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 The Avian Health Exam

What happens during a thorough Avian Physical Exam?  A physical exam is an important part of an avian health checkup.  An example of an excellent one is offered below and begins with a hands-off visual evaluation of the bird and it's environment.  Next is the hands-on exam where the veterinarian checks your bird from top to bottom with the assistance of an Avian Health Technician.  Here is a list of many of the things that are evaluated:


Your Bird Cage

  • Is the size appropriate to accommodate your bird's wingspan and tail feathers adequately?
  • Is the material the cage is made of safe?
  • Does your bird have the toys that appropriate for him?

Evaluating Your Bird's Attitude

  • Is your bird bright, alert and responsive?  Is he vocal and interactive with owner?
  • Is your bird quiet, alert and responsive?  Not vocal, but alert and just stands around
  • Is your bird depressed?  Are his feathers ruffled, does he stand on bottom of cage, are his eyes half-closed

Evaluating Your Bird's Droppings

  • Check feces for amount, color (should be brown-green) and consistency
  • Check urates:  should be white to tan and a chalky consistency
  • Check urine:  should be liquid and clear
  • Check for blood in feces

Evaluating Your Bird's Posture

  • Stance:  how does he stand?
  • Wing Placement:  are his wings symmetrical and in the correct position?
  • Evaluate Respiratory Effort
  • Evaluate Tail position and movement 

Having Your Bird "Step Up"

  • Evaluate perching ability.  Does each foot grip with equal strength?


Toweling Your Bird.  Your bird will be restrained in a towel and held by an assistant (Avian Health Technician) so the veterinarian can proceed with the "hands-on" portion of the exam.

Examining the Eyes

  • Are the bird's eyes clear, symmetrical and centered in the socket?
  • Is the conjunctiva (the delicate mucous membrane that lines the inner surface of the eyelids and covers the front part of the white of the eye) pale pink and moist?
  • Check for swelling or symmetry between the eye and beak

Examining the Nares and Cere (thick skin without feathers between the forehead and the upper part of the beak)

  • Check for change in color
  • Check for discharge from nares (external openings of the nose; i.e. nostrils)
  • Check for symmetry
  • Check for hyperplasia (abnormal overgrowth of cells)

Examining the Beak

  • Examine growth of upper beak and lower beak
  • Check for proper occlusion (contact between surfaces)
  • Check for necrosis (death of tissue)
  • Examine grooves
  • Examine for prognathism (abnormal protrusion of one or both jaws)

Examining the Mouth

  • Evaluate jaw tone
  • Examine tongue and mucous membranes for abrasions, moisture and color
  • Evaluate choana (slit in palate of the bird's mouth) and surrounding sharp papillae (small skin outgrowths)

Examining the Skin and Head Feathers

  • Feathers should be symmetrical and smooth
  • Is there evidence of mate preening?
  • Are the feathers wet and sticky?  Is there vomitus (matter ejected when vomiting) on the head?
  • Are there any missing, broken or misshapen feathers?
  • Does skin show any signs of swellings, proliferations (cells growing rapidly, dividing frequently and increasing in number) or abrasions

Examining the Ears

  • Is there presence of discharge, blood, or erythema (redness or inflammation of the skin)

Examining the Crop (the organ between the esophagus and stomach of birds, which serves for temporary food storage in the digestion process)

  • There should be evidence of food in the crop
  • Examine vascularization (the formation of blood vessels) or thickness, if exam indicates need
  • Feel for swellings, thickening or presence of foreign bodies 

Examining the Feathers and Skin of the Neck

  • Evaluate for thickening, lumps, ulcerations, scabs, discoloration, masses or emphysema of skin
  • Check for over-preening or plucking of feathers

Examining the Pectoral Muscles and Sternum

  • Evaluate sternum (keel shaped bone in the bird’s trunk which anchors some flight muscles).  Should be straight and slightly elevated as compared to pectoral (chest) muscles.
  • Palpate (examine by pressing on the surface) for evaluation of weight, or any atrophy of musculature 

Examining the Skin and Feathers of the Ventral (the belly or front) Body

  • Evaluate color, texture and feel for masses in skin
  • Look for scabs, ulcerations, etc.
  • Normal feathers will be smooth, symmetrical and clean
  • Evaluation for over-preening or feather plucking

Examining the Abdomen

  • Palpate (examine by pressing on the surface).  Normal is slightly concave.
  • Evaluate the color of the skin and look for scabs or ulcerations
  • Evaluation feather condition
  • Palpate lateral flank areas for fat storage

Examining the Cloaca (final enlargement of intestinal tract into which digestive, reproductive and urinary systems empty, and then exit the body) and Vent (outside opening of the cloaca)

  • Mucosa (moist lining of internal areas that open onto the skin surface) of the Cloaca should be moist and pink
  • No feces should be evident on feathers around the vent
  • Evaluate for erosions, hypertrophy (abnormal enlargement), erythema (redness or inflammation), feather picking, etc.

Examining the Wings

  • Evaluate symmetry, range of motion, joints, look for bone abnormalities
  • Examine skin.  Look for tattoo (birds are sometimes tattooed to identify sex)
  • Examine feathers for color, shape, uniformity, presence of parasites, stress bars.  Look for bleeding, broken or missing feathers

Examining the Feet and Legs

  • Look for uniform color, texture of skin.  Are scales present?
  • Feathers on legs should be uniform and smooth
  • Look for abrasions, calluses, erosions, ulcerations, proliferative lesions (cells growing rapidly, dividing frequently and increasing in number), broken toe nails, missing toes, swollen joints, weak grip
  • Recommend removing leg band if present to prevent possible necrosis, swelling and trauma.  Band will be saved for owner.

Examining the Skin, Feathers and Vertebrae of the Back

  • Feathers and skin should be smooth and uniformly shaped and colored
  • Examine for over-preening, plucking, ulcerations, scabs, etc.
  • Trace backbone for scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine)
  • Examine for feathers stuck together as an indicator of nasal discharge while in sleeping position

Examining the Tail and Uropygial (oil or preen) Gland

  • Normal tail feathers are clean, unbroken, unfrayed and free from stress lines
  • Evaluate uropygial gland for swelling, erythema, ulceration and rupture

Auscultation (listening for sounds within the body)

  • Evaluate cranial thorax for cardiac and respiratory sounds
  • Evaluate thorax and back for wheezes, crackles, pops, whistles and gurgles
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