True emergencies are stressful on everyone – the patient, the owner, the doctor, all the support staff. Some days hearing that an emergency is on its way is enough to make your head spin. How sick is it? Will it make it here? Can we save it?


The best emergency is the non-emergency:

  • “No sir, that is not a tumor it is a normal growth associated with hormones in a female budgie. “
  • “Actually, your bird is loosing feathers because he is molting – that’s just how they get new ones.”

 Easy emergencies are also nice

  • Broken blood feathers that need to be treated but resolve easily
  • An injured toe that just needs a splint
  • Hay in the eye (remove it and the guinea pig starts to feel better immediately).

Too Late

Heavy Metal Toxicity
The hardest to deal with are the ones that arrived already passed on or struggle through our initial attempts to stabilize but just can’t stay with us. It’s heartbreaking to pass that kind of news on to an owner. Sometimes those creatures who entered our lives for only minutes can create a powerful bond that affects us with a profound sense of loss that lasts for days.

Happy Resolutions
The ones I remember the most are the heart stoppers we saved. Even years later I remember the dying parrotlet who began to revive almost immediately after receiving intravenous fluids. I don’t remember what came next aside from the fact that she got through that day and the next.

Just recently I saw a bird who was vomiting and had lost a lot of weight. She was hospitalized for supportive treatments until she could keep food down and became strong enough to tolerate testing. Xrays showed us large gas filled intestines that were at a complete standstill. Luckily this bird responded to the supportive care and we were able to keep her going until medicine for her infection could kick in. You wouldn’t believe how excited we all were the morning she passed a big dropping full of well-digested food!

Holiday Hazards

Christmas Tree


Most dog and cat owners are aware that the holidays can be a dangerous time for our furry companions – I had a cat who used to eat all ribbons. My Christmas tree looked so sad with boring packages beneath it. That is, until I got a cat who ate the tree. So bye-bye Christmas tree and branches all around the house.

Our exotic pets have some of the same issues. Birds, rabbits and rodents should be on the lookout for the following:

  •  Holiday trees and Plants can have toxins in or on them – some trees are sprayed with chemicals and the water at the base may have fertilizers in it. Toxic holiday plants include
    • Chrysanthemum
    • English Ivy (Hedera helix)
    • Holly (Iles spp.)
    • Mistletoe (Viscum album)
    • Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
    • Yew (Cephalotaxus sp.)
    • Lilies, Laurel and Christmas Rose



Mistletoe Berries

Mistletoe Berries



  •  Decorations run the gamut of possible problems.
    • Physical hazards such as getting stuck in them and wounds due to broken glass or metal parts.
    • Holiday decorations are often cheaply made and may be contaminated with toxic metals.
    • Tinsel and ribbons can cause obstruction in the stomach or intestines.
    • Metallic wrapping paper can be either a toxin or cause an obstruction.
Ribbons Wicker lights Metallic Gifts
  •  Electric Wires are often in new and fun spaces – they may cause burns and even death if a pet bites down too hard.
  •  Fumes and Smoke.
    • Scented candles, room fresheners, ornaments…
    • Extra household cleaning with strong chemicals
    • Avoid fire logs that contain toxins or smoky irritants which are a special hazard to birds.
  •  Cooking – holidays often mean an increase in kitchen activity
    • More pots of boiling water, hot pans, cookies or candies available for stealing.
    • The usual suspects should not be shared with pets (caffeine, avocado, alcohol and chocolate).
    • Avoid novel or excessive food sharing because these can cause GI upset.
  •  Holiday Stress is not just for humans.
    • Novel decorations, increased activity, visitors and guests can all be upsetting for some of our more shy pets.
    • Guests that are not familiar with birds, rabbits and rodents may not be able to read their body language – and no one wants a “bite-fling” injury!
    • I recommend discouraging furry visitors – unless your pet has previously been introduced – because the holidays are hard enough without bringing a predator into the home.


Just in case – know when your veterinarian is open (or closed) this December/January, know which emergency clinic you can take your exotic pet to, and know the poison control phone number ASPCA (888) 426-4435.


The Rhinolith or “Nose Stone”


What is it?

A rhinolith is an accumulation of debris in the nose that hardens.

Here is an amazon who came in with a “nose problem”. You may be able to see the enlarged opening and the brownish material plugging it. This abnormality had been growing and the owners weren’t sure how long it had been there.


Rhinolith Rhinolith after removal

I was able to tease it it out and you can see the result leaves a big empty hole behind.


Birds don’t have nostrils but instead have nares. That may be semantics since the dictionary definition of those 2 terms is pretty similar (or the same depending on the dictionary!).   In general, I’ve always heard people use the word nostril if there is a fleshy protuberance (otherwise known as the nose) and naris for just an opening into the head. Regardless, we use the term nares (plural) or naris (singular) in birds.

normal nares





Just behind the opening – whatever you want to call it – is a hardened flap of keratin called the operculum. This flap is sometimes mistaken for foreign material. It should be smooth and dry. However material can accumulate between this flap and the tissue on either side. This build-up can distort the tissue and even cause permanent damage to the bone.

big opening

What Causes This?

Quite a few things can result in a rhinolith – bacterial or fungal infections, hypovitaminosis A (or too little Vitamin A in the diet), foreign material or poor air quality.

Prevention includes:

  •  Good air quality – avoid smoking (any substance) and scented candles, keep fireplaces clean by hiring a chimneysweep as recommended, changing filters for heaters or air conditioners and providing an air purifier.
  • Preventing hypovitaminosis A – get your bird off of seeds and onto a good quality pellet, provide a source of fresh veggies.
  • You can’t eliminate bacteria or fungus from the environment but you can reduce it. Clean the food and water dishes daily, change the papers on the bottom of the cage daily (make sure they are under the wire grate) and wash the cage frequently. Use papers rather than litter at the bottom of the cage since they are easier to clean. If you must use a litter avoid walnut and corn cob – both of these substances may be contaminated with fungus that can infect and kill your bird.

What to Do?

Bring your bird to the veterinarian as soon as you see an abnormality. Once physical changes to the structure have occurred, they don’t go back to normal. Disruption of the normal structure means your bird may be more susceptible to sinus infections in the future.