As I mentioned earlier this week, we’ve figured out that we have a definite need to train medical behaviors. Our last visit to the avian vet wasn’t exactly what I would call fun.
Well, unless chasing your bird around the exam room and listening to her scream is your idea of a good time.
No? Not so much for us, either.
Although there are quite a few medical behaviors that are useful for regular maintenance, such as weighing, toenail clipping and wing trims, there are others that are important in the event your bird becomes ill. If your bird is comfortable taking liquid from a syringe, it becomes a whole lot easier to give her mediation.
We have an immediate need to teach Luna some medical behaviors. Due to her damaged eyes, her sinuses have a tendency to get plugged up. To reduce this problem (and lessen the number of times a year we have to go to the vet to have her sinuses flushed out) we have to figure out how to get some of this
on a daily basis.
Now certainly, we can do this the easy (for us) way, which would be to wrap Luna in a towel, restrain her, and drip the saline drops into her nares as we are serenaded by her squalls of protest.
The saline drops are important. If we manage to get them in regularly, they tend to keep her sinuses lubricated, and excess tears and mucus tend to drain instead of creating a giant birdie booger which eventually plugs her up enough that she’ll whistle a tiny bit when she breathes.
Oddly enough, she doesn’t seem to be bothered by the condition, but clearly it’s not normal, and all the accumulated crud tends to create an environment that can breed upper respiratory tract infections.
At her last checkup, Luna still needed her sinuses rinsed, but she didn’t need any antibiotics. Score!
But the real question is how can we get these drops into her nares easily? We have restrained her and forced her to comply, but nobody likes it. Sure, it gets the job done, and it’s over quickly, but it’s still not fostering the kind of relationship I want to have with my bird. Even though Luna doesn’t hold a grudge, I still don’t like the dynamics of the situation. It’s a two person job, where one of us holds her down, and the other aims carefully with the drops.
I see this as an ongoing project, not as something we’ll be able to train in a day or two using 100% positive reinforcement techniques because we are dealing with a blind bird who can’t see what’s coming at her until it’s already happened. Still, I want this to be as pleasant as possible, and I hope that if we can teach Luna that nose drops = good things, the entire process will be a lot less unhappy for everyone.
So for this week, I’m working on convincing Luna to allow me to hold her head in the right position. Even when she’s mostly still, she still tends to wave her head in a way that reminds me of Stevie Wonder. Since she’s rather wiggly, I want to teach her to allow me to hold her head still and in the correct position for just a few seconds. Right now, I’m working on this during our regular snuggling times. She likes head rubs and scratches, so as I’m rubbing her head, I pause for a moment to hold her in the correct position. I hold her there for a second or two, and then promptly release her and go back to preening.
Eventually, I expect that she’ll allow me to gently hold her head in the correct position (without actually restraining her) for longer and longer periods, so that we can get the drops in the proper place a lot more easily.
I’ll keep you posted on how this project goes.