By Dr Colin Walker BSc, BVSc, MRCVS, MACVSc (Avian health)
I graduated as a vet in 1979, that’s 33years ago. At this time, to safely anaesthetise a bird, and see it recover, was regarded as remarkable. To do major surgery and have the bird survive was considered a small miracle. Since that time, there have been quantum leaps in medication, techniques and knowledge available to veterinarians. Anaesthesia and operating on a bird, now carry similar risks to that associated with operating on dogs and cats. If a bird does die, it is now so unusual, that it should be a cause for investigation.
It has been said, however, that being anaesthetised, is as close to being dead as you can get, and survive. Birds now routinely survive procedures because of the safe anaesthetics available to vets and also due to advances in the techniques associated with surgery generally. Some avian vets regard pigeons as “God’s gift to avian vets” because they are so tough. Pigeons can recover from major injuries, or severe disease, with appropriate care, where some more fragile species may not. They are still, however, living things, which need to be managed correctly. Most fanciers are totally unaware of what is involved in anaesthesia and surgery. A surprisingly large number of fanciers still regard it as normal to attempt surgeries such as suturing a cut, or removing a skin tumour, on one of their own conscious pigeons. Others will state how valuable or important a bird is to them, but at the same time, refuse to take the bird to a vet, because they feel they are too expensive. Truly ironic! Others are openly critical of vets, after they have taken their pigeon to a general practitioner vet and asked them to do a specialised procedure. If fanciers need specialist avian veterinary work done, they need to see a qualified avian vet. I breed sheep, but get a sheep vet to attend to them when they are unwell.
And so what steps are available to a veterinarian when operating on a bird? Individual veterinarians use their discretion, depending on the severity of the problem, to decide what is required.
Fanciers are encouraged to consult their closest avian veterinarian if an individual bird of value becomes unwell. Contacting their local veterinary authority, school or board is a good way of finding their closest qualified avian vet. It is hoped that this brief article gives fanciers an idea of how their bird may be managed if requiring a surgical procedure.