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Canary Ailments

[Having A Bird As A Pet]  [Caring For Your Canary]  [Canary Ailments]  [Canary Breeding] 

( Originally Published 1938 )

Because of domestication, the canary is subject to several ailments that would probably never trouble wild birds. In its natural habitat, a bird has a remarkable way of caring for itself. It automatically seeks out what food it needs, gets what exercise it needs, seeks the climate it prefers and leads a generally healthy life.

In your home, kept in the narrow confines of a cage, dependent on your choice of food, a target for every vagrant draft, the canary has to be a rugged customer to exist at alland rugged he is under all normal conditions. The canary is no sissy, but he isn't a super-bird either. With reasonable care, he may never have a sick day in his cheerful life. As with other pets, the old axiom applies to canaries-the best way to avoid trouble is to keep it from happening in the first place.

Canary ailments have been hard to diagnose exactly for the reason that symptoms of several canary ailments are practically the same. The bird becomes inactive, ruffles up its feathers and grumps on its perch. While a lot of technical study has been devoted to the diagnosis and ailments of chickens, ducks, pheasants and various game birds, the canary (to a certain degree) has been medically a Cinderella minus a fairy godmother. Much of the advice you will hear about caring for your bird has no sound foundation in medical research. In the past, bereft of sound information, owners have tried anything and everything for dosing sick birds. If the bird got well, the medication was thereafter considered a major discovery.

Recently, fanciers have been giving attention to heat therapy in the treatment of canary ailments, and the progress reported seems to indicate that breeders have found something that has real merit. The usual method of applying heat to the bird is to put the ailing songster in a warmed cage. There, for a period of several hours or even days, the bird lives in an atmosphere of from 80 to 85 and held at that constant temperature by thermostatic control. It's something like taking up temporary residence in a heat cabinet.

Karl Plath, curator of the birds at the Brookfield Zoological Gardens, Chicago, reports some very excellent results in treating ailing birds that have been placed in a warm cage. You could duplicate his equipment with an orange crate, a small wire cage and a couple of sockets for electric light bulbs. The crate should be placed on its side, with the cage in one end and the lights in the other. A cloth cover may be placed over most of the open side of the box, taking care not to shut air circulation off completely.

Check the temperature with a thermometer in the cage end of the box. The average temperature should not exceed 85. You may have to remove one of the light bulbs, or use a bulb of lower wattage. Try a 25-watt bulb. For the sake of having neat equipment, and also because it is more sanitary, you will probably want to give the box a couple of coats of enamel, inside and out. Make the paint job a good one, because you will have to clean and sterilize the box at intervals.

IMPORTANT NOTE: While heat is beneficial in curing bird ailments, too much heat or too prolonged heat will throw the bird into an unnatural molt. Therefore, never allow the bird to remain in the hospital cage for longer than six days.

A cold is always dangerous to a bird. While your pet may get over a cold without special treatment, there is constant possibility that an uncared-for cold will lead to pneumonia

or asthma. Neither of these diseases lends itself readily to treatment, and death of the bird usually results. SYMPTOMS OF COLD: The bird seems to have difficulty in breathing. A small discharge sometimes appears at the nostrils. Your pet hangs to its perch, with feathers ruffled up, and seems to sleep more than usual. There may also be constipation.

TREATMENT: Give the bird two drops of olive oil with a medicine dropper; get the warming cage ready and put the bird in it. If you do not have such a cage, a fair substitute can be developed with your electric heating pad. Drape most of the cage with a cover cloth and hang the pad adjacent to the cage on the open side. A thermometer should be used to check this point for the bird's safety. Drafts must be avoided. Canary and rape seed which is to be fed to the bird should be soaked in water for 24 hours before a feeding. Green oat sprouts, or lettuce, should be included in the diet, and the bird should be given opportunity to peck at a small slice of apple or orange. Add two drops of cod liver oil to the food. Heat treatment may have to be continued from three days to a week. In bringing the bird back down to a normal room temperature again your pet should be let "cool down with the cage." And after any sick bird has inhabited the warming cage, the box and cage should be thoroughly scrubbed with soap and water, and given an airing out in sunlight.

Since recovery may be slow, it's a good idea to keep up the addition of cod-liver oil for a few weeks following anattack.

Generally, a lack of exercise and the wrong type of diet are the basic causes of constipation. So far as food is concerned, any diet item that has high fat content is so completely absorbed that not enough bulk remains to cause a proper bowel movement.

TREATMENT: Two drops of olive oil should be given daily for a few days, or until proper movement occurs. An alternate is to put about ten drops of milk of magnesia in the drinking water, or a small pinch of epsom salts. The diet should be overhauled. Cut down on the percentages of fatbearing seeds (usually rape, flax or hemp); increase the percentage of greens or fruits. If an exercise cage is available give the bird a chance to use it for a few weeks. Diarrhea may be caused by too high a percentage of green foods in the diet, or by contamination from the drinking cups, seed cups, or cages.

TREATMENT: The bird should be given a purge with two drops of mineral oil by mouth or a pinch of epsom salts in the water. If the diarrhea is active place a pinch of bismuth subnitrate in the food. Sterilize all food and water cups, and make sure that the seed is clean and wholesome. It will be best to eliminate greens from the diet for a time. The inclusion of small amounts of poppy seed or maw seed will be of assistance.

Loss of voice (Aphonia), is a fairly common occurrence during the moult. In most cases, the loss is only temporary and voice returns when the bird gets back into full feather again. However, there are occasions when the loss of voice seems a more permanent affair and it is reasonable to think that such lapses in song are due to a glandular upset. The usual care given a bird during moult is generally sufficient to bring the pet around, but more persistent cases will require a somewhat different remedy. During the entire period, foods should be soft. Soak the seeds in water for 24 hours before feeding. As a diet alternate, try feeding toasted bread and milk. Include daily 3 drops of cod liver oil with the soft foods. In severe cases, the treatment may have to be continued for several months to effect a complete cure and restore song.

NOTE: Occasionally, a bird may lose its voice because of an acutely inflamed throat. The tongue and throat puff up and the bird is unable to eat, let alone sing. Since this may betoken an attack of Aphthae, a fungus disease, expert assistance is needed and your pet had best be taken to a bird doctor. In a prolonged attack, the bird may even starve to death because of inability to eat. After the bird has been taken out, the cage should be completely sterilized by immersion in boiling water. All cups, perches, etc. must receive the same treatment to prevent the bird being reinfected later.

Fits are sometimes caused by overstimulus. If the bird is MW extremely sensitive (and many of the high-bred type birds are), a sudden noise, fright, or too stimulating food will cause the pet to suddenly stiffen, keel over and fall from its perch in a faint.

TREATMENT: Whatever the cause, the initial treatment is much the same as for a fainting spell in human beings. Fresh air and a dousing with cold water will usually suffice. After the bird comes out of the spell, two drops of mineral oil should be given and your pet should be put in an exercise cage if you have one. Look at the food list and remove anything that appears too fattening or stimulating, or seems to disagree with the bird.

A broken leg or wing is a fairly common happening in a canary's life, due to some of the conditions surrounding its captivity. Broken legs are usually traceable to the canary's toenails. The bird gets hooked to the cage and in struggling to get loose its leg breaks. Broken wings are less easily accounted for and occur less frequently.

TREATMENT: In the case of a broken leg, if the break occurs between the first joint and the foot, lay the bird on its side (somebody should assist you) and wrap the leg with two layers of gauze. A common kitchen match of the right length, bound on with thread, will serve as a splint.

Splinting a fracture in the upper part of the leg is more difficult, and requires dexterity. A piece of No. 18 cotton covered bell wire is very useful. Cut two pieces of wire, one for the outside of the leg and one for the inside. They should be long enough to reach from the thigh joint to the ankle. Bend the wire with your fingers to form the general angle that the bird's-leg would take in a standing posture. Wrap the upper and lower parts of the leg snugly with gauze. Hold the wire splints in place on the outside and inside of the leg and fasten them top, bottom and middle with a narrow strip of adhesive tape. Finish the job by binding with gauze and stout thread.

During recovery from a fracture, perches should be removed from the cage. Seed and water cups should be placed on the cage floor. Splints should be left in place for at least two weeks.

Warmth and quiet are usually all the medication a bird needs with a broken leg. A slight increase in green foods to prevent constipation and the addition of a cod-liver oil drop every other day will aid recovery.

Egg binding in canary hens is generally traced to one or ~ the other or both of two causes-chills, or calcium deficiency in the diet. The hen generally gives pointed evidence of the trouble. She will sulk, climb off the nest and otherwise indicate that she is peeved with life in general. Examination will disclose that the egg vent is distended.

TREATMENT: Oil the egg vent with mineral oil or vaseline and subject the canary to heat. Two methods are useful. If you have a warming cage, place the hen there for 24 hours in an 85 F. temperature. Lacking the cage, pour boiling water in a glass jar; cover the mouth of the jar with a piece of cheese cloth; take the bird in your hand and hold her standing on the cheese cloth so that the rising steam may warm the vent. Five or six minutes of this treatment is enough at a time.

To avoid a recurrence, fine oyster shell and crushed egg shell should be added to the grit, and the bird should be kept out of drafts.

Moulting is not a disease-it is a natural part of the bird's life, a physiological readjustment that normally takes place in the fall of every year. Moulting in the normal manner is simply getting rid of the old feathers and taking on a crop of new ones. There are a few unnatural forms of moult, usually caused by too much dry heat or a systemic condition, but the normal fall moult is considered here. Most birds will lose a few feathers early in the spring, but the real moult is an all-over process starting sometime between July and the first of November, usually lasting eight weeks.

CARE: In a free state, a moulting bird will seek solitude. The same thing goes for native birds-keep the bird in a quiet, warm place where it can get the moulting job over with as little trouble as possible. Breeders usually cover the cage down to the seed cups. "Gloom" speeds the job. Loss too of song is sometimes a characteristic (mentioned earlier in this chapter). Birds usually have a good reason for their actions and it seems no more than reasonable to believe

that the quiet behavior and loss of voice are simply protective measures. A bird bereft of its feathers and in poor condition to fly doesn't want to attract the attention of its enemies by shouting or hopping about. Feather shedding and regrowth is a thyroid process, and if the thyroid is normal the moult will be normal.

Diet during the moult should include a good percentage of foods that are heavy on the protein side. Hard-boiled egg yolk should be fed once or twice a week; flaxseed and an increased proportion of rape seed are also good; a drop of cod liver oil should be given with feedings every other day. The bird should not be disturbed, and certainly never hand washed.

NOTE: The expression "warm" used in connection with moulting does not mean "hot". An even temperature of 70 to 72 F. is best.

Feeding for color is closely associated with moulting time, and is therefore discussed here instead of under the section on bird diets. In type birds especially, fanciers strive to produce a more brilliant, colored plumage by giving the bird special foods. Color food fed to a normally yellow bird will produce a decided orange colored plumage which usually lasts up to the next moult. After that, if the color is desired, the bird must again be put on its color diet. The pet supply market has a number of good color foods which may be fed according to the directions on the package. A recipe for making your own color food follows:

1 pound ground, sweet red pepper

4 ounces mild paprika

1 ounce cayenne pepper

4 ounces dried marigold or saffron flowers Thoroughly grind the various ingredients together. Add three ounces of olive oil and mix into a paste.

Color feeding is for both adult birds just entering the moult and young canaries which have just shed their infant feathers and are about to get their first adult plumage.

DIRECTIONS FOR COLOR FEEDING: Feeding should be started at the first dropped feather, and should continue until the bird is in full plumage. To start, mix a small amount of the color food with mashed hard-boiled egg yolk. From day to day, gradually increase the amount of color food and reduce the egg content in proportion. To avoid a completely dry mixture as the egg is eliminated, mix a few drops of olive oil with the color food. Some canaries will take to color feeding better if the food is mixed in with oven-dried bread crumbs.

NOTE: Just as a precaution-remember that color food is not intended to serve as a complete diet for the bird during the moult. The seed diet previously recommended for this period should be the mainstay. Color feeding may be stopped when the bird passes the pin feather stage-you can tell by a close look and a little feather blowing.

Baldness and feather plucking are two of the unorthodox ways in which a canary may lose its hat, vest and coat. Baldness is probably due to continued careless feeding, but feather plucking doesn't seem to have a completely satisfactory explanation. It seems reasonable to believe that the same type of condition which causes a dog or cat to shed at odd seasons of the year might also operate to deprive the canary of its plumage. Quoting a pointed observation by one well-known bird specialist, "The bird picks at himself because he's the only one who knows where it itches." If you grant, then, that the bird does itch, and that the cause isn't lice or mites, the root of feather-pulling ought to be a skin condition brought about by a poor systemic condition.

FOR BALDNESS: Use a mild antiseptic to bathe the bald parts. Ordinary witch hazel, diluted 50 per cent with water, is good. Repeat about twice a week for three weeks. Put the bird into a flight cage. Review the bird's diet for anything that might cause an acid condition. Be sure that greens are fed daily. The diet for the most part should consist of a normal feeding of rape and canary seed. The bird should be given a laxative, a pinch of epsom salts in the water. A pinch of iron carbonate in the water twice weekly will also be of assistance. Recovery is generally a slow process, so don't be discouraged if the bird doesn't sprout a full crop of feathers in 24 hours-you can tell more about it at the end of 24 days-feathers take time to grow. During treatment extreme heat should be avoided, since heat has a tendency to dry out the feathers and retard recovery.

FOR FEATHER PULLING: You can expect a certain amount of this from the hens at nesting time, but on other occasions the bird's diet had best be overhauled. A small slice of orange occasionally is a good source of alkaline elements. Be sure that there is oyster shell with the grit. Allow a daily bath. If an outdoor aviary is available the bird may be given opportunity to occupy itself with more extended flight. A change of scenery seems to be an essential part of the cure.

GENERAL NOTES ON CANARY AILMENTS: Often enough a digestive upset in a bird can be traced to its owner's indulgence. Naturally, people become very fond of a good pet, and there is a tendency to pamper by giving the bird bits of food that it has no business eating. Egg custard, for instance, may do no harm as an occasional tid-bit, but continued feeding of the delicacy will give your pet the collywobbles.

Once in a while a bird doctor has to treat a bird that has simply been handled too much. Birds can stand a lot of gentle handling-it's fun to train Chirpsie to sit on your finger-but squeezing is absolutely taboo.

Minor cuts and scrapes should be painted with iodine or mercurochrome. If the bird has an infected foot the pus formation may be lanced. Heat a needle in a match flame to the cherry red stage-lance-squeeze out the pus-dab with iodine.

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