Q&A with Veterinarian Experts

Photo from Joey the hand tamed Zebra Finch's youtube channel. Click the photo to visit.

Photo from Joey the hand tamed Zebra Finch’s youtube channel. Click the photo to visit.

Due to the friendly nature of this community, there is a lot of information passed around by fellow aviculturists to first and long-time Finch keepers. And while a lot of it is positive and useful, there are uninformed hobbyists who mistakenly pass along advice that is less than helpful and can even be harmful.

TWFA is working to correct and prevent any misinformation in this community through the use of some of the most knowledgeable Finch resources available – certified and experienced Veterinarians. In this section they answer fan-submitted questions and problems in the most direct and correct way possible. To submit a question, contact me through email or by commenting on this site. For more Avian Veterinarian points of contact, visit the Links Page.

Featured Topics

Sudden unexplained death
Egg bound hen
Over-clipping nails
Broken leg
Cage floor substrate
Pellets for Finches
Quarantine procedures for new birds
Symptoms and treatment for infection
Safe foods for Finches
Whether/not to use cage grates
Parents fighting with children
Female won’t stop laying
Fostering a wild baby bird

Cleaning Cages

Egg bound hen
Does it hurt my female to let her lay eggs?
Re-occuring cold or other infections
Feather loss & skin irritation
Why is my bird so sleepy during his molt?
Puffed or fluffed up
Injured wild bird
Reoccurring hatchling death

Contributing Authors

Local Avian Veterinarians
~Cathy Johnson-Delaney: DVM Dipl. ABVP- Avian-Exotic Companion Mammals (Avian & Exotic Animal Medical Center)


Freelance/Private Practice

~Dr. Elaine: BS, DVM (General Certified Veterinarian) Experience in small animal emergency care
~Dr. Pat: DVM (Avian Certified Veterinarian) Many years experience as an avian vet

Sudden unexplained death

Question: Do you know why my bird would drop dead after no signs of being sick?

Answer: Birds hide their symptoms so in actuality there may have been some underlying illness.

Birds also have heart attacks and stroke – they have a lot of heart disease, and that may be what happened. Without a necropsy (autopsy) there is no way to know what caused the death.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals. 

Egg-bound hen

Question: What do I do if my Gouldian Finch is fluffed up and not moving very much in her cage? She laid one egg yesterday.

Answer: It sounds like she may be eggbound, and in that case needs to be seen by an avian veterinarian.

Prior to getting her to the doctor, apply heating to the cage – can be a heating pad leaned up against the outside of the cage, draped with a towel to warm her.

(For additional tricks to help a hen through egg binding, read this post.)

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals. 

Over-clipping nails

Question: I cut my bird’s nails too short and they bled quite a bit but it’s stopped now. Should I take them to the Emergency Vet?

Answer: If the bird is sitting fluffed from the blood loss, and is painful (toes), first thing to do is get some heat to the caging. This can be done using a heating pad up against the outside of the cage near where the bird is sitting. Drape the cage with a towel to help keep the bird warm.

Any Emergency Veterinarian service needs to be one that has experience with birds. Most do not. You would have to call. If during office hours, your regular avian veterinarian should be consulted.

It may be that your bird needs some fluids and pain medications. It all depends on how the bird is acting from the blood loss. If he is sitting normally and is not fluffed, I’d probably supply the heat and just watch him closely for a few hours. If the toes seem painful – i.e. he’s alternating holding a foot up, then he likely should be seen by an avian veterinarian for pain medication.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals. 

Broken leg

Question: My finch injured its leg and now it looks broken. What should I do?

Answer: Depending on where it is broken will determine if splinting will work. You need to take your bird to an avian veterinarian to determine the fracture site and splint or internally fix (femur) the fracture.

(Read more about how to create a temporary splint for your pet bird’s broken leg here using a popsicle stick, cotton swab, cardboard strip and gauze.)

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals. 

Cage floor substrate

Question: How often should I clean the bottom of my bird’s cage? What should I use to line it?

Answer: Change the cage papers daily. You can use newspaper, paper towels, brown paper from paper bags, newsprint or even wax paper.

By doing daily changes, you can evaluate the droppings both in quantity and quality. They should be the same every day. If not, your bird may be having a medical problem and should be checked by your avian veterinarian.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals. 

Pellets for Finches

Question: Are pellet diets harmful to birds?

Answer: Pelleted diets are far superior to seed diets. They can be supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables.

There are many brands on the market, but any chosen should have been through extensive feeding trials. Brands I recommend include Harrison’s, Lafebers, ZuPreem, Roudybush and Mazuri. Birds usually must be trained to eat pellets unless they were weaned onto them as chicks. Pellets come in various sizes and are usually sold for specific species.

There are some diets designed to wean birds from a seed-only diet to pellets such as Lafeber’s Nutriberries and Pelletberries. I have had excellent success getting birds to eat pellets. Please check out the websites to the various brands listed above. And no, pellet diets listed above are not harmful to birds. Just the opposite.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals. 

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Quarantine procedures for new birds

Question: Should I quarantine and provide preventative medicines and cures for communicable diseases to my new birds before introducing them to the rest of my flock?

Answer: Yes you should quarantine new birds rather than just introducing them to your flock. Do not however treat with pet store antibiotics or other over the counter medications.

The new birds may or may not have anything that the resident flock may have. Just giving medication when there is no reason to do so creates problems. The new birds should be taken to an avian veterinarian who will take a sample for culturing and antibiotic sensitivity testing. The veterinary will also give a physical examination to the bird including weighing, listening to heart and respiratory system and other parameters. In some cases blood testing may be done.

Depending on the species of bird and conditions, a fecal examination for parasites may also be done. A quarantine program for your birds can be defined by your avian veterinarian to keep your resident flock safe from transmissible disease.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals. 

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Symptoms and treatment for infection

Question: My bird started sleeping during the day and his breathing is labored. His droppings are yellow and watery. He also has crust around his eyes. Can you help?

Answer: Get him to an avian veterinarian immediately. He is very ill. He may have a bacterial or Chlamydial infection, which is affecting his respiratory system. The droppings sound like severe stress droppings or those seen with a gastrointestinal or kidney infection. First aid is to supply heat to his environment (have an area of the cage up 80-85 degrees F) known as a hot zone. Then get him to your avian veterinarian.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals. 

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Safe foods for Finches

Question: Which human foods are safe for my birds?
Answer: Foods to avoid include anything that is human junk food, high in fats. Avocado is generally toxic to birds. I would avoid any processed food especially if it contains xylitol. Fresh produce (vegetables and fruit) is usually preferred as supplements.If the finch is on a good pelleted diet, then supplements should only be fruits and vegetables. If the finch is on a seed diet, then produce is necessary to get adequate vitamins and minerals. A seed diet can also be supplemented with bits of whole grain bread or oatmeal. I recommend getting your finch on a pelleted diet, occasionally with crushed nutriberries (Lafeber company) and greens (such as parsley, cilantro, leaf lettuce, etc). Go to my website at www.exopet.com, pet info, down at bottom is a Diets for Pet Birds file that lists acceptable produce.

Appropriate Non-Starchy Vegetables: artichoke, asparagus, beans (green, wax, Italian, lima), bean sprouts, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, greens (chard, collard, kale, mustard, turnip), jicama, leeks, okra, onions, pea pods, peppers (green, yellow, red bell), radishes, salad greens (endive, escarole, leaf lettuce (not iceberg/head), romaine, spinach), summer squash (crookneck, yellow), tomatoes, turnips, water chestnuts, zucchini). It is best to offer small quantities of a variety of different vegetables, chopped together to encourage foraging.

Fruits: Stone fruits need to have stones/pits removed prior to offering these to your bird: apricot, plum, peach, prune, cherries, dates. Citrus fruits may cause diarrhea as they may have astringent qualities. Other fruits such as banana, papaya, kiwi, mango, pear, apple, grapes, starfruit, pineapple, melons, berries, pomegranates are often enjoyed but may cause discolored droppings. Edible flowers such as nasturtium, pansy or hibiscus may be enjoyed provided they are washed and contain no pesticides. Your veterinarian will determine the appropriate quantities of pellets, fruits, vegetables for your bird.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals.

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Whether/not to use cage grates

Question: Should I use the grate on my cage floor?

Answer: I recommend removing it and just use newspaper, brown paper or paper towels on the floor of the cage. Food items dropped there allow the birds to forage on the ground, a natural behavior. Change the papers daily.

They will avoid their droppings so don’t worry about them spending time scrounging around on the cage floor. I have observed finches in the Northern Territory of Australia – they feed on the ground.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals.

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Parents fighting with children

Question: Why is my male bird fighting with his babies?

Answer: I am assuming the chicks have fully fledged and are not food dependent on the parents anymore. In the wild, the chicks would leave the parents, and so there would be what is perceived by the male, direct competition.

It is recommended you remove the chicks from the parent birds due to this competition and territoriality factor.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals.

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Female won’t stop laying

Question: Why won’t my female finch stop laying eggs?

Answer: This is a multi-factoral problem. There are cues in the cage, cage furnishings, light cycle, nutrition, and other birds present that keep the hen “in season”. A seed diet may exacerbate this as it is high in fat. Hopefully this bird is on a pelleted diet with greens available.

Does the bird have a natural light cycle (meaning short days in the winter) that we could manipulate back to the short day, long night cycle: i.e. 8 light, 16 dark. Sometimes removing the nest housing and nesting materials helps – some hens though just lay in their food dish. Try for sparsity of toys/no mirror or reflective surfaces may help.

If this doesn’t work, your veterinarian can administer an injection of a synthetic hormone which stops sex hormone production and brings the hen out of lay. This is often the best way to go, and it gives the hen the much needed rest. I take it from the question that there is no male. Two females housed in the same cage may both trigger each other for laying. It is a complex problem.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals.

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Fostering a wild baby bird

Question: I just found an abandoned wild baby bird in our yard and gave it to my pet bird to foster. They seem to be doing great. Is this ok?

Answer: If the pet bird is feeding the baby wild bird, then leave it be at this time since you are unlikely to reunite the wild bird with its mother. There are some viruses and bacteria that wild birds may carry that could infect your bird. At this time, I would let things continue since it seems to be working. However, if the baby wild bird becomes much larger than your (I am assuming finch) then it could become too much for your bird to do. Watch your bird closely for signs of fatigue and weight loss.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals.

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Cleaning cages

Question: Do I have to clean the feces inside my bird’s cage? If so, how?

Answer: Yes its necessary to keep the cage clean and remove feces/urates (white part of the dropping) preferably on a daily basis. Line the bottom of your cage with newspaper or paper towels. These can be rolled up and disposed of daily. Remove the grill in the bottom of your cage if it is present or just put the cage papers on top of it.

Perches can be washed and dried as needed. I use the back of a table knife to scrape droppings off of perches. You can use a dilute vinegar and water solution (1 tablespoon white vinegar to 1 cup water) for a cleaner to wipe down soiled cage bars. Water dish should be cleaned daily. Anywhere there are droppings you need to removed them preferably daily.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals.

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Egg bound hen

Question: My Zebra Finch is egg bound. I don’t have any Calcium in the house but I do have human vitamins and medicines, is there anything I can give her to help? I’ve tried massaging vegetable oil on her vent.

Answer: You can place her in a hospital cage with a heating pad for additional warmth, a cup of water for humidity or you can place her in a steamy bathroom for even more moisture. She will need 85 degrees in ambient temperature and a very high percentage of humidity.

You may also feed her a crumb of Tums, which won’t hurt her but it may not be well absorbed. Do not repeat this – if she needs medication later it may interfere with her absorption of it.

Answered by Dr. Elaine; BS, DMV (General Certified Veterinarian)

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Does it hurt my female to let her lay eggs?

A hen on a good diet can lay a clutch of eggs without causing metabolic deficiencies. The problem in many situations is that the hen lays more than two clutches per year. That can weigh heavily on her calcium supply and general metabolism.

If the hen is on a pelleted diet she shouldn’t have any problem laying 2 clutches per year. A hen on a seed-only type diet many get into calcium deficiency laying that second clutch. Hens that lay continuously on any diet get into calcium deficiencies, and in that case we step in with a medication (lupron) that shuts down sex hormones and stops the laying cycle so the hen can replenish herself.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals. 

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Re-occuring cold or other infections

Question: Why do my birds keep getting sick with the common cold or other minor infections?

Answer: First of all, birds do not have what humans call a “cold”. For birds, it can be a Chlamydial organism, a Mycoplasma organism, or bacterial infection (many types of bacteria can cause respiratory disease).

Wild finches get Chlamydia psittaci which clogs up their sinuses and upper respiratory tract, making it difficult if not impossible to eat. There has also been Mycoplasma infections which do much the same thing.

In pet finches kept indoors (in our area), the most likely causes of upper respiratory infection (sinuses, nares (nostrils), eye irritation, tearing is bacteria, usually from the environment or seeds. If the finches are on a seed diet, they are vitamin A deficient. Vitamin A is needed for the health of the mucus membranes. It leaves them vulnerable to bacteria picked up from the diet or environment. This is a major reason I like finches to have a pelleted diet as the primary diet, with some seeds as “treats”.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals. 

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Feather loss & skin irritation

Question: My male Zebra Finch has been losing feathers steadily with red, moist-seeming skin but shows no other symptoms.

Answer: It appears your bird has a fungal infection. This could be due to a poor immune system or from a prior affliction or malnutrition. Your job will be perfecting his environment. He will have to be bathed and dried to receive proper care. I recommend taking him to an avian vet so you can devise a solid and effective treatment plan. Feather issues can be caused by a multitude of things, including bacterial skin infection, viruses, fungal infections, allergies, metal poisoning, hormonal flux, psychological or combination of these factors. The difficulty is diagnosing the problems and assigning an intelligent treatment plan. Your vet will want to run a number of tests so that appropriate medications can be prescribed.

If he were my patient, I would start with complete fecal analysis and direct smear, bacterial culture and sensitivity of the feces, skin, feather pulp, and choana. I would look specifically for Macrorhabdus in the crop and feces. I would do a fungal culture on the feather pulp and feathers and skin. Generally I start them out on injectable antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen. In his case I would add an antifungal oral, (I usually start with fluconazole) and a topical CREAM (NOT ointment), usually silver sulfadiazine 1%. These require prescription.

If you feel comfortable with it, examine the bird thoroughly, using gentle restraint via washcloth or hand towel: do not restrict the chest or hold around the body. Check the eyes, nostrils, mouth and beak if possible, having a good look in there for mucus, redness, masses or anything else unusual. Palpate the tummy for pain, fluid, lumps or anything else (eggs, if female or unknown). Check all the joints for swelling, pain, and mobility. The feathers should be parted to view the skin, muscles and skeleton below; this can be done using a q-tip with isopropyl alcohol or KY gel. Look for bruising, lacerations, injured feathers.

Your job is to keep the bird warm, safe, quiet, and confined; and to provide adequate hydration and calories.

Move the bird to an aquarium, box or carrier with soft towels in the bottom, no perch, and food and water in low bowls that can be reached easily. Put the whole thing on a heating pad on low or medium. Check it frequently, no overheating allowed! Keep the unit partially covered, warm and quiet. White paper towels or white cloth towels will show the true color of the droppings. Small animal/reptile boxes are great for this purpose.

Do not try to force food or water. Pedialyte or electrolyte replacer can help but many birds do not like them; when in doubt, plain warm water is best. They can hydrate from oral fluids almost as quickly as IV if the GI is functioning properly. You can offer warm cooked rice, pancakes, cornbread, grapes, melon, greens in addition to normal food.

Pet/feed store medications and home remedies are harmful, ineffective, immuno-suppressive, and make them much worse and may interfere with the veterinarian’s diagnosis and treatment. Do not use them. Homeopathy and natureopathic techniques do not work in avians and can actually be very dangerous.

I know it is expensive, but you may not have many home options, because the first thing you need a vet for is to find out what is going on. Treatment is only as good as the diagnosis. If you call around, you may find a vet to work within your means.

Answered by Dr. Pat; DMV (Avian Certified Veterinarian) 

Sleepy during a molt

Question: Why is my bird so sleepy during his molt?

Answer: Growing new feathers takes a lot of energy, protein and calcium. During this time, the bird’s heat regulation may also be affected as the new feathers come in – they are covered in a sheath that the bird has to remove for the feather to fluff and provide insulation.

Energy to grow the feathers detracts from energy for other activities. During molt, be sure that food and water is offered where the bird is spending the most time so that he does not have to expend a lot of energy to get the food/water.

Excessive sleepiness and sitting in the bottom of the cage is not normal and there may be an additional health issue. Contact your avian veterinarian if this occurs.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals. 

Puffed or fluffed up

Question: What does it mean if my Finch is puffed up?

Answer: This means the bird is cold and is likely ill unless your house is below 65-68 degrees Fahrenheit or has just recently been over air conditioned.

Birds do not shiver if they’re cold, they instead fluff up their feathers to keep body heat trapped in air layers between the feathers. Think down comforter or jackets for yourself and what great insulators fluffed feathers are even for us mammals. 

If your bird is continually sitting fluffed he is likely ill – contact your avian veterinarian.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals. 

Injured wild bird

Question: I found an injured wild bird outside, how can I take care of it?

Answer: Place it in a paper towel lined small box with air holes, and call your local wildlife center. They will be able to direct you further. Do not handle the bird other than the initial lifting and placement.

Additional response from Liz @ the Sarvey Wildlife Center in Arlington, Wa.:

After you have covered the bird, picked it up and placed it in a small box with air holes lined with paper towels, place it in a warm and quiet room. As soon as you are able to, bring the bird to us at Sarvey Wildlife (or your local wildlife center). If it is a long trip to do so, try giving the bird some Pedialyte with a little water to sustain them. 

If a bird has hit your window and appears injured/stunned, place the box/container in a quiet area and monitor for a few hours. In many cases (if stunned) the bird will be ready to fly away in an hour or two. If a bird has been attacked by a cat or dog, please bring it to Sarvey Wildlife (or your local wildlife center) for treatment as soon as possible.

There is also a list of wildlife rehabilitators on the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife website (located at the top of the right-hand column).

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals. 

Reoccurring hatchling death

Question: Why do my hatchlings keep dying before they have a chance to grow up?

Answer: There are a lot of reasons for this but most commonly nutrition of the hen and what the chicks are being fed may not be adequate for growth.

If these are parent-hatched and reared chicks it is critical that the diet of the chicks is something more than plain poor quality seed. Infection of the egg can also be a cause of chicks failing to grow or live.

I like to have a pre-breeding screen of the hen including culture of the feces, and evaluation of the diet. If these are incubator eggs, then all the problems associated with the incubator have to be addressed: sanitation, humidity, temperature, rocking, etc.

Answered by Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian Practice, Dipl. ABVP-Exotic Companion Mammals. 

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1 Comment

  1. Jane Monica says:

    We are a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community.
    Your web site offered us with valuable information to work on.

    You have done a formidable job and our entire community will be grateful to you.

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