By Dr   BSc, BVSc, MRCVS, MACVSc (Avian health)

Finches are not presented that commonly to avian veterinarians and a comment often made by their owners across the consulting table is that it is hard to justify the veterinary cost involved in treating a finch. Dr Mike Cannon, at the recent excellent Finches ’05 convention in Brisbane, pointed out that birdkeepers should not view the veterinary visit as simply treating the individual sick finch but rather as part of the maintenance of the health of the collection as a whole.

One of the aims of any aviculturist should be to maintain the health of his birds. One of the processes in this is to investigate any disease that occurs so that hopefully further losses can be avoided. Finches are fairly tough. They don’t die or become unwell for no reason. Reaching a diagnosis not only gives us the cause of the problem in that instance but gives us results that we can extrapolate to help maintain the health of the flock as a whole. Once we have a diagnosis, we know the whole ‘biology’ of the disease, so that we know what we need to do to prevent further problems. As with other birds, the onset of disease is rarely purely due to exposure to a pathogen. Often there has to be an environment or management error that weakens the birds, in the process predisposing them to disease. Similarly, rarely is the answer to any disease outbreak medication alone.

Our diagnostic abilities are a little restricted in finches simply because of their size. However, we can draw sufficient blood for the basic tests. Droppings and throat swabs can also be collected for a variety of diagnostic tests. Also, a freshly dead bird, if available, for autopsy yields much information.

The provision of a clean, dry aviary decreases the birds’ exposure to pathogens, while good management practices, including a good diet and effective parasite control, increase resistance to disease generally. Sometimes, once a problem is diagnosed, specific recommendations can be made. An example here is a bacterial infection due to Pseudomonas is often associated with unhygienic practices while sprouting seed. Once diagnosed, antibiotics can be given to treat the current concern, while the sprouting technique is reviewed to prevent further problems.

It is important for the finch breeder to have a good working knowledge of the common diseases. He needs to be able to recognize the early symptoms of disease, know how to manage routine problems, but at the same time also know when it is time to contact the vet. Below is a chart that I hope most finch breeders will find of use. It sets out the common diseases based on age and symptoms and also makes some suggestions for treatment. Here I must point out that many of the drugs used in finches are not registered for use in birds. As such, the manufacturers of these drugs will not accept responsibility for this ‘off label’ use of their medications. Having said that, however, the suggested medications have been used for many years with success by birdkeepers and veterinarians. Before the use of any prescription medication, the advice of a veterinarian should always be sought. Where possible, the active ingredient of a drug rather than a brand name has been given Where a brand name has been used, this is intended only as an example, rather than as a recommendation for that brand over others.