All photos: Belgica De Weerd. Sight for sore eyes: Belgica De Weerd originally started out treating racing pigeons but has since expanded to small birds including finches, parakeets and budgerigars

Many birdkeepers feel that a trip to the vet is expensive and rarely effective, but throwing antibiotics at the problem can do more harm than good, argues budgerigar breeder GRAHAM PAINE. Here he discusses the benefits of forming a relationship with a proper avian vet, and describes the work of his excellent local practice, Belgica De Weerd.

AVIAN health is an area of deep concern for all fanciers and, having repeatedly seen widespread comments on social media, I thought it might be fitting to tackle the issue.

We all experience sickness in our birds from time to time and that is perfectly natural. However, sometimes the manner in which we treat them is by trial and error and not necessarily correct. As humans we have the advantage of being able to communicate about our illnesses. An upset stomach can sometimes be attributed to our own indulgences, but in birds the root cause or diarrhoea, for example, could be numerous.

There are some products like Guardian Angel that help ailing birds, because it acts as a probiotic and puts good bacteria back into the gut. But the use of unprescribed items, especially antibiotics, can run counter to the bird’s well-being.

I have read so many reports where people are disappointed that the individual they were treating died, even though various efforts were made to save them. To cap it all, it was probably one of their best.

Baytril can still be obtained from overseas, as can most regular known forms of antibiotic, yet what damage are we doing to an already sick bird if the treatment we are giving is actually doing more harm than good? Antibiotics, if used correctly will cure, but in the process they can then knock out the immune system. This is then more critical if the bird is subjected to the wrong course.

There is a general consensus among bird owners that most vets are very limited in knowledge when it comes to small birds. As a result, treatments are rarely effective and generally very expensive. This has led to self-diagnosis and treatment, which can be dangerous.

Personally, I think we all need to be more responsible with our birds and I would like to introduce just one of a number of vets that specialises in avian care. It is heartening that usually when I read reports on people seeking advice on treating sick birds, there are one or two who put forward names of specialist avian vets. They try to encourage owners to make contact, rather than getting drawn into a different process that worked for someone else.

I was very grateful when members of Ipswich BS mentioned to me a local avian vet in Colchester called Belgica De Weerd. This practice’s core business was centred on racing pigeons but, as time has gone on, the company has as it were spread its wings and now treats all small birds including finches, parakeets and budgerigars.

Visiting a vet doesn’t have to be expensive. If there is a chance of a correct diagnosis, isn’t it better to know what’s happening, especially if it is something contagious that could have potentially devastating repercussions?

When I first contacted Belgica De Weerd, a lovely lady called Hollie took down my details and then sent me a package overnight that contained two test tubes. Then, following precise instructions, I started to collect fresh samples of droppings from my sick bird over the timescale indicated. When all this was done, I sent the samples back to Hollie by first-class post and she then set to work with her microscope and laboratory tests.

There was a cost, which was £13.95 for the microscopic test and then £16 for the medicine to begin the treatment. It worked so successfully that now I have absolutely no hesitation in seeking the professional advice and support that Belgica can offer me.

Another area that can be considered is carrying out a post-mortem on a sick bird if it passes away before analysis can be sought. Knowing what the bird died of can be a lifesaver to others in the flight.

When considering a post-mortem you must call the clinic and talk through the problems you are having. You will then be advised to keep your bird in the fridge (never in the freezer) until you are able to bring it in, or post it, preferably no longer than 24 hours after demise.

Belgica De Weerd then carries out the post-mortem and discusses the details of the findings with you. This can sometimes result in certain organs being submitted for further analysis, such as bacteriology and histology, to help stop any further fatalities.

Belgica De Weerd believes in keeping your birds healthy and free from the overuse of antibiotics. Before reaching for a tub from the shelf, it is always best to test your birds to see what the issue is, instead of “blind treating”. From the standard test Belgica De Weerd is looking primarily for coccidiosis, capillaria worm eggs, Ascaris worm eggs, trichomoniasis and candida. Staff will then contact you to guide you through the findings and advice on a treatment that may be needed.

Recurrent and improper use of antibiotics can lead to resistance, so using medications correctly and seeking specialised veterinary advice is key.

You may ask, how often do I need to test my birds to ensure they are healthy? Some birdkeepers might fear that tests will be encouraged every couple of weeks, but that is not the case. Tests are recommended to be carried out prior to the moult, before breeding and in between major shows or long journeys. That is when your birds are most susceptible to contracting a problem that may be dormant and come out due to stressful situations.

When the birds are moulting, they use all their energy to progress with a healthy moult. So, having an issue in the background is not good for their health and could have an affect on the overall condition and feathering. Ensuring there are no problems prior to moulting is essential because some products cannot be used during this time and may affect the flights.

Before birds go to nest it is also good to test them. If something is in the birds when they breed, this will then pass through to the egg and you could have issues with hatching. Some problems can also be passed though the crop milk. Testing beforehand is, again, crucial because some medication cannot be used during breeding and rearing.

The show season is what many prepare for and enjoy but, of course, the travelling can sometimes be stressful for the birds. Keeping them hydrated with good electrolytes and ensuring the gut’s good flora is healthy is a beneficial way to help with these situations. If you feel the birds are a bit low, testing them on their return is worthwhile because coccidiosis can rise, causing the birds to become lethargic and light.

In addition to a healthy and naturally balanced lifestyle, testing at essential times is one of the best ways to keep on top of your bird’s health. This prevents putting stress on the body with the overuse of antibiotics and products that they may not need.

Graham Paine is the treasurer and sponsorship secretary of Mid Essex BS.

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