During my recent visit to Phoenix Arizona, I took Kili & Truman in to see Dr. Driggers. His is the first exclusively Avian and Exotic veterinary clinic in the country to have a CT scanner. He took some time to tell me about the machine and how it works.
It's really fascinating. The scanner takes 720 images in the span of about 30 seconds. The computer reconstructs these images into a full 3 dimensional display of the animal. The doctor is able to look through the organs and bones without ever hurting or cutting the animal open in the process.
I decided to get Truman scanned to check on how his prior injury has healed and also to check just in case for new ones because he is very accident prone. So they gassed him for a few minutes to anesthetize him. They need the animal to lay perfectly still during the capture so that all of the images line up for the final 3D image. Then they laid Truman out on the bed of the scanner. A team of several vet techs works together to make the process go as quickly and smoothly as possible. They hyperventilate the bird prior to the scan and then stop the breathing during the scan. It's like holding your breath to go underwater. Everyone gets out of the room while the scanner is going. The moment it stops, they were already getting a stethoscope on Truman and checking his condition. Once the scan was complete, they used a hand pump to get him breathing room air again.
The analysis of Truman's bloodwork and CAT scan showed him to be healthy and organs in good shape. A 3D look at his skeleton showed that his original injury has healed well and is barely visible any more. On the other hand it also revealed that he has a slightly crooked keel and that he has busted his tail at some point. Nonetheless, these do not currently affect him but it's good to know what's going on. It is also reassuring to know that the previous injury has not worsened and that his organs look healthy.
I am glad to see the new CT scan technology moving along so well. I bet in a case where there is organ issues, something lodged inside the bird's gut, or a hard to locate injury, being able to use this CT scan technology will drastically improve avian medicine.
Since the Avian and Exotic Clinic is the first in the country to have a CT scanner and since Truman is their first ever Cape Parrot to be scanned, most likely this is the first and currently only 3D CT scan of the internals of a Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus fuscicollis). Check out this video of Dr Driggers explaining the technology and Truman, the first Cape Parrot to get CT scanned, showing us how it's done:
Kili, Truman, and Santina got microchipped and this article is about the procedure and the pros/cons. First off, I'm a believer in leg bands. I think leg bands are the simplest and most effective means of bird identification. Except when medically necessary, I think it is better to keep pet parrots banded. If given the choice on a new baby to band or not, I'd take the band.
Santina came from the rescue without a band. I was told that hers was removed for medical reasons so I would not consider open banding her again. This is why I first decided to look into microchipping for Santina.
The reason that parrots should carry some type of permanent identification is so that if it is ever lost, stolen, found, rescued, or disputed, there is a means of identifying the bird. In the case of lose or found, a band helps provide readily visible identification and may help the bird be returned. A band can lead to contact with the breeder the bird came from and that could help connect the bird to the owner. I also feel that if ever questioned by authorities about a parrot, showing that it is banded can help simplify things quicker. If ownership of the bird is disputed, having records pertaining to the identification can help resolve legal matters. Lastly for a bird that drifts from home to home through rescue, a band may help figure out the age of the bird and other information that may be helpful in its care.
Since Santina came without her band, I will never find out what breeder she came from. That kind of information could be useful to learn more about how the bird was raised and to confirm the age. To ensure that Santina can be definitively identified and because of the higher potential to get lost (since I fly my birds indoors and out), I wanted to get her microchipped as soon as possible. I decided to get Kili & Truman microchipped as well while I was at it. The one case where having both microchip and band is best is in the case of theft where bands usually get cut off.
A microchip is installed by injection into the pectoral muscle under the skin. Old microchips required the bird to be anesthetized and a surgical procedure. The new kind that I got from Microchip ID Solutions is even smaller and requires nothing more than a localized anesthetic. The old chips used to migrate around the body but the new ones are supposed to remain in place. Many clinics are unaware of these new smaller ones so be sure to ask which ones they use or recommend they use this smaller one. The chips aren't expensive and the procedure can be done by a vet tech rater than vet so it is not that costly. A location for the micochip is chosen and a mark is made with a maker. An injection is made to numb the area and once in effect, the microchip is directly injected. The microchip can be identified by a microchip reader at any vet clinic.
Microchipping parrots has its pros and cons. These are both physical and practical in nature. The benefits of a microchip over a band is that it is unobtrusive, cannot be removed, is recorded in a nationwide database with your information, and doesn't cause discomfort. The down side is that nobody can see it and few can use a device to read it.
Only vet clinics and large scale cat/dog rescues are equipped to read microchips. And even then, most don't bother scanning a bird unless it was brought in and known to be lost. When is the last time someone scanned your parrot for a microchip? For all you know it has one and nobody ever bothered to check. This is the problem of a microchip compared to a band. It doesn't ever get checked unless a bird is found and brought to a facility that has a reader.
In a study conducted by Dr. Todd Driggers DVM that found that the new microchips (like the ones I had implanted in my birds), cause very little tissue trauma. In the study he says, "the CPK increased by approximately 300 mg/dl in each bird. In comparison, CPK can elevate with a single antibiotic injection to over 1500 mg/dl. Because microchips do not create muscle necrosis (like antibiotics can) the relative amount of tissue damage to the muscle is very low." He also suggests that local anesthetics are maximum precaution necessary and that these chips are small enough to implant in parrots as small as lovebirds. In 2 days, Dr. Driggers implanted 22 chips in various species and concluded that "no post implantation infections have been observed so sterilization of the chips and a refined implantation procedure has proven effective."
For these reasons I think both bands and microchips have their place and the ideal combination may be a combination of both. However, the most important and reliable measures are the ones you can take to ensure the safety of your bird in the first place. Wing-clipping is NOT a valid safety measure to keep parrots from being lost. Keeping doors and windows closed, a carrier/harness outdoors, and a safety minded approach are the most effective measures for keeping birds from getting lost. But accidents can still happen so for the very unlikely event of one, that's where having some ID on your bird is a great idea.
I took Santina to the vet for her first checkup. Whenever taking in a new bird, it is important to have it checked by an avian vet. But when adopting from a rescue or other bird-crowded place it is even more important because the potential for communicable diseases is greater. In fact, many rescues require that you take the adopted parrot to the vet within a certain period.
During the first week and a half I've had Santina, all training efforts were focused toward preparing Santina for this vet visit. I knew a visit to the vet would be inevitable and I preferred it to be sooner than later for the peace of mind knowing she is healthy or dealing with issues as they come. However, I do not believe in manhandling parrots or traumatizing them. The phrase "it's better someone else groom the bird so it hates them instead of you" is a load of baloney. The parrot shouldn't be put in the position of hating anyone. These traumatizing experiences on the parrot come back to bite the owner. If not directly, then through the parrot's distrust of all other people.
Shortly after acquiring Santina, I called the clinic and pre-arranged all the tests that we'd be doing. I wanted the first visit to go as smoothly as possible and did not want to be spending time with the bird there discussing tests or prices. By having a list arranged in advance, it would cut the bird's exposure time significantly. I decided to go full board and get most tests done because it is my obligation to ensure that Kili & Truman are not infected by an outsider. I requested the physical exam, CBC blood panel, Chlamydia test, PDD test, and XRays. The XRays aren't mandatory but they are good for establishing a baseline on a new older bird. Perhaps it swallowed something, has a tumor, enlarged liver, calcium seepage, punctured air sack, etc. It's better to know up front. I would be much less concerned about an XRay on a baby.
I knew that Santina is carrier-phobic from the rescue, so I established a backup plan with the vet. Since I knew she steps up but doesn't go in carriers, my worst case scenario plan was to bring her loose in the car and have the towel her while still inside and bring her in. Since they would have to towel her inside or out, that would make little difference. Having this plan in place took all the pressure off of me to carrier train her and allowed me to focus on that task.
In the first few days, I noticed that walking around the room with Santina, so much as going near the carrier would send her into a panic. She would jump off my arm or run up my shoulder out of fear of being shoved into the crate. Thus my first task was desensitizing her to the carrier. I intentionally did not hide it. But I did leave it at the furthest corner of the grand bird room. Santina would be exposed to the sight of it from her smaller cage room and even more so whenever I took her out.
Then I proceeded to teach Santina to climb insider herself. I realized she began to really like the carrier when I put her in for a walnut and she didn't want to come back out. From that point I've been able to just put her in or take her out as needed. Thus I had no trouble loading her up to go to the vet for her checkup.
Lorelei, the chief nurse and office manager came out to get Santina out of the car. She was shocked to find that a week since we talked, the bird was safely in the carrier and did not need to be grabbed out of the car. Santina stepped up for Lorelei and allowed her to handle her. This all changed with the towel came into play so toweling is something we'll need to work on. Lorelei has a great feel for handling birds and is the main reason I take them to the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine. I am not bringing my pets to the clinic to be tortured. It is really important for me to know that they are in good hands and will receive not only a good health evaluation but also proper handling. Lorelei treats animals with respect and dignity and that's why they in turn like her.
The vet performed a physical examination of Santina and asked some questions. Then they brought Santina down to the lab and proceeded to perform some Xrays. I won't get into much detail about how they perform the process. I videoed it for those who are interested in the behind-the-scenes of how a bird is Xrayed and tested. When the anesthetics began to wear off, Santina looked like she was drunk. She wobbled around on the floor but walked toward me for safety. I picked her up and held her but also made sure that she'd go back to Lorelei and make up. I stayed at the center for another forty minutes to let Santina come to her senses but also to show her that being at the vet is not all bad. Less than half the time she spent in the clinic was discomforting so she has less reason to hate it than if she were brought in, handled, and then immediately taken out.
Santina had no problem stepping back into the carrier for me. In fact I think she was relieved to go in. And that concluded Santina's first vet checkup. I'm still waiting for the test results but on xray and physical examination she appears to be healthy.