Avian emergency tips for general practitioners

How comfortable is your team treating common bird emergencies? Sydney Pockard, DVM, talks to columnist Emily Singler, VMD, and offers tips for veterinarians in general practice.

By Emily Singler

How comfortable are you treating birds in your practice? What about avian emergencies? There are plenty of veterinary professionals who love caring for birds and who do it regularly. For those who feel less comfortable but would like to start, or for those who just want to be prepared for whatever might come through the door, I asked an expert avian practitioner for some practical tips. 

Meet Sydney Pockard, DVM  

Sydney Pockard, DVM, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian practicing in southern California. She does relief work at exotic and emergency hospitals in addition to providing her services to a local zoo, and she offers educational content to pet owners and veterinarians on her Instagram account that currently boasts over 20,000 followers. She has also traveled internationally, most recently to do zoo and wildlife work in Costa Rica. She is working on her ABVP board certification in the treatment of exotic companion animals and plans to open her own exotic animal hospital soon. 

Pockard finds that many small animal general practice veterinarians are not comfortable treating avian emergency cases. “Unless they have experience treating birds,” she adds, “most will not attempt to treat these cases.”  

She’s heard the famous “birds like to die” saying, but she doesn’t necessarily agree with it. She said, “Some deaths occur out of fear of treating the bird or from a lack of experience with certain conditions.” 

Here, we review some of Pockard’s advice on treating avian emergencies for those who may not be as comfortable or experienced with these cases. She said that the most common type of emergencies that she treats in birds include egg binding, broken blood feathers, respiratory conditions, and acute lethargy and anorexia.

Go slow, and use oxygen 

  • Just like with other small animal species, emergency cases should be triaged to determine the severity of their condition and need for immediate stabilization.  
  • Pockard explains that much of a bird’s initial exam can be done from a distance to minimize stress from handling.  
  • Many sick birds also benefit from oxygen supplementation even before they have their exam, she said. 

Dose medications appropriately 

  • “Birds also require a much higher dose of certain medications,” Pockard said.  
  • As an example, the avian dose for meloxicam is 1–1.5 mg/kg PO BID, compared to the 0.1–0.2 mg/kg PO SID dosing for dogs and cats.  
  • To make sure you are using an avian-appropriate dose, Pockard recommends using an exotic formulary such as Carpenter’s Exotic Animal Formulary 

Reach out for advice and education 

  • If you have a case where you are not sure what to do, Pockard recommends reaching out to an exotic practitioner for some advice. “I am always happy to help and teach other veterinarians that want to start managing avian cases,” she said.  
  • Among other things, experienced avian practitioners can recommend the right equipment for you to have on hand for your avian patients.  
  • Doing regular CE on avian diseases and conditions can help you feel more prepared for emergency cases as well.  

“Avian medicine is wonderful and not something to fear,” Pockard said. “With the right tools, you can be successful in treating avian emergencies even if you are not an avian specialist.”  

Further reading 


Photo credit: © LuckyBusiness E+ via Getty Images Plus 

Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors. 



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