Thursday, June 11, 2009

Instinct to Hide Illness ?

In the wild, there are advantages to hiding illness. I can imagine that an animal of any type, showing weakness, could be potential prey. Even the healthy gazelle, outside the safety of the herd, is an easier mark for the lion. Or perhaps the gazelle was outside the safety of the herd because its health was not quite up to par, and it did not have the stamina to keep up with the group.

As I mentioned in my post on Quarantine, birds can be exceptionally good at hiding illness especially when new to a home. In Body Language Continued, and my post on the Avian Sleep Cycle (Sleep Tight), I touched on the idea that birds can hide illness as well as the difficulty in discerning the meaning of 'symptoms'.

What we may consider (or may have learned) to view as symptoms of illness may mean illness or may mean nothing. This adds to the dilemma. In the same respect that pinning eyes may mean "give me that treat" OR "back off", one eye closed may mean "I am happily sleeping" OR "I am not feeling well". Because of the seemingly subjective nature of this, it can make our heads spin in frustration.


So, which is it? Do birds hide illness or not? How are we supposed to know?

Naturally, when in doubt, don't hesitate to take a bird to the vet.
I am a firm believer in establishing a relationship with a qualified avian vet when a bird comes into the home. The occasion of a new arrival is a great time to have a well check up. The event of illness is stressful enough without having to track down a vet and create a relationship under duress. I want my avian vet to have already met my bird(s), have their history, average weight and a chart. If a crisis arises, being an established patient can only help.

But back to the topic at hand... do they, or do they not, hide illness?

My response would be 'yes and no'. In my home, there are no predators, so it is not necessary for them to hide illness for that reason. The question then becomes is such a behavior so innate, so instinctual, that they will continue to hide symptoms notwithstanding the absence of predators? Now, that is an interesting discussion topic!

My personal experience has been that new birds to my home tend to play their cards exceptionally close to the chest. After they settle in, they become more and more expressive and less likely to hide anything, whether preferences or symptoms of illness.

However, I am also getting to know them better and creating a relationship.


I believe that as the relationship grows between me and my birds, I am better able to detect symptoms that may be virtually undetectable to the most qualified avian vet or to someone with no relationship with the birds. (This is not to say that if we 'miss something', it is a reflection on our relationship.)

I have spoken with numerous bird friends who took their birds to the vet, knowing something was 'wrong' but, without symptomatic evidence. The proof was in the relationship, not the presence of a runny nose or lime green droppings. They followed their motherly (or fatherly) instincts; the value of such can never be overstated. It resulted in the bird receiving prompt, early treatment of an illness.


Now, for the flip side.

We have all had the experience of waking up and not feeling ourselves. If questioned, we would state "I just didn't feel good". So, what is wrong? Headache? Stomach ache? Fever? "No... I just don't feel good."


We all have those days. Perhaps we didn't get as much sleep as needed, our allergies are acting up, or we ate something slightly bad but not bad enough to make us super sick. The next day, we usually feel better. If it lasts more than that, or symptoms begin to appear, then we make the phone call to the doctor if needed.

I believe our birds can just as easily have 'off' days for lack of a better word. Perhaps they did not get as much sleep as they may have needed. They may seem disinterested, distracted, or "just not themselves" to those of us in their life that know what is customary. Perhaps they nap a little more than usual, eat a little less of their food than normal, have no interest in their toys....

A sign of illness?


Certainly, worth keeping an eye on to see if it is an off day or the early start of something.

There is a fine art to:

keeping an eye on as opposed to obsessing;
being concerned as opposed to stressing.

It is just something we all work through.

We do not want to drive ourselves crazy (or stress out our birds) by running them to the vet because they sneezed during preening. We also know that the signs of a respiratory infection, or the presence of diarrhea, or the inability to stand up cannot be ignored.

The more time we spend with our birds, and the more opportunities to view them in a day in day out living circumstance, the better our ability to discern the difference between an 'off' day and the early signs of illness will become.

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Before closing out this post, let me reiterate one important thing:

Naturally, when in doubt, don't hesitate to take a bird to the vet.

Further, never hesitate to take a bird to a vet - PERIOD.

Even if it turns out the bird is fine, you will be relieved that you erred on the side of caution.

Birds can and do hide illness; we can and do miss obvious signs.
No matter what our relationship is or is not.

The benefit of the relationship is actually on the front-end; it can help us pick up the early symptoms unseen by those without a relationship.

These same skills can work against us if we allow them to create an undue sense of assuredness that "we would know" if our bird were sick. That is not always the case.

This is the problem with quarantine... most people believe they can tell if a bird is healthy simply by "looking at it". Just think... if it were that easy, would we need quarantine stations? Would the thousands upon thousands of dollars spent in housing birds entering the country in quarantine need to be spent if they could hire one of us to just 'look' at the bird and declare it is healthy or unhealthy?

I advocate regular weighing in the home, if not weekly, then monthly, at the same time (preferably in the morning prior to a meal). Keep a chart; know what is normal for your bird(s). I hesitate to give percentages, but I will say that if one of MY birds experiences a weight loss of 8%, that is the point the bird is getting a fun little ride in the car. Off to the avian vet we go. I know that percentage may vary with different vets and/or species.

Ask your avian vet what percentage of weight loss should spark your fingers to do the dialing and get an appointment arranged.

While it is a helpful to hone our skills of our knowledge of a bird's normal activities and habits; it cannot substitute for the skilled hand's on examination of a qualified avian vet.

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So I say... there is an excuse not to do house work or some other undesirable task...

"I must spend some time hanging out with my birds... for the sake of the relationship!!"


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1 comment:

wolfgirl1987 said...

Love the final quote! :)

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