The Need for Training Medical Behaviors

On Tuesday, we had a rather traumatic visit to our avian vet.

Since our 34-year-old African Grey, Coco, passed away, the girls have been acting strangely.  At first, I chalked it up to them being upset about his passing, but after it stretched on for a couple of weeks, I decided maybe we ought to go see the vet, just to make sure.

Vet visits are never fun around these parts.  Although both girls will somewhat cooperate if they aren’t feeling well, there is zero cooperation to be found when they are feeling fine.  This last visit was no exception.  Both birds behaved like little banshees.  If they were children, I would have been dreadfully embarrassed.  Since they were birds, all the humans in the room simply shrugged at each other and tried to attend to the business at hand.

Luna’s exam was first.  Although she came out of her travel cage with only a little coaxing and stayed on the scale without a fuss, the rest of the exam was less than stellar.  As soon as the veterinary technician wrapped her in a towel, she started growling and squealing in protest.  She tried, though somewhat ineffectively, to bite the technician who held her, and when the vet offered her a Nylabone to bite so she could look inside her beak, Luna chomped the thing vigorously while screeching her protests.  She made quite a stink when the vet sanded down her toenails, too.

I’m sure the entire building “enjoyed” her unhappy screams.

Static’s exam didn’t go much better.  She didn’t want to come out of her travel cage and had to be peeled off the bars.  (It’s a darn good thing she’s a sweetheart, because most birds would bite under those circumstances.)  When I finally got her out of her cage, she tried 50 ways of escape.  She ended up on my shoulder, back on her travel cage, and then on Luna’s cage in a futile attempt to get away.

She would not get on the scale.  In the past, she’s reluctantly stepped onto the vet’s scale, but apparently the old one had died and the new one was just too scary.  Static flapped and honked and didn’t want to have anything to do with it.  We had to douse the lights in order to get Static into a towel, and she wasn’t much more cooperative than Luna.  She made sure that the entire office heard she was unhappy with the undignified treatment.

After her exam, she still would not get on the scale.  We eventually weighed her by stuffing her in a pastry box that had been sitting in the office break room.  Once again, Static wasn’t having any of it, and she flapped and honked and tried to escape, breaking a blood feather in the process.  We caught her up, pulled the broken feather, and then doused the lights again, I grabbed the hapless bird, stuffed her into the box and held the lid shut.  The vet quickly taped the box closed while the bird bounced around inside.

We did, finally, get Static’s weight.

Victory! (sort of)

Now I have to say that this was, unquestionably, the worst vet visit we’d ever had with this vet.

To my vet’s credit, she and her staff are very gentle and kind.  These folks are much more patient and gentle than our old vet, who used a vented bowl with a lid to get a bird’s weight.  He’d unceremoniously pick the bird up, dump her in the bowl, slam down the lid and put the entire mess on a scale.  It was efficient, but none of my birds liked it, especially the ones who would cooperate with the scale if we were willing to exercise a little patience.

Now the good news is that nobody was ill.  The birds checked out fine, and I was simply overcautious.  Still, Luna did need her sinuses flushed out (she needs this periodically because the damage to her eyes has caused secondary problems with her sinuses) to make her more comfortable.  Both birds were checked out, and we did check for bacteria, but nobody had an infection and their poops were fine.

So in that respect, it was all good.

Still, I don’t like that vet visits are a trial for my vet, my birds and me.  I hate that my birds get stressed out, upset and traumatized almost every time we go.

Until recently, I didn’t realize that it could be different.  I just figured that trips to the avian vet were always going to suck, no matter what we did.

My recent experience at a bird training workshop really opened my eyes.  There, I saw videos of birds submitting to veterinary exams without a fuss.  I saw birds who were taking medication voluntarily out of a syringe, and others who would allow themselves to be injected, or to have blood drawn from a wing, without having to be held down and forced to comply.

Wow.  Just wow.

I didn’t realize that this was even a possibility until I saw these videos. Going to the vet doesn’t have to be a terrible trial.

So that’s the next thing we are going to train.  Although I don’t know if I will ever get my birds as nonchalant about veterinary care as the ones I saw in the video, I do think we can do a lot better.  Certainly better means less stress for all of us, and that’s a great goal to to aim for.


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