Forums & Experts

About Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.
I have been a small animal practitioner since I graduated from Purdue University Veterinary School in 1975. I am the…

Read more »

Ask An Expert: Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.

Browse by category: Parrot Care, Behaviour and Training, Conservation, Ethics and Welfare, Housing and Environmental Enrichment, General, Health and Nutrition

My Question:
I would be asking my Avian Vet; however, she died in a tragic car accident last month! I am at a loss of ideas on what to do and who to call.

I have a 3 year old cockatiel and a ~2.5 year old White Bellied Caique. I board them fairly often when I have to go on trips. I was wondering if it would be necessary to worry about vaccination for certain things. The only reason I worry is because the boarding is at a pet store. Its a reputable store and they have a good staff and I've never had any bad experiences from there but they don't require any health certificates before accepting boarders. The boarders are kept in a separate area from their store stock birds for sale. They are kept in a multi-compartment battery of cages in a room in the back. They appear to keep them all clean but they are kept in close proximity to other birds. My birds always come back happy and temporarily make different sounds from the other birds.

Do you think this arrangement would warrant vaccination against some of the more common avian ailments?/ viruses?


Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Jelly,

I am sorry to hear of your loss; good avian veterinarians are few and hard to find. You may want to check the AAV website to see if you can locate another veterinarian before you have an issue with one of your birds.

You ask a very good question. Unfortunately, there is not a clear answer. There is definitely a risk of contagious disease with the situation you describe for boarding your birds. Vaccination would not prevent most diseases and is of very limited value. Good hygiene standards and air circulation would be most important in preventing spread of disease.

If I were the store owner, I would require health certificates for my own protection and peace of mind. I suggest expressing your concerns with the store owner or manager. Good luck!

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Hi there, I have an African grey parrot and she fed only sunflower seeds for two years,I worry about the fatty liver problems, I changed her diet to fruit and vegetable, I wanted to use aloe detox but I couldn't find any in my country. I want to ask if it is okay to give her aloe vera or milk thistle products or fresh aloe vera? And if so, how much per week?

I take her to avian vet but he wasn't good one and he couldn't answer my questions. Also there is not any parrot expert / avian vet in my city. Please help me, thank you.

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

I commend you for recognizing that your bird needs a better diet than sunflower seeds! She needs more than fruits and vegetables, though. I recommend that 70-80% of companion parrots' daily diet be a good quality pelleted food. You can supplement this with about 10% fresh vegetables, 5% grains/pasta/cereals, and 5% fresh fruits. Nuts and seeds should comprise less than 1% of the daily diet and are given only by hand as special treats.

Milk thistle and aloe vera are prescribed by avian veterinarians for specific health conditions in the individual patient after examination. There is also significant variation in the quality of these products, so I recommend consulting with your avian veterinarian before using.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

If I want to bring another parrot into my home (where I already have two
parrots), is there really any risk of that bird having chlamydia/psittacosis
if it has been bred in the UK?

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Thanks for this excellent question, Helen. The incidence of contagious disease, including psittacosis, has decreased since the importation of wild-caught birds has become illegal. However, this has not eliminated contagious disease, even in the captive-bred parrot population. I do recommend testing and quarantine of all new birds before their introduction into the flock. Your best source of information is your own qualified avian veterinarian. A local veterinarian would know best about the prevalence of disease and recommended testing procedures for your specific area.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

My 18 month old cock budgie has developed a brown cere. I have read that this can be an indication of kidney or cancer problems. He is eating well but does seem to be breathing heavily. There is no discharge from the nares or any blockage. Is there anything that can be done for him?

Many thanks,

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

A brown cere is normal in a female budgie. Could your little guy be a girl? I am concerned about the heavy breathing, so my best advice is to get your budgie examined by an experienced avian veterinarian. A good doctor can determine by a physical examination and laboratory testing if your budgie is healthy. Thanks for the great question, Helen!

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Hello! I have female Plumhead Parakeet. Some of her tail feathers are curvy. She is about a year now. I got her month ago. She seems healthy otherwise. Droppings are normal and she has good appetite. A bit afraid of Beak and feather syndrome, cause have other birds too.... Is it possible she has had the sickness but recovered? Is she then carrying it and dangerous to my other birds?
Yours Tom

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Tom, Thanks for the great question. The best advice I can give is to take your bird to an avian veterinarian for a complete physical examination. Your veterinarian may then recommend some tests for general health and specifically for Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD).

Birds in general are capable of appearing healthy and normal, in spite of serious disease or organ dysfunction. Your bird may be perfectly normal or may be ill or a carrier for PBFD. A good veterinarian can determine your bird's health status.

Ellen K. Cook, DVM

filed under: Health and Nutrition

My 8 year old Senegal, Qt, and I live in the Santa Cruz mountain area of California. We had excellent care when we lived in Contra Costa County, but here, I have learned there is no emergency avian care. Qt has never been ill prior to now. Unfortunately, it's the weekend and I'm terrified that I'm going to lose her. None of the vet hospitals with avian vets are open and none will contact the vet outside of normal business hours. I have called well over 10 offices and hospitals and have only found a regular DVM with an interest in exotic animals willing to see her (an 1 1/2 drive--proved worthless and $400). Her crop is so distended with gas and her droppings are scant to nothing. She is completely puffed up, half-lidded, and shaking--even in an 85 degree 'hospital' enclosure. I'm giving her warm Pedialyte and Diflucan. I'm massaging her crop every 30 minutes. The receptions I've been in contact with, to a person, have been insensitive and unresponsive. I want to know how an Avian vet (who knows that a visibly sick bird requires emergency care) can ethically leave their patients and community without emergency services or even a valid referral (most referred me to the same hospital that didn't have an Avian vet). I don't know what to do. I feel helpless and angry. I wish I had asked about supportive care after hours. It simply didn't occur to me. I am praying, now, that she'll survive until Monday...

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi- There is nothing so frustrating and upsetting as having one of our avian companions seriously ill; I worry about my birds, too, when they are sick. Your feelings of anger and helplessness are justified in your concern about Qt. I have been practicing avian medicine for ten years (and small animal medicine for 35 years) and I find that avian DVM's are few and far between. Therefore, I recommend that all parrot caregivers be prepared for when (not if) an emergency occurs. Many areas are totally without avian veterinary care; it is not unusual for clients to drive 2-3 hours to see a doctor. When getting a bird, it is good to become established with a qualified avian veterinarian and discuss after-hours procedures before they are needed.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. Qt's symptoms could be caused by any number of diseases/problems. Whenever a bird is critically ill, the best treatment is to make sure they are hydrated (the Pedialyte is good, you might also try hand-feeding formula), warm (I would bump up the heat to 90 degrees and watch her for overheating: open-beak breathing, wings held away from body) and supplemental oxygen (difficult to do at home). I would not necessarily give the Diflucan unless Qt has had problems w/ yeast/fungal infections in the past. Another problem with birds is that they are masters at disguising illness and often do not show symptoms, even when seriously ill. I have had many experienced caregivers bring in their parrot in right away, after having noted them fluffed and not moving; upon examination/testing, it becomes apparent that the bird has been sick for days, weeks, even months. Often, the disease has progressed beyond the point of treatment. I hope this is not the case w/Qt!

Continue w/your supportive care for Qt. That is the best anyone can do; I will keep you in my prayers, too.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

My Question: I have an aviary budgie with very watery droppings and wheeziness. He has had a broad spectrum antibiotic jab at the avian vets, followed by 10 days on "ornicure".

Coccidia has been ruled out and I have had a lab test for chlamydia which has come back negative. The bird is still indoors although not needing additional heat. If he goes back out he really struggles (shortness of breath).

It may be relevant to mention that another bird has been prone to a messy vent for two months, without showing any other symptoms. The chlamydia test was a pooled swab.

I have also tried Ivermectin to rule out mites etc.

Where do I go from here?

Thanks, Helen Jones

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

This is an excellent question, Helen, but, unfortunately, there is no quick answer. Watery droppings can be caused by numerous diseases: parasites, toxins, viruses, bacteria, foods, the list is endless. I would suggest a complete diagnostic work-up for this little guy. This would include blood tests, multiple fecal examinations, radiographs, etc. Another point to remember is that even if a chlamydia test comes back negative, this does not rule out the disease.

Since another bird is involved, I would be most concerned about contagious disease. Check with your avian veterinarian: s/he knows you and your bird and can better suggest necessary testing/treatment.

I hope you can get to the bottom of your budgies' problems!

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I was wondering if you could answer a question for me. I am wondering if seashells are save to give me African brown head to play with. I noticed one of the toys in his pen has seashells attached to it. I collected some from the beach, and I was wondering if they are cleaned off properly if they can be used for toys. Thanks for your help!


Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Vicky, Seashells are usually safe for parrots. In fact, ground or crushed seashells are used in some calcium supplements. As long as the shells are thoroughly cleaned, they should be safe to give your bird.

I always recommend observing your bird at play to make sure he is not eating any toys or shells. Most parrots simply chew toys to bits, but occasionally one will actually swallow those bits. Needless to say, that is dangerous for the bird!

Have fun and thanks for the great question, Vicky.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Page 1 of 3 pages  1 2 3 >