February 1998 Magazine
Training and Qualifications - Birds are very different from other animals, such as dogs and cats. DO NOT not take your bird to a veterinarian who doesn't usually treat birds. It could mean your bird's life!
Try to find a Board-Certified Avian Veterinarian. These veterinarians have been certified as Avian Practice Specialists by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. "Certification includes documentation of six years of significant avian practice experience or a formal residency plus scientific papers, plus a rigorous series of examinations". Avian veterinary medicine is relatively new and the certification requirements very time consuming. Unfortunately, as of June 1997 there are only 59 certified avian veterinarians in the world. Most are located in the US near major cities. If you are fortunate enough to be located near one, then give him or her strong consideration.
Many veterinarians who have expertise in and practice avian medicine are members of the Association of Avian Veterinarians. The AAV's mission is "Advancing and Promoting Avian Medicine and Stewardship". It provides education to members via conventions, seminars, programs, a journal, a newsletter and presentation of papers, etc. Membership in the AAV is no guarantee of avian knowledge, but it is a positive sign.
A veterinarian may have broad knowledge of avian medicine without being a member of the AAV. It may have been acquired through years of experience in treating birds, in reading journals and technical papers and/or by attending conventions and seminars. Ask the veterinarian how many years s/he has treated birds, how many birds are seen in a week and what percentage of the practice is avian.
We know of a local veterinarian who claimed knowledge of birds, but had never heard of an umbrella cockatoo. So if you have any doubts, use some avian terms to see if they are understood.
You should also ask the veterinarian what methods are used to keep abreast of new developments in avian medicine. This field is changing quickly, with new information replacing old myths and outdated procedures.
In the event that you cannot find an avian veterinarian within a convenient distance, select a more distant avian veterinarian whom you can visit less frequently. Supplement this with a local veterinarian for more minor procedures and for dire emergencies. Some non-avian veterinarians will agree to consult with your regular avian vet by phone in an emergency and will also be happy to work with you and learn some basic avian medicine. You may have to get creative to ensure your pet's well being.
Emergencies - Find out the veterinarian's or clinic's normal hours. In an emergency how quickly will your bird be seen? If the vet is not available, what arrangements have been made for an alternate? If an emergency occurs after hours or on weekends, will the veterinarian be reachable? If not, has provision for another reliable emergency service been set up? If so, you may want to visit there as well.
Tour the Hospital or Clinic's Facilities - Are things clean? Is there a place where the veterinarian can wash and disinfect between seeing patients? Is there equipment such as scales, incubators, brooders, heat lamps, cages, hand feeding equipment and supplies? Is there equipment to handle surgery, such as a table, anasthesia, and other operating equipment and recovery facilities? Is there space and cages for housing patients? Does the vet do some of the cultures on the premesis? This can give quicker results in an emergency and also keep costs down. You want to be confident that the veterinarian is equipped to handle emergencies and that s/he is knowledgable about treating birds. Be aware that some veterinarians won't allow outsiders into their hopital area to protect against transmission of disease.
Approach - Does the veterinarian agree with many of your beliefs about caring for birds? Does the vet believe in an annual well bird exam, a new bird exam? Ask what is included in these exams and why. Compare the answers to what others recommend. Articles on the New Bird Exam and the Annual Well Bird Exam by Lisa Paul DVM can be used as samples. Is s/he open to new ideas? Does s/he believe in some of the new vaccinations? This is a controversial subject. You want to find out if both you and the veterinarian have the same basic beliefs. If there are differences, ask about the basis for them. You may find that you agree with the reasons for those beliefs.
Manner - Does the veterinarian seem to genuinely like birds or do you get the feeling that they are viewed as objects? Does the vet seem open to questions? Will s/he explain the reasons for recommendations or expect you to accept whatever s/he does? Is the vet open to the idea of a second opinion? Do you believe the vet will tell you when s/he doesn't know something? Do you feel comfortable with, and even more important confident in, this person?
Housecalls - Many veterinarians will make visits to breeders. This is very convenient when there are lots of birds to see. It minimizes the risk of transmitting disease and the problems of transporting many birds to the office or clinic. Some vets are now making housecalls for pet birds as well. If this is important to you, then ask your vet if he will do this. Also ask what methods of decontamination s/he uses between calls to ensure that diseases are not carried from one housecall to another. Be prepared to offer your vet a place to wash and disinfect, if needed.
Fees - Ask about the fees. What is included in a well bird exam and what is the cost? Find out the fees for one or two standard procedures in your local area and ask the vet what his fees are for these procedures. However, remember that cheaper is not always better. A well trained vet who provides quality care, good facilities and an adequate staff has to cover his expenses. You just want to make sure that the fees are not outrageous.
Finding a Veterinarian - There are many ways to locate a vet. Try some of the following sources:
Winged Wisdom Note: Carol Highfill and husband Ken are the owners of two conures, four umbrella cockatoos and are the creators of the Birds n Ways, Winged Wisdom and Cockatoo Heaven web sites.
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