Dealing With Common Bird Emergencies

Bird Emergency

We recommend that bird owners keep phone numbers for their local vet, out of hours emergency centre and their avian vet (ours is 03 9808 9011) handy at all times. You should have a heat lamp or hospital cage, towel and travel cage readily available in case of emergencies. In addition, the following items are useful to keep as a first aid kit for birds.

Bird First Aid Kit

Home First Aid Kit for Birds: Click here to purchase from

  • Hard Case
  • Styptic Powder
  • First Aid Leaflet
  • Styptic Applicator
  • Non Stick Dressing
  • Nail Clippers
  • 5cm Self Adhesive Wrap
  • Sticking Plaster
  • Alchol Swab
  • Bandage Scissors
  • Iodine Swab
  • Poly Aid 40g
  • Hypoallergenic Tape
  • Haemostat
  • Saline Flush
  • Cotton Balls
  • Sterile Gauze
  • Splint Set
  • Gloves (S, M, L)
  • Vet Contact Card
  • Disposable Heat Pad
  • Vet Situations Magnet

First Aid Advice For Common Bird Emergencies

If in doubt call Bird Vet Melbourne (03 – 9808 9011) and advise that you are bringing your bird to the clinic with an emergency.

Additional First Aid information can be given by staff over the phone or a recorded message with phone numbers for out of hours emergency clinics will play. Emergencies are dealt with before other patients, depending on their urgency.

Heat stress

Cool by misting with water and move to an air conditioned area. Take care not to allow the bird to become chilled. Call the clinic if your bird does not return to normal after this treatment.

Breathing difficulties

Treat as for heat stress if overheated, otherwise we recommend minimal handling and transporting the bird to the clinic as soon as possible. If your bird is stable and you can see an obvious obstruction you may try to remove it with e.g. a moistened cotton, but do not attempt this if your bird is distressed. At Bird Vet Melbourne birds with breathing difficulties will typically initially be placed in an oxygenated, humidified incubator to attempt to stabilise them and then procedures will be carried out to try to identify the cause of the breathing difficulties. Some causes include respiratory tract infections, foreign body (e.g. seed or husk) obstruction, exposure to an inhaled toxin such as smoke or burning Teflon, anaemia from internal bleeding or pressure from an abdominal mass such as an egg or cancer. Radiographs, blood tests or other procedures may be required to reach a diagnosis.


Generally apply a styptic powder such as Kwikstop (flour will do if this is unavailable) and pressure with a cotton bud or gauze pad. Call and be ready to take your bird to the clinic or an emergency centre if bleeding is not stopping immediately. Antibiotics may also be needed if the wound has become contaminated and infection is an issue.

  • Broken blood feathers –  When forming all feathers have a blood vessel that travels up the quill. This disappears when the feather matures and the quill becomes hollow. If the feather shaft is broken when the blood vessel in the quill is still large it may bleed profusely. If this happens Kwikstop and pressure between the thumb and forefinger  should be applied to the point where the bleeding is occurring. If this does not stop the bleeding the quill may be removed and Kwikstop and pressure with a cotton bud applied to the feather follicle. If you are not confident to do this seek veterinary help immediately.
  • Cuts – apply Kwikstop and pressure with a cotton bud or pad as described above to stop any bleeding. If minor, antiseptic solution such as chlorhexidene or F10 can be applied and the wound bandaged or left open. If there is any further bleeding, or if you are not confident seek veterinary help
  • Claw & toe bleeding – apply Kwikstop or flour and pressure between the thumb and forefinger. A BandAid cut in half vertically and then horizontally leaves a pad with elastic adhesive tape that can be wound around the toes and claw as a pressure dressing.  Infection or interference with blood supply to the toe can be an issue, we recommend the bird be checked by a vet even if the bleeding is stopped.
  • Tongue bleeding – keep your bird quiet and take it to the veterinary clinic as soon as possible. Attempts to try to apply pressure to stop tongue bleeding in a bird that is awake are generally not successful and struggling by the bird may prolong the bleeding.  Once at the clinic the vet would typically anaesthetise your bird and cauterise the wound to stop the bleeding.

Predator attacks

Bleeding should be address as described above and the bird taken to the clinic. Even if wounds look minor, cat’s teeth and raptor claws especially have nasty bacteria that when inoculated under the skin with bits and scratches can cause fatal blood poisoning. These cases generally should be checked by an avian vet for other problems (e.g. internal damage), treated appropriately and put on antibiotics.

Fibres, string or wire entanglement

E.g. when cotton wool fibres are caught around canaries’ feet or sea birds get their feet caught in fishing line etc. Quietly catch your bird, wrap it in a towel and examine the extent of the problem. Take extreme care not to tug on the string or fibre and so cause it to become more deeply imbedded or to cut off ends of the fibre while still leaving encircling  fibre under the skin. If it may be easily removed do so but if at all in doubt do not attempt removal but seek veterinary help. Needlessly lost toes or broken bones may result from inexperienced attempts at removal. Typically the bird would be anaesthetised and the fibre etc removed under anaesthesia


Cool water may be run over burnt feet and legs, do not run water over feathered parts of the body. Do not apply ointments to feathered parts of the bird’s body. Place in a transport cage or darkened box and take your bird to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible.


Stop bleeding as described above. If the wound is minor a water based disinfectant such as chlorhexidine or F10 may be applied and the wound covered or left open. If it is more severe, if in doubt or if your bird starts to peck at the wound you should seek veterinary advice.


Warm your bird by placing it near a heat lamp, hot water bottle or in a hospital cage heated to 28 degrees. If it does not return to normal seek veterinary advice.


If you believe your bird may have ingested something that could be poisonous you should call your local vet or avian vet for advice or take your bird to an emergency centre. If caught early your vet may be able to remove toxic material from your bird by irrigating the crop before there is time for the poison to be absorbed from the digestive tract. If there is an antidote or treatment available, starting treatment early will give the best chance of success.  See here for information about common poisons.

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