Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Tips to Keep Your Parakeet Healthy

Pet Column for the week of May 27, 1996

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Linda March
Information Specialist

According to Dr. Ken Welle, a board certified avian medicine veterinarian, "When choosing a bird it is
best to buy one from a reputable dealer."

He explains that "parakeet" is a general term for a small, long-tailed, slender-bodied parrot,
in the Psittacine family. Budgerigars are a specific type of parakeet and originate from
Australia. These are commonly referred to simply as parakeets.

A healthy bird will look clean, be active, be sitting up, and have smooth feathers. All birds
in the facility should look healthy. It is important to have your bird checked by your
veterinarian right after purchase, then at regular intervals for the first year, and then annually.

Wild birds in the jungle hide illness as a means of self preservation. To uncover hidden
illness, birds should have a blood sample drawn to help your veterinarian assess its health
status. Like dogs or cats, birds can also be infected by intestinal parasites. A fecal
examination will allow your veterinarian to determine what parasites the bird has and treat it
accordingly. A Psittacosis test can detect the presence of this contagious disease that can
make a bird weak, dull, stop eating and lose weight quickly.

According to Dr. Welle, "A healthy bird needs a safe cage that is easy to clean. The cage
should be lined with newspaper and the top layer should be removed daily. The perches
should be scraped whenever they become soiled. Do not place perches in areas where the
birds will contaminate the water or food with droppings."

The perch should not be covered with sandpaper, because it will injure the birds' feet. The
size and shape of the perch should also be changed periodically to help prevent sore feet.

A balanced diet is very important for birds. Seed mixtures are not complete by themselves.
They also need vitamins provided by vegetables and legumes, as well as protein and
calcium from meat and dairy products. There are also complete diets available in pelleted

"Birds are very social animals," notes Dr. Welle. "They need a lot of attention and someone
to talk to."

Safe toys can be offered to help occupy a bird. You can also provide a playpen outside of
the cage for activity. Handling birds will help to calm them. Birds enjoy having their heads
scratched. This imitates the mutual preening activity they do in the wild. Adding a little water
to their greens or spraying them lightly with water will also encourage preening.

If the bird is mean or aggressive it may benefit from having its wings clipped. This allows the
bird to glide downward, but makes it unable to fly. Clipping, combined with frequent
handling and patience, will usually settle the animal down.

Just like teaching your dog to "sit," teaching your bird to talk requires repetition and
patience. Not all birds will be able to talk. Dr. Welle says, "Some birds can make
associations. Some have also been taught their phone number or address."

Constant repetition of short phrases at frequent intervals is needed to begin teaching your
bird to talk. As they learn words it becomes easier for them to pick up new ones. Birds can
also be taught commands like "up" and "down" to make them get on or off of your finger.

For more pointers about parakeets, contact your local veterinarian.