Q & A: Do birds require routine veterinary procedures such as vaccinations?

Q. DO BIRDS REQUIRE ROUTINE VETERINARY PROCEDURES SUCH AS VACCINATIONS

A. In South Africa, parrots don’t typically require annual vaccinations from disease like dogs, cats and horses do. Most parrots are kept individually or in small collections that are not exposed to other parrots. Wild birds, especially doves and feral pigeons, do pose a disease risk to parrots and they carry a lot of illnesses that can pose a problem to pet birds.

A major problem with pet birds is that they suffer from dietary deficiencies due to being fed a diet which is unsuitable. Most African Greys are still fed a diet comprising mainly sunflower seeds, which leads directly to a vitamin A deficiency. I advise a vitamin A supplement injection twice a year which could coincide with a visit to the vet to clip the wings and nails. Parrots and pet birds may encounter problems with worms and occasional deworming does no harm.

Eclectus parrots are very popular pets and have a specific need for a diet comprising mostly fresh fruit and vegetables. They can develop severe problems like respiratory and gastro-intestinal disease if fed an incorrect diet. It’s a good idea to get your parrot groomed every six months by an avian vet who can assess the overall health of the bird as well as answer any queries on health, behavioural or husbandry issues.

Dr Malcolm Peck, veterinarian with an interest in avian and exotic animal medicine

Q. WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON ILLNESSES SEEN IN A HAMSTER

A. Unfortunately, hamsters have a fairly short lifespan. A hamster’s average lifespan is two to three years. Your hamster becoming more lethargic could be due to his age, but it is more likely an indication that he is not well.

A sick hamster becomes less active. He starts to eat less and subsequently lose weight. Your hamster may start to sit in a tucked-up position and appear ‘puffed up’. When you notice a change in your hamster’s behaviour or appearance, it is strongly advisable to take him to your vet for an examination as soon as possible.

Older hamsters are more prone to developing kidney disease, heart disease, respiratory infections and cancerous growths. Their teeth may cause a problem, especially if they become overgrown. Overgrown teeth can prevent him from eating properly and can cut into his lips, tongue and cheeks. Tooth-root abscesses can also develop.

A hamster’s teeth continue to grow throughout his life, so it is extremely important to provide him with chews so he can keep his incisors (front teeth) short. These chews are usually made from untreated wood.

Your hamster’s diet plays an important role in keeping him healthy. Ensure that you feed him a good-quality commercial pellet mix containing grains, sunflower seeds and nuts. Avoid too many seeds and nuts, as they have a high fat content and will result in your hamster becoming overweight.

Add small amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables (sweet apples, carrots, spinach, baby marrow) to the pellet mix two to three times a week. Any fruit and vegetable that your hamster has not eaten after a few hours must be removed and thrown away. By varying your hamster’s diet, you are providing him with the vitamins and minerals that help to maintain a good immune system which, in turn, keeps him healthy. You could also provide him with a mineral block or tonic, which you add to his water. Fresh water must be available at all times.

It is always advisable to take your hamster to your vet as soon as you notice a change in his behaviour or appearance as these small creatures can become critically ill in a short period of time.

Dr Amanda Haechler, veterinarian

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