Treating and Recognising Concussion in Parrots

Emergency care

Parrots suffering head trauma or concussion

I received a phone call today from a very distraught owner who’s parrot had flown full tilt into a window.  The parrot was unresponsive, suffering wing droop, unable to perch and in severe shock, all signs of concussion or potential cerebral haemorrhaging. The obvious question asked was ‘What do I do now’? hence prompting me to write this article as bundling your parrot up in the car and taking them directly to the vet can actually be the worst thing you can do initially.

Unfortunately accidents like this happen all too often both in the home and in the aviary. Some species of birds can be easily spooked eg Neophemas, Finches etc especially when kept as aviary birds as sometimes all it takes is the flash of a set of headlights or the neighbourhood cat wandering past to spook the birds and send them into a state of panic with some parrots even known to have broken their necks due to night fright. Breeders with ‘night fright’ prone parrots are somewhat accustomed to discovering a ‘concussed’ parrot recovering in the bottom of their aviary on their morning rounds.

When it comes to companion parrots, windows are the bane of their existence, hence the reason I have the best excuse ever to only clean mine on the rare occasion. Regardless how ‘used to’ windows your parrot may be, all it takes is for them to take fright,  panic and fly head first into a window trying to escape the source of their fright.  Another common inflictor of  ‘head trauma’ is the humble ceiling fan, I have known many people who are beyond vigilant when it comes to turning off fans when their parrot is out but all it takes is for a friend or relative to come and visit, they may not be as vigilant and its the worst feeling in the world watching your beloved pet fly into a room only to realise the fan has been left on, hearing the dull thunk and hoping to heck that their necks aren’t broken.

Recognising the symptoms of concussion or cerebral damage

There are some very easy signs to look out for if you think your bird may be concussed. Sadly if there is brain damage there is not a great deal that can be done but both can present similarly. If you actually witness your bird fly smack bang into a window, its a pretty easy guess what has caused the problem but some owners will come home to find their bird perching but acting very strangely for no apparent reason. This is where this check list comes is to play.

Symptoms for medium grade concussion

1. Regurgitation

2. Difficulty perching

3. Slight wing droop

4. Aloofness

5. Loss of apetite

6. Uncoordinated flight

7. Needing to sleep a great deal more than usual (unusual sleep pattern)

8. Fluffed up and shivering coupled with above symptom(s)

Symptoms for serious concussion or cerebral haemorrhaging

1. Inability to perch, falling off perch

2. Ataxia – loss of coordination due to neurological damage

3. Head rolling onto back of neck, in circular motion or lolling entirely

4. Eyes rolling, tracking back and forth uncharachteristically

5. Convulsions

6. Unconscious entirely

So what do you do if this happens to your parrot?

1. First and foremost, you need to stay calm. If you panic you will be of no use to your bird, they need you to be level headed and will rely on you for both physical and emotional support.

2.  Gently pick your parrot up supporting their head, keeping it in a horizontal position. Do not let the head loll back, if there is neck trauma you will further this if not supported. Some parrots may bite out of pain if not severely concussed so may pay to grab something to use to protect your hands esp if the beak is a good size.

3. Never lay your parrot on their back to examine them for wounds. This is a sure fire way to kill a traumatised bird. By laying a bird on their back you are immediately dropping their blood pressure, many an avian life has been lost this way as its sadly not common knowledge.

4. Take your parrot to a quiet room away from kids, noise etc and gently and calmly examine them starting at their head. Work your way down the body very carefully checking wings, breast bone, legs etc. Don’t pull or poke, this is more a visual examination making sure their is no bleeding or bones protruding.

Bleeding:  If your parrot is bleeding badly, cornflour (or any flour) is a quick and easy ‘home remedy’ that has saved many birds lives. Simply place the bleeding limb or cover the area in cornflour (never the beak or respiratory areas) and this will act as a coagulant, allowing the blood to congeal and stop as birds can bleed out far too easily.

Fracture/Break: Your bird will need to see a vet as soon as they are stable but you do not want to rush them to a vet while they are still in shock, concussed and obviously in pain. Stop any bleeding, cover the wound (if bone is protruding) with sterile gauze (very gently) and work on stabilising your parrot. Do not try to put a joint back in as this can cause far more damage than good and further shock your parrot.

Stabilising Your Parrot

You need to stabilise your parrot before you even attempt to take them to an avian vet as some birds will sadly not survive the car trip if too badly concussed and in severe shock.

1. As strange as it sounds your voice will be one of the biggest things to help your parrot out of the very first initial stage of shock. Many a life has been saved by an owner simply talking to their beloved bird, their will to live is very strong and you need to give them a reason to fight.

2. You need to keep them warm, very important. If you can wrap them up in a nice warm towel. I have often placed a towel in the dryer for a minute to warm it slightly then wrapped it around an injured bird (very gently). This helps them maintain their body temperature and keep them stabilised. Once a birds core body temperature drops you have a hard time bringing it back up. Keep them warm but never let them over heat as this will also be detrimental. Warm but not hot. Use their feet as a gauge for their body temperature, cold toes means a cold bird.

3. Do not try to feed your parrot any form of food or water. If in shock their digestive system will have shut down and will need IV fluid to re start their system.

Depending on the level of trauma it may pay you to see if your avian vet will make a house call but as many don’t, please make sure your bird is stabilised before even attempting to take them in the car. Notify your vet you are coming so they are prepared.

Please make sure your parrot is stable before you even attempt to transport them. Their breathing should be relatively even and they should be relatively aware of their surroundings or at least somewhat responsive to your voice. Keep them warm when transporting and drive as ‘gently’ as possible. Driving like an insane person will only lead to jostling your parrot around more causing them more harm.

When transporting your parrot, many owners will choose to hold their parrots but if you are placing them in a travel cage, line the bottom with a fluffy towel and stack up either side enabling your parrot to comfortably lean against the sides so they aren’t rocked around with the movement of the car.

Please remember, this is simply advice gleaned from my years of experience.

If such an instance occurs – Always seek avian veterinary advice

3 thoughts on “Treating and Recognising Concussion in Parrots

  1. Fantastic advise Kirsten!!!

    Thanks so much for posting these kinds of articles – I hope it helps to save some feathered friends!!


  2. Hi,
    I have been in a state of high anxiety since our parrot slammed head first at the exact time the door was opened, and he hit hard onto the wooden floor.He didn’t get up and just laid there, but he opened his eyes. Anyway, all these weird symptoms were happening, but I didn’t really see any physical symptoms. He attempted in a crazy fashion to fly-right into the door, twice. My God, poor Woody.I later discovered his beak was pretty beat up. It’s taken me all this time to find out what he has! Thank you so much. But he also had one symptom from the brain injury list, so I don’t know if that mean’s there is damage.

    Based on your article, I don’t know if or when he should go to the vet. He is “out of it”, so not stable and I can’t take him. But there are NO vets in the area who work with birds, and the closest big animal hospital is 50 miles away. Will he improve without intervention, or should I be worried about the brain injury?? Thank you so much.

  3. Hi

    Im glad the article helped you to make sense of your boys symptoms, sometimes concussion/brain damage can be terribly difficult to diagnose.

    How long ago did your parrot have his accident?

    In short I suggest you follow the triage advice on my blog and if you can, ring up the avian vet and speak with him, sometimes phone consults are available and he should be able to advise you as to which steps to take. Your parrot obviously needs to be stabilised before a car trip so keep him warm, hydrated and calm in the meantime and call your avian vet asap as he may know a local vet who although may not specialise in parrots, might be knowledgeable enough to help your boy in the meantime.

    I hope this helps.

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