droppings to detect parasites, bacteria and yeast.
>>> Testing for Psittacosis: (Also known as Chlamydiosis or "parrot fever".) This is a serious and widespread disease. It can be transmitted from one bird to another and also to humans. The disease can spread even though no obvious signs of illness may be apparent. Diagnosis is often made from a swab or blood sample, sometimes both. Your veterinarian will always recommend this test for newly acquired birds and it may also be recommended for birds that are sick.
Your veterinarian may recommend additional diagnostic tests which can provide more specialized information regarding your bird's health:
>>> Radiographs (Xrays): Seeing inside your bird's body is invaluable for diagnosing a variety of problems and they may sometimes be part of a routine health exam. Xrays show changes in the shape and size of organs, foreign bodies that may be present, and bone abnormalities. This is some of the information gained. Xrays require the bird to be sedated to minimize stress and injury. An ultra-safe inhalant anesthetic is available for this purpose.
>>> Testing for Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD): Blood testing is used to screen for this serious disease which is highly contagious and causes feather and sometimes beak abnormalities.
>>> Testing for Polyoma Virus: This is a serious disease primary affecting young birds, with varying symptoms. Adult birds can have hidden infections and spread the disease to susceptible birds. The test is run on blood and swab samples. There is now a vaccine available to prevent infection.
>>> Testing for Aspergillosis: This is a very serious fungal disease affecting the lower respiratory tract. A blood test or culture is used for detection. Signs to look for include: rapid breathing rate, voice changes and wheezing. Tail bobbing may also be an indicator as the bird struggles to breath normally.
>>> Endoscopy: This exam provides the opportunity to visualize the body cavity and most internal organs. Along with providing an opportunity to look for a variety of problems, it also allows for biopsy collection.
>>> Biopsy: This is the collection of a piece of tissue that is removed surgically. The sample is then submitted to an avian pathologist who will examine for signs of disease with the aid of a microscope.