Pets aren’t limited to just dogs and cats. Many exotic species, including birds, are becoming more and more popular as people branch out from the furry to the feathery. Just like dogs and cats, birds sometimes get sick and need to visit a vet. As a bird owner you might be asking where you can find a good bird vet. Let’s discuss this today. Bear in mind that most of this information will apply to other exotic pets as well, such as reptiles, small furries and even fish or insects.
What is a ‘Bird Vet’
Let’s first discuss what a ‘bird vet’ even is.
Which vet can see a pet bird?
Any vet will be able to see a bird at their practice, provided they have the facilities for it. Generally, pet chickens and other poultry can be seen at either a farm or small animal practice. While more exotic birds like parrots and budgies should visit a small animal vet. All UK vets will have had some training at university on bird handling, husbandry and basic veterinary care. However, a practice not used to seeing birds may suggest that you go elsewhere for more appropriate care if they feel they cannot give you it. It is acceptable for a practice to ask this. But they cannot refuse to see you, particularly during an emergency. This means that your first port of call may be your local veterinary practice.
Within a practice, there may be vets who have a particular interest in birds, despite not having any additional qualifications in their care. These vets may offer to take all bird clients in the practice. And may have done extra research in their own time to better diagnose and treat disease in birds. If a practice has a person like this, they may offer you an appointment with this vet.
Beyond interest, some vets may hold actually qualifications in avian medicine:
The first level is a certificate holder
A certificate in veterinary medicine is a tailored postgraduate qualification that shows the vet has an interest and experience in a certain area, in this case avian medicine. Vets holding certificates will often work for a referral vet practice that frequently sees birds. The actual process of getting a certificate varies, but typically involves theoretical and practical work, research, reading journals, attending courses, CPD and formal exams. Having a certificate grants the holder the postnominal ‘CertAVP’ in a certain field.
Not all certificates are recognised by the RCVS (the veterinary body that registers vets). But a holder of an avian medicine certificate from a university has proof they have worked hard teaching themselves about bird medicine. A certificate holder may apply to the RCVS to become an Advanced Practitioner (if their certificate is eligible) and receive formal recognition from them of their qualification in the field. This status must be regularly reviewed to ensure the vet holds up-to-date knowledge.
The second level of qualification is a diploma-level postgraduate qualification
A diploma is an even higher level of specialty and shows that a vet has spent years in a particular field, practicing, learning and teaching to a high level. Many require evidence of previous experience, qualifications, referral by colleagues and more. A vet with a diploma in some form of avian medicine is likely to be one of the most experienced vets in this field. As with certificate holders, diploma holders often work primarily with birds at referral practices.
Experts in the field will usually be an RCVS Specialist
Finally, similar to how vets holding certificates can register with the RCVS for Advanced Practitioner status, a vet with a diploma can register to be called a Specialist. Specialists are the top of their field and will have spent years or even decades in the industry. The RCVS say a specialist “…must… satisfy the RCVS that they make an active contribution to their specialty, have national and international acclaim and publish widely in their field”. It is not easy or quick to become a specialist, and only the most dedicated vets will achieve it. To ensure that specialists are equipped with the best knowledge, their specialist status must be reviewed at least every 5 years.
Why Qualifications Are Important
The above information is important to you as a bird owner because it will help you judge what level of expertise and care you need. For basic husbandry problems or minor diseases, a vet with a particular interest in birds, or even any other vet, may be appropriate. For more complicated cases, a certificate holder or advanced practitioner may be needed. And for those who want the most expertise for their birds, a Diplomate (diploma holder) or even Specialist is who you should speak to. Remember that vets with higher qualifications may not work every day in clinical practice. So their schedules may be busy, and the costs of seeing them can increase dramatically.
How to Find a Good Bird Vet
There are lots of ways to find a bird vet. And, again, where you look may depend on the sort of care you need. Remember that in emergency situations, speed should take priority. Even if that means seeing a vet who doesn’t often deal with birds. They can stabilise your bird ready to see a more experienced bird vet afterwards.
Your first port of call should be your local vet practice
Contact them and ask if any of their staff hold qualifications with avian medicine or are interested in birds. Many vets will be happy to see your bird and may be able to treat your bird’s problem. If not, they are best placed to assist you finding a more suitable bird vet. The veterinary industry is small, and many of us know colleagues who will see your bird. Your local vet may also be able to recommend a local practice with an exotics focus to see in future.
You can also ask around yourself, online, or ask friends who have birds. Many bird clubs, local websites or online forums will be able to recommend vets based in your area. Remember though that everyone’s birds and experiences will be different. So don’t rule a vet out based on one person’s review. The Parrot Society UK and Bird Line websites both list a number of vets in each area of the country who may see birds.
If advanced care is what you need:
You can search for a vet on the RCVS website. They have lists of Advanced Practitioners and Specialists. By searching by area or field (Zoo & Wildlife Medicine – Avian, or Poultry Medicine & Production are most relevant), you can find vets with the highest qualifications relevant to avian medicine. Again, actually getting an appointment with them may be difficult and time-consuming, but most will still work in practice somewhere in the country. With some searching, finding where they practice is simple.
Things to Consider
Once you think you have found a suitable vet there are other considerations you should take.
First of all, register your bird with your local practice, and potentially a specialist that you may want to see for more complex problems. Even if you don’t need veterinary care right now it is much simpler to book an appointment as a registered client than a new one. During an emergency this is one less thing to be worrying about. Ring their receptions and register as soon as you have decided.
Next decide on the location. A Specialist with decades of experience may provide the most appropriate care, but if they work 5 hours away, they may not be convenient for minor problems, and definitely not for emergencies. In these cases, you may be better suited to stay with a less specialist but more local practice, with the option to travel further afield if your local vet recommends the care. Again, registering pre-emptively may speed up this process.
Also consider the costs. Again, the more advanced the care, the more care will cost. For referral and specialist level avian medicine, an appointment and diagnostic workup could cost hundreds or thousands of pounds. Are you prepared to pay this, or would you prefer cheaper care? Insurance can help mitigate some of these costs and open up care for your bird you may not have been able to afford otherwise.
Where exotic pets are concerned, finding veterinary care can be difficult. Hopefully, this article has explained what different levels of qualifications a ‘bird vet’ may hold, so you can choose the appropriate level of care, as well as how to find these vets. Remember to do your research and find a vet early on before you need us, rather than struggling to find a vet when it is urgent.