Early in my veterinary career, I developed a subspecialty and treated many birds. My experiences at the Philadelphia Zoo, its amazing avian collection, and working and learning from superb avian specialists gave me a respect and knowledge about birds that enriched my life.
Of course, then, I enriched my own life with birds. A veterinarian can do a much better job treating a species if they have them in their own home.
My understanding of birds and my love for them would not have developed if they had not become a huge part of my life. So here’s a little story from a bird-loving veterinarian.
A Trip to the Pet Store
Why did I even walk into that pet supply store on my corner?
- Cat food was needed.
- I wanted to support local business.
- It was convenient.
This pet store is literally outside my apartment building, so why schlepp bags and cans from blocks away when this store is right there, even if they charge an arm and a leg for some cans of high-quality cat and dog food? I realize a drone could probably drop food from Chewy.com on the roof of my building, but, hey, let’s give my neighborhood store some business.
Then the drama begins. I see a sign that guinea pigs are on sale.I didn’t even know they had living creatures in this shabby store. I want to find the pigs and make sure they are OK.
In search of living creatures, I tread cautiously down a semi-lit narrow aisle. There is no natural light. The window facing the street is covered with advertising and dusty pet paraphernalia, like ancient cat towers and covered litter boxes.
Guinea pig pursuit is finally successful. At the back of the store, near the “Employees Only” door, there are a few young piggies on bottom shelves, hiding in their little houses. They look OK.
I am then startled. My head is looking down at the pigs but I am being beckoned. By a bird: “Hello, are you noticing me? Don’t spend your time looking at those stupid pigs. I am here! I am a beautiful bird! I want your attention and love!”
A bird comes into my heart. I adore guinea pigs and birds and basically any living creature. Today, however, I had a long conversation. We spoke for a while and we ended the conversation with a bit of anger. He was upset, and he told me he was miserable and asked me to get him out of his freaking small cage — he wanted a life.
The bird is a gorgeous blue Quaker Parrot (mislabeled a Parakeet). He’s alone. In a tiny cage. Terrible diet in his little dish — mostly sunflower seeds, the kiss of bird death.
Why did I come into this store again? What is wrong with me? “Don’t make trouble,” the little voice in my head says.
I walk back to the front of the store to voice my concerns to the sole employee at the checkout. I need to be polite and think about the bird.
Me: “That bird is in a tiny cage and is being fed a terrible diet.”
Employee (nice person): “What do you mean?”
Me: “Well, I’m a vet, and you have sunflower seed junk in the cage, and he needs to have a high-quality pellet diet and additional food.”
Employee: “We only sell that food in bulk. They don’t ship it here for the birds we are selling.”
Me: “Did you look at that bird today?”
Employee: “No, I didn’t. Not yet.”
It was 11 a.m. OK, now I’m a little upset. But she may not be the person to blame.
I walk back down the bird food aisle, and this little store actually sells an excellent pelleted bird food, but they don’t feed the good diet to their birds for sale. This makes no sense to me.
I go back into the store. Myles doesn’t look good.
Oh, I’ve already named my bird “Myles Standish” because he is a Quaker Parrot. Turns out I’m a little rusty on my colonial American history. Myles wasn’t a Quaker, but at least I got New England and the century right.
Myles is all puffed up, and it looks like he’s having a bad day. I approach his stupidly small cage and whisper to him. He loves me. He has no fear. What a great bird. Even with human interaction, however, he’s not as responsive as the previous day.
Veterinary insight: A bird that looks “puffed up” is a symptom, not a diagnosis. Any avian sickness can cause a bird to look “cold” or have feathers puffed. It’s never a good thing.
I’m in a state about the darn bird. I know there are thousands of birds and little critters in this kind of situation or much worse in pet stores all over the country, but it’s always worse when a situation hits you in the face.
I approach the employee again. I lodge a true complaint and say that I am worried about the bird. She says she will see what she can do.
Me: “Do you have a vet that comes to check on them?”
Me: “What if you think he’s sick?”
Employee: “We ship them back to the warehouse.”
The “warehouse” doesn’t sound promising. Tied to a chair by a criminal with duct tape on your mouth is what happens in a warehouse. I don’t want him to go to the bird warehouse.
Back in my apartment, I look up the store and find it’s a small-chain pet store with a phone number. I call. I show some patience (not easy for me) and actually stay on hold. Someone in “corporate” finally picks up, and I voice my concerns about Myles.
The corporate person seems like she might actually give a rat’s blink about this bird.
Me: “I’m a vet, and I noticed a Quaker Parrot in one of your stores — I don’t think he looks good.”
Corporate: “Are you interested in purchasing the bird?”
Me: “No.” (I actually do want to purchase or rescue this bird, but that is not a good idea right now. We are in a small apartment with a beloved cat. Bird or 40-year marriage? I could have a bird but no husband.)
Corporate: “We will send someone out to look at the bird.”
I walk into the pet store the next day. I take the long walk to the back of the store, and Myles’ cage is empty. His $499 sticker is gone.
Me: “What happened to the Quaker?”
Employee: “He was taken back to the warehouse for observation.”
Me: “Will you get a report on him?”
Employee: “Not usually.”
Today is Saturday. Corporate phone message says they will be available again on Monday. I can’t reach anybody.
Check out this amazing talking Quaker Parrot:
So where is Myles? Has a vet looked at him? Is he dying in a warehouse?
I’m not simply worried about Myles. My veterinary heart breaks for all the birds brought to me in disastrous shape, suffering, often in the hands of uneducated bird owners.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Oct. 3, 2018.