Weight Management for captive companion parrots is a necessity but does not get the attention it deserves. Like wing clipping, free-feeding is still the status quo. But just like wing clipping, free-feeding is neither natural nor healthy for parrots. In this and the next few articles, I am going to share with you some of my success with using food management and why you should too. The intricate details of actually applying it, however, I'm going to suggest you buy my book which will be out by the end of the month. Stay tuned.
Some people mistakenly think I starve my parrots to get them to perform. Neither of these things are true. First of all, they are not starved and I will get into this in great depth in this article. Second of all, I don't weight manage my parrots for doing tricks! I will go into great length about motivation (and how food management applies to it) in the next article. But the important point that I want you to leave with is that number one reason I weight manage my parrots is for their health!
I would weight manage Kili & Truman entirely regardless of tricks, shows, and training. There are periods of time (sometimes months) when I'm too busy or too lazy to train them as regularly as I usually do. Yet I still weight manage them during these periods because I am convinced that this is healthier for them. Their health and well being is of paramount importance to me and I'd give up the tricks if they were in any way conflicting. But the good news is that they're not. The byproduct of the weight management that I do for health is food motivation for training (which will be covered next time).
There is nothing natural about free-feeding your parrot by leaving food in its bowl all day long. Parrots in the wild do not spend all day eating. They neither need to, want to, nor are able to. Although they "could" decide to try and eat at times they shouldn't, they won't. And that is because the outcome would likely be a bad one. First a simple example that I doubt anyone would argue against. Night. The parrot is not going to get off its roost at night to go searching for food. Even though it has the freedom to go eat at night, it doesn't. It would probably crash into a tree (like George of the Jungle) trying to fly at night! Thus it is silly for parrot owners to be leaving food in the cage over night. The parrot won't be eating it but it will attract nocturnal pests such as bugs and rodents. So don't leave food in the cage at night.
Now let's look at daytime feeding. In the wild, you generally won't see parrots (and in fact most birds) eating in the daytime. In fact you won't see them at all because they are probably in some tree napping. During all my travels in Africa, the only time I have seen African parrots eating (or out and about) was in the morning and evening. In the mid-day time, it is too hot and too dangerous for a parrot to be out getting lunch. Birds of prey take advantage of daytime air currents fly around and catch the birds that couldn't wait till evening to eat. The heat is also a problem because it becomes more difficult for parrots to fly in extreme heat. Since most parrots are equatorial, this plays a significant role as well.
Thus in the wild parrots don't really have access to food all day long. They only eat in the morning and evening. Since this is the schedule that the environment demands, parrots are evolved to best function with this kind of feeding. Their metabolism, crop, and other aspects of their digestive system optimize them to take in food and use the energy accordingly.
The other aspect of food management that naturally happens in the wild is weight management. In fact this is true of all animals. Simply put, there's not enough food for everyone. So many animals just don't make it. The ones that do, are getting by on the bare minimum. But that's ok because millions of years of avian evolution has lead to the highly efficient bodies that these parrots now posses. They are like that car that gets the best gas mileage. Even on the last gallon of gas, they'll go very far.
In the wild, food portions are regulated by the environment as well as the competition. Sometimes there is more plant matter (food) and other times there is less. When there is less, the strongest parrots make it and the weaker ones die. When there is a greater food abundance, the strong ones still eat but the weaker ones get to live too. For this reason, the amount the birds get to consume is rarely more than the minimum. Occasionally there are opportunities to really pig out (for example a fruit tree just blossomed). Parrots take that opportunity to stuff themselves to the limit because future feedings are never certain. They may go days without food afterward.
Parrots have no natural shut off mechanism when to stop eating besides being stuffed to the max. In the short term this is ok but in the long term it leads to obesity. Since there is so little food and so much competition in the wild, the bird will quickly return to equilibrium. In the unnatural household environment with a constant supply of food, the parrot will act on its instinct to stuff itself now. But it will continue to do so daily because that natural food limit is never restored that will take its weight back down. In the wild parrots don't need to "know" when to stop eating to be healthy. The resource limits and competition naturally dictate this and millions of years of evolution have optimized the parrot's body to work with that natural limit. All of the parrots that required a differing amount of food than the environment would offer died before they could reproduce. This not only includes the ones that couldn't get by on too little food. This also includes the ones that may have eaten too much to the point where obesity degraded their bodies. But since food tends to be on the low side rather than high side, the natural instinct for the bird is to top off now just in case.
Understanding the natural constraints that work in the wild help us realize that unlimited food availability is unnatural and unhealthy. The parrot is driven to eat as much as it can to protect against later deprivation but since it never comes, the parrot ends up overweight. But this problem of becoming overweight goes beyond just the amount of food eaten. It also has to do with many other unnatural factors. The parrots are fed too much food, with too many calories, that is too easy to get, with too little exercise! All aspects of household pet life for the parrot drive it toward obesity.
Parrots have strong immune systems and tend to stay healthy. However, they do not have good defenses against obesity. The reason is simple, you don't see obese parrots in the wild so they don't need to have evolved protection against obesity problems. They sooner have natural ways of surviving and dealing with excess hunger than excess weight.
When you come to think of it, the same hold true for people. Even though we "could" eat at any part of the day, we don't. Or at least we shouldn't. Humans tend to eat at several scheduled meals a day as well. We don't go around eating all day long and neither should our parrots. And when people do eat a little all the time, they tend to get overweight and not feel good. Just think about sitting around with friends with some tapas or snack foods around. After a few hours, you are beyond stuffed and can't believe how much you ate a little at a time. Likewise for the parrot that is presented with food all day long, even if it doesn't really need or want it, it picks at it just because it's there. The bird ends up eating food that it could really do without. Eating out of boredom is unnecessary as well as unhealthy. Human children tend to stay pretty fit while they are young because they don't have non-stop access to food and only eat when their parents feed them. But as we get older and our access restrictions are lifted, it is harder to keep the weight off. Instead of thinking of food/weight management as deprivation, think of scheduled/portioned meals as healthy feeding for a child.
Whether seeds, pellets, fruit, or other household foods, the things we feed our parrot are generally far more packed with calories per mouthful than what they would eat in the wild. Fact is most of these foods are engineered for maximum yield for human consumption (or at least chosen for it). Since there are more calories in the food by volume, even if the parrot tries to eat the amount that feels right to it (without intentionally putting on fat for a rainy day), it will get more calories than naturally. Next, the parrot isn't spending any energy to actually eat the food. The household parrot simply eats the food out of a bowl instead of flying for miles, climbing, and foraging for it. Lastly, since the parrot is confined, it simply cannot get as much exercise as it would in the wild.
Most parrots spend a lot of time in a cage. This is time they are not flying and barely climbing. Most parrots are clipped and can't even get any exercise when they are out of the cage. But even the ones that are flighted can only fly short distances in the confines of our home for the limited time that we let them. Even well exercised parrots like Kili & Truman get far less flight and exercise than their wild counterparts. They only spend about an hour a day flying at home during training. Even when I take them to the park or gym to fly, that's only a few days a week. Wild parrots don't get a day off. They are flying and working hard every single day. So no matter how many calories they consume in their limited food, they end up spending it all for feeding again and living.
Since it is outside of our capability to give our parrots the same amount of exercise that would be mandated by the excessive food abundance they consume, training and weight management are the things we must resort to.
The overweight parrot is also the parrot that is hardest to give sufficient exercise. Even flighted, the overweight parrot is not motivated to fly for food and it is hard for it to fly because it is heavy. For airplanes, you need to quadruple the power when you double the weight. So for a parrot that is 10-30% overweight, flying requires 40-120% as much effort. The numbers may not be exact but it should illustrate why excess weight can adversely affect a parrot's weight both directly and indirectly. Directly by leading to obesity related problems. Indirectly by discouraging it to fly and thereby preventing it from getting sufficient exercise.
While motivation to fly for food is stronger when the parrot is more hungry, the direct affect of the weight plays as much if not a greater role! Over the years I have watched how my parrots fly at different weights and have definitely seen a huge difference. Even when the motivation exists for the parrot to fly while at a heavy weight (example is the parrot is overweight but then misses a meal), you can tell that the parrot is struggling to stay airborne. The parrot has to fly faster, you hear more flapping noise, and the parrot tire out much quicker. This is as strong a deterrent from flying as there can be. On the flipside, when my parrots are on the lighter side, I have discovered that it takes far less food related motivation for them to fly. Even after a meal when they are no longer hungry, they are more likely to willingly fly. The lighter weight parrot will fly more because it is easier for it to fly. Less motivation is required to get it to fly because it is easier and the rewards are sooner justified.
This leads to discovering the cyclical nature of the polar opposites of a parrot's weight. Either the bird is going to be light, fit, and healthy or heavy, obese, and suffer health problems. There is basically no middle ground. The heavy parrot will eat a lot, exercise little, fly little, and thus stay heavy. The light weight parrot will have a lot of food driven motivation, fly eagerly, get more exercise, and become stronger. As the light parrot becomes stronger (from flying a lot), it will be able to fly with even greater ease and thus be able to get even more exercise flying for even less food reward.
Another reason it is unhealthy for parrots to be on the heavy side has to do with hormones and reproduction. An overweight parrot is more likely to become hormonal and develop behavioral problems related to that. Those parrots get less out of cage time and attention because people have trouble dealing with them so they tend to remain caged more with little left to do than eat. The heavy parrot is more likely to lay infertile eggs and become egg bound. The lean parrot that has just enough to sustain itself but not another, is less likely to become hormonal or lay eggs. The lean parrot is more focused on feeding itself and its own survival to be in the reproductive state that can cause those other behavioral and health problems.
Thus the healthier approach to keeping companion parrots is to properly manage their food intake to keep them at a healthy weight. Usually, that healthy weight is well below the weight the parrot is on free-feed. In fact free-feed weight shouldn't even be used as a standard or be called normal weight. Free-feed weight is unnatural and is actually overweight for what the parrot would naturally be. So when a reduction of weight from free-feed weight is discussed, it's usually to get the parrot to stop being overweight rather than some kind of deprivation.
Parrot's food intake should be managed such that they attain and maintain the optimal healthy weight as can be inferred from body condition by an Avian Veterinarian. I am not suggesting that the target weight should be determined by behavior, mathematics, guesswork, or chance.
Kili & Truman recently paid the avian vet a visit for a check up. Partly because it is about time for an annual check up, partly because I wanted an outside opinion about their weight and body condition, and most importantly because I'm having a baby. I want to ensure that my existing birds are in top health before I add another. You can watch the videos of two separate avian veterinarians, Dr. Alexandra Wilson, DVM and Dr. Anthony Pilny, DVM, ABVP, giving their expert opinion about the trained parrots' condition. It is mainly evaluated based upon breast muscle, keel sharpness, breast shape, and checking for other fat deposits. A rounded or somewhat sharp keel bone is what we're looking for. Cleavage, where the breast meat/fat stick out past the keel bone, is a sure sign of obesity. Use this as a basic idea of what to consider, but then have your parrot evaluated by an avian vet to determine the optimal weight and condition for your bird.
I also opted to have some blood work done on one of the parrot's to check for any abnormalities or deficiencies. Since they are on similar diets, I decided one would be enough unless there were issues. Truman took one for the team and gave blood like a champ.
The blood chemistry turned out perfectly healthy and neither vet thought either bird was remotely underweight. In fact they both said they are at a good healthy weight and could safely be even lower. I brought them into the clinic at about the lowest typical weight I've been keeping them at lately. The training motivation at this weight is great, but I'm not doing it for that reason. I target the optimal healthy weight based on body condition and then take the training motivation byproduct that I get with it (which in fact is very high). Surprisingly the optimal healthy weight is much lower than the weight I would keep the birds at strictly for the sake of "starving them to make them do tricks." At the last vet wellness exam, the vet warned me that Kili was getting too heavy. The reason that happened was because I stopped weighing her and fed her as much as possible as long as she performed well. Well, I've since learned that this is not healthy and that I must manage the weight for health rather than just for training.
In conclusion, Kili & Truman are healthy parrots. Their weight is kept low with love for the sake of keeping them healthy and closer to what would be natural. Just because "nature" may be brutal, doesn't mean household life has to be. They get to live relatively sheltered lives, enjoy their health, and never have to starve. Their weight may be kept lower than if they were given unlimited food, but this is much healthier for them. Their condition and behavior is better as a result. Of the 3 avian veterinarians and many other experts, no one has ever told me that the birds are underweight, unhealthy, starved, malnourished, or in any way deprived. In fact they are considered healthy in all regards.
I could fill an entire book about this topic of food management, but there isn't sufficient interest yet. People don't realize just important it is. But food management isn't relevant just to professional trainers nor is it too difficult for responsible parrot owners to implement at home. Just like the attitude about seeds has changed to pellets, clipping is starting to change to flight, I hope to convince people the importance of managing how much food their parrots consume.
This article isn't meant to teach you how to food or weight manage. It is merely to try to convince you that food management is the way to go for the health of your parrot. I hope this article will convince you to begin learning about how you can nurture your parrot's health by ensuring it is fed the correct amount. Absolutely don't just reduce the amount your parrot eats without a significant understanding of how it is done properly. Keep in mind that some birds may already be at the right weight and that management should not be applied to baby birds, sick, or extremely elderly ones. The topic is quite extensive. I have written about it in great detail in my upcoming book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well Behaved Parrots. It will be available by the beginning of June and it covers all aspects of accomplishing well behaved companion parrots.*
I brought Kili and Truman to the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine for a Bird Wellness check up. I had no reason to suspect their health but I had some questions about their weight and wanted to have a fecal exam to check for parasites (especially since I take them outside a lot).
I had a feeling that Kili was getting too pudgy even before visiting the vet. She had been on freefeed for nearly a month while I was away on two different trips. Since I normally manage the parrots' food, I allow for them to go on freefeed for some length of time to make an adjustment. I let this coincide with when I'm gone because it is convenient and let's them get their molt and hormonal time over with while I'm not there to put up with it.
The issue is that I primarily use behavior as feedback for food management rather than weight. To clarify, I use behavior to establish a target weight rather than just targeting a weight based on a specific percent reduction from freefeed. I'm not recommending this method for others without a more in depth understanding but just going to explain it here so you can see why Kili got so fat. I start the parrot at freefeed and see how motivated it is for training (flight, tricks, etc). Usually this is not very much because it just ate and has no room for any more food. Then I begin progressively reducing food portions while noting motivation increase as demonstrated through performing known behaviors. Once I reach the apex of performance, I target that weight by managing food portions. This worked very well up until now and the birds maintained healthy weights. However, since the last time they were freefed, I never got Kili back down to training/healthy weight. Part of it was that she was molting some critical primary feathers and I didn't want to stunt their growth but the main reason was that her training motivation was sufficient with a higher food intake. Basically she's just gotten so good at the tricks that it takes far less food deprivation to get her motivated to perform. This is why I needed a confirmation from the vet that she was in fact getting fat and not something else. Two alternative theories I had were that I either had overly deprived her before and she never attained healthy weight (probably not) or that she had grown/matured some more since before and belongs at a higher weight. Thus I thought we could use a veterinary consultation. I was also looking for a followup to the scar from her earlier beak puncture.
As for Truman, he had a pelvic fracture some years back and I wanted the vet to check that he has regained full leg motion since. Truman is still a klutz and falls down a lot so I could never tell if he was having trouble or just that way by nature. Also he walks slowly. He'll never run or hop like Kili when he's on the floor. He just slowly waddles over. Once again, I suspect it's a species thing but it was hard to tell if it was any kind of remnant of the injury.
I specifically picked a day when Lorelei Tibbetts would be available. She is the office manager and nurse. She just has the right approach with birds. She's doesn't just minimize the bad experience, she takes the extra step to make it a good experience for the birds. You can immediately tell that she's a bird person in how she approaches and handles the birds. And they can tell that too. Of course they are trained birds but having the right approach is still necessary in order for them to cooperate. Both Kili and Truman will step up for Lorelei and enjoy being held and cuddled. This is really important to me. I would not bring my birds in for an unrequired preemptive wellness visit if it were to stress them out or cause them harm. This is why I didn't get any blood testing.
The vet looked over Truman first. She said he has full range of motion in his legs and they seem fine. She also checked him over and listened to his heart. He wasn't traumatized but he was agitated. He kept growling. Lorelei had to ask Truman to be quiet so that the vet could hear his heart. It was so cute. She would whisper in his ear and give him kisses so he'd be quiet long enough.
Both parrots got their talons dremelled. They have been excruciatingly sharp but I've been putting off cutting them. They have been very sharp yet short so there wouldn't be enough to make a good cut. Since I was already paying for the vet visit I figured I'd let them take care of it. The birds never faced a dremel before so I was worried it would freak them out but it was expertly done and over in no time.
Kili got her belly squeezed from different angles and the vet called her pudgy. I knew she's been a perch-potato lately and a little on the heavy side. I just wasn't sure if I should do anything about it or not (because it hasn't been manifesting itself behaviorally). But the vet confirmed it and told me she'd be better off at a lower weight so Kili's going on a diet to slim down. It shouldn't be difficult to do. I'm going to continue feeding her seeds/nuts as treats for training but I will reduce the morning pellet portion and feed more veggies to her in the evenings (rather than pellets again) so she can fill up without the excess calories/nutrition. And on the other side of it, I'm going to make her fly more. Since she'll be fed less, she should be more motivated. So I'll be going back to working her out in flight on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule. The vet also recommended varying the pellets that I feed them so I may look into that as well.
I'm going to be documenting Kili's weight and training progress for the next few weeks and will report back when we've achieved a healthier weight for her. Even a flighted parrot on a twice daily meal plan can become obese (mainly because of caging and overly rich diet) so just imagine how much worse it is for clipped free fed parrots! Flight is great exercise but they have to use it to benefit from it. I've been letting Kili slack off because she was molting feathers (she was at the point of only having 2 on her bad wing). But now that she's whole and healthy again, we're going to be doing a lot more flight training again. It's so important for parrots to be flight trained and for owners to do this with them regularly because they don't get enough flight simply on their own. Perhaps if they were out to roam the house all day it would suffice. But since we let them out for a limited time and they want to spend that limited time with us, they don't end up flying for more than just getting around. This is where flying recalls and doing tricks really pays off as more than just fun and games but exercise as well!
At the end of the visit, Lorelei took Truman around for a tour of the new clinic (as they recently moved from a few doors down). Here is a video of the new Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine facility:
Kili and Truman's fecal test results came in all clear today. Also Kili's new diet plan is in full swing. I fed her less pellets this morning. Then in the afternoon I took the parrots to the park to fly. I'm putting Kili's higher hunger motivation toward exercise (so it's a double win for her health). I'm not starting them too hard all at once. I had Kili fly 5x long (20ft) recalls and returns. Then Truman flew 5x medium (10ft) recalls and returns. Finally I had Kili fly 5x more medium recalls but from less familiar places around the park. It's a great start considering I had not flown them much more than on the short leash this year. We'll keep working on recalls and flight in coming weeks.
I was carrying Truman through the office on the first floor to bring him out to the aviary when suddenly he took flight. He flew to the back but seeing no place to land and the wall coming up awfully quick, he turned around and flew the other way. He zoomed past me and continued toward the front. I wasn't worried and figured he would turn around once more and come back to me. But instead he slammed straight into the large front window at high speed. He bounced off the glass with a loud thud, fell onto the chair below and then resumed flight once more. He flew toward me but quite low this time and landed on my hand while catching his breath.
Truman had never once flown in that space before and I had carried him through on my hand without any restraint or trouble many times. I was surprised that he flew off because there was no loud noise or anything startling that I could think of. Kili on the other hand had flown in the space before and she always avoided the window. I guess Truman learned to avoid windows by seeing the framing of the window rather than generalizing it to the properties of glass. Well hopefully this will be a lesson learned for him that will carry on for life.
I had already been pondering whether or not to bring Truman in for a followup vet visit about his leg injury. His recovery has been a roller coaster the whole way. At times I will notice improvement and then he may get even worse until there is any new improvement. A few weeks back I was seeing a lot of improvement so I decided to move him back to his cage. But for nearly two weeks since moving him to the cage he had not been getting any better. At times he even seemed to be standing worse. I even ended up calling the breeder and telling her that I am worried because he stopped getting better even a month and a half since the injury.
Finally in the recent most days Truman had exhibited a big step in recovery. He was standing better and walking with less of a limp. On occasion I even caught him standing on one leg scratching and that was the bad leg he was putting all the weight on. When he crashed into the window, my absolute biggest concern was about him hurting his leg again but luckily the leg took no impact and was unaffected. I decided that this was as good a time as any to bring him in for a followup exam, not only to check the leg but also to verify no damage from the new crash.
Other than scraped skin between his nostrils, I did not notice any damage or trouble with Truman. Nonetheless, I had already made an appointment and wanted to make sure. I brought Truman to the vet's office by subway and had him examined. He was really upset because they toweled him. He is much more used to hands but I never really bothered toweling him so it was stressing him out. Upon preliminary examination, the vet noticed tightness in the bad leg but said it appeared good otherwise. She recommended an xray and I said to proceed but only as long as they do not put Truman under anesthesia. I do not believe the risk of complications from anesthesia outweigh the importance of a confirmation xray when substantial behavioral improvement had already been observed.
Interestingly, this was the first time that Truman had demonstrated any sort of bond or preference for me. Previously he was always friendly to any people and pretty indifferent to me vs others. However, today he twice flew from people at the vet's office to my hand. Add two points to negative reinforcement based recall training! The previous times I had taken him to the avian vet, he had no even so much as tried to fly. This time he flew once on top of another bird's cage and then twice back to me from other people.
Upon examination of the xrays, the vet stated that the bone has healed and suggested more exercise and physical therapy for the bad leg. Otherwise, there is nothing more that can be done. This third and final vet visit for Truman ended up running $165 which brings the total cost of all of his treatment to $1044 (though $247 was refunded).
On the subway ride back from the vet, Truman was extremely sleepy. Despite all the noise and swinging, Truman slept through the whole ride back. I noticed that every time I take Truman back from the vet that he is abnormally sleepy. Last time I thought it was the result of blood loss from samples and injections, but this time there was no blood work of any kind. At this point I can only suspect that the exhaustion is either from stress or from the fumes. They had rubbed him down with alcohol both times and I'm uncertain if that could be the cause of the sleepiness. So the good news is that Truman's bone has healed and it's just a matter of recovering his muscles back to normal shape. As for the crash into the window, except for a minor scrape he has come out of it unharmed.
Scraped skin as the result of crashing into a large window at high speed
Subsequent vet examination
Truman marveling at himself in his xrays and confirming the healing
Previous xray showing the pelvic fracture on left leg (right side of image)
Last time I brought Kili to the street carnival I discovered that one of her new primary feathers was out of alignment on her bad wing. I kept trying to figure out what was wrong with it and couldn't tell if it was broken. This one had just grown in and was the first feather from her second molt to grow on the wing missing all but one primary. All of the other primaries (except for outer most one) broke off since her first molt.
Later that evening I spotted the new feather completely rotated 180 degrees and essentially connected upside down. I figured it must have broken across the quill but I could not find any damage. I gently pulled and it came right out. The quill was still intact and there was some blood. This feather was just changing from the blood feather to mature feather stage. I was really disappointed because I was really counting on this feather to give support to the one remaining primary and to give protection for when that one molts.
I had been considering bringing Kili to the new vet that I have been using for Truman and had mentioned to them Kili's wing condition previously. At this point with a freshly broken primary I decided it would be a good time to bring her in for analysis. I was also a bit concerned that there could have been some irritation or infection where the new feather broke out from. From my own research and consultations I have received, I figured this was just a case of post-clip regrowth trouble but I was still worried in case there was any kind of actual problem.
You can see recently fallen feather on top, broken feathers in middle, and intact molted feather on bottom
Kili behaved very well and everyone was amazed at how tame she is. They didn't need to towel her, just a normal grab and head restraint did the trick. She showed all signs of being a healthy parrot. I brought in samples of broken primary feathers, intact, and the newly fallen one. The vet examined the feathers and Kili's wings but could not find any abnormalities. My earlier suspicions were confirmed that the lack of support from additional primaries causes the remaining ones to break. There is nothing that can be done about it and no dietary changes are needed.
The vet proposed to take a blood test to check for Polyoma or PBFD as they can cause feather problems. But I pointed out that the other wing is in excellent condition and that the disease should probably apply symmetrically. Nothing else can be done to stimulate or check the feather follicles so it is only a matter of chance and time that Kili mends her wings.
To justify the visit I asked if they could trim Kili's talons. They have become razor sharp and she was really doing damage to my skin by that point. The vet requested her assistant to bring out the dremel. I was shocked that they would apply a tool 3 times the size of the bird and asked if they could use scissors instead. The vet used an ordinary nail clipper and barely removed anything at all. While the groomer at the bird store I bring Kili to can do an outstanding job, even I can trim a lot more than that. The vet barely took 1/32" off and I'm sure they'll be back to where they were in a week. The reason I don't like doing it myself is because I get really stressed out and worried about cutting too far but generally get it spot on. But it takes me an awful long time to do it because I reward each clip and am super careful. I thought the vet would at least trim as much as I do if not even more but this kind of trim job really did not help much at all. This reaffirmed to me that the bird store is the most skilled and practiced when it comes to grooming. I would estimate that the groomer at the store will take about 1/8" off at a cut, I'll go as far as 3/32", but the vet did a mere 1/32". I could do that much in a single session of hand filing but I find that a good cut makes the talons bluntest.
I am relieved to find out that there is nothing wrong with Kili but disappointed that there is absolutely nothing that can be done. It's been hard on her because she still flies with one whole wing but the other wing is pretty helpless. Right now I'm taking it easy with her and avoiding flight training. I'm feeding her abundantly in hopes that this molt will bring fresh primaries and help build her wing up. When she has her wings back, then we can always go back to flight training.
To finish off the vet visit Kili impressed the vet with how smart she is. She did wave, shake, nod, hello, wings, and play dead. There was no need for treats, Kili was just happy to be such a show off.
First of all I would like to thank everyone for their support who has been reading my updates about Truman's injury and recovery, all the people who posted responses, comments on youtube, discussions on The Parrot Forum, and endless private messages. Writing posts about this and all of your support is helping me cope with the entire situation. It's just really tough to watch him suffer and really not be able to do anything for him. It's mostly a factor of time and all of this writing and friendly support I am receiving is helping me pass the time in waiting for him to be better.
Before I get into the details about the vet situation, I'd like to share a bit more about how Truman is doing. Today I have noted a slight improvement over previous days this week. I hand fed him 3 times today and still he went to bed not a gram heavier than the previous nights. However, the improvement I am seeing is that by this evening he was actually demonstrating a subtle interest toward food. I noted that he had eaten a few pellets in his tub. He drank a few sips of water when I took him out. I offered him pellets, peas, broccoli, and carrots by hand. He did not really eat any of these but he did take them up in his beak and break them into smaller pieces. Most of this was coming right back out of his beak but at least he is showing some slight interest in food whereas even yesterday he wouldn't so much as look at it. This looks like a turning point and the first step to him returning to a normal feeding regime.
The hand feedings today were all slight. I've learned to make the formula thicker and have been following all sorts of advice I have been receiving. 6cc's is the most that I am getting out of the syringe and I'm lucky if half of that doesn't end up all over the place. Most of my effort goes into Truman not running or flying away from the feeding. As long as I get the stuff into his beak, for the most part he does end up swallowing it. But when I weigh him after a feeding I wonder how he could have gained so little or no weight at all from the food.
Truman seems to have two phases. Every time I come in from some absence, I always find him very mellow and squatting low on one leg. He definitely doesn't seem to be eating or playing much while I'm gone. However, as soon as he sees me, he gets up and becomes more active. He seems to be pretty active in my presence but very mellow in my absence. This is probably a good thing when it comes to letting his leg heal.
Throughout this week since Truman's Metacam crash I have been in regular contact with the Center for Avian & Exotic Medicine. Unfortunately the office manager that can authorize billing changes was unavailable throughout the week. However, I had several conversations with the nurses and one of the vets about Truman's progress. Unfortunately the results of those conversations were inconclusive but that is because for a while Truman was neither improving nor getting worse. The conclusion we have basically been reaching every time was to wait and see which direction his recovery takes. This was by no means anyone's fault, it was just that there was no point in changing his medications or stressing him by traveling to the vet again if things were not getting worse.
Finally the office manager returned today from a trip pertaining to animal rescue. She was unavailable when I called in the morning but she called me back herself a little later. Actually this is one of the things that I really appreciate from this facility. Whenever the person being reached is unable to talk, they always call back. In a world where we find ourselves talking to machines or someone abroad, this is always a welcome courtesy. The office manager called me back and we ended up talking for half an hour. The conversation began with Truman's current condition and progress and eventually led to the medication overdose and billing.
It turns out that Truman's prescription was mixed up with a rabbit's medication. They were both set to receive metacam but in slightly varying dosages and durations. Someone screwed up and misplaced the two. I joked that the poor rabbit must have only received a bird sized dose! Luckily Truman's overdose was not so tremendous but then again if they gave me a dosage suitable for a horse, bells would have been going off. The main reason I think this mix up went unnoticed was because the number of days was close (5 vs 7) and the dosages are both quite small despite the actual variation.
There is no doubt that the follow up tests and medications were good practice to verify that the overdose had not caused any substantial damage. My main concern was that I received a hefty bill that predominantly pertained to care Truman was receiving specifically in response to the medication mismatch. I felt that it was unjustified to have to pay for the damage control. I had no objection to the care he received in response to the overdose. In fact I am actually quite relieved that the vet had the competence to realize the concerns that such an overdose might raise and dealt with them appropriately.
I was very happy that the office manager was very aware of the situation and cooperative. In the course of the week I had prepared a bombardment of arguments to use but did not have to because she was being very respectful and supportive. This is good because having to try to fight for justice only leads to harder feelings. As I've stated in my original post, overall I am actually quite happy with the Center for Avian & Exotic Medicine, so I am relieved that this situation was professionally dealt with and I can continue Truman's vet care with this clinic.
Ideally the extra tests/medications should not have been charged in the first place which would have averted all the frustration, but unfortunately the office manager was out all week and the other staff could not have authorized such an amendment. It is not even that I do not want to pay for Truman's care, but rather that I felt cheated having to pay for tests to see if the mistake had caused damage. The absolute most important thing is that the overdose did not do any harm. The whole billing thing we have all the time in the world to sort out, so I'm not worried. The office manager offered to refund any fees associated with the medication issue. She made a full refund for that recent visit. I explained to her that it's not necessary to refund for Truman's new pain medication because I would have bought that for him even if the whole metacam dosage went according to plan. Yet I received a refund for the entire amount billed for the recent visit.
We also discussed whether or not I should be taking Truman outside. We reached a consensus that if done the right way, that in fact getting some air and sunlight would be beneficial to him. I have been preparing to start taking him outside for nearly two weeks now. Check back soon to find out what I had in store for him. It's something big and this next article you won't want to miss!
Before giving an overall judgment of this vet clinic, I'd prefer to wait until the completion of Truman's treatment. However, I would like to mention again that the staff are very pleasant and professional, the facilities spotless, and there exists a genuine concern for the animals' well being. I wish pet stores and companies I deal with overall could live up to these standards.