Birds of a feather
Few in number, avian veterinarians are a dedicated lot
|||Gainsborough, a hyacinth macaw, is one of Stuart Blackman’s four pet exotic birds. He considers the birds to be his children, and spares no expense to ensure their health and well-being.“|||
Over the years, Blackman has spent tens of thousands of dollars on specially made cages, imported vitamins, feed, and veterinary care for his birds, which he sees as his children. And like any good father, Blackman is highly protective of his brood. “Birds are not for everyone,” he stressed. “They require a lot of training on the owner’s part. They are very smart and have sensitive feelings.”
The pet-owning public seems to share Blackman’s sentiment about bird ownership. The AVMA’s 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographic Sourcebook estimated the size of the nation’s pet bird population to be 8.3 million animals at year end 2011—a 20.5 percent decline since 2006 when the previous study was published. Approximately 3.7 million U.S. households owned a bird in 2011, down from 4.5 million in 2006. Bird ownership has dropped nearly 46 percent over the past two decades, the survey found.
Not surprisingly, the number of U.S. veterinary practices catering to bird owners is dwarfed by the abundance of small animal clinics. Of the more than 14,000 practices listed in MyVeterinarian.com, 3,527 offer avian medical services, AVMA records show.
The Association of Avian Veterinarians, established in 1980 for the purpose of educating small animal practitioners in avian medicine, today has approximately 1,714 members, according to AAV Executive Director Robert Groskin. Around 1,400 of them are practitioners, and of these, only about 10 percent are in an exclusively or almost exclusively avian practice, while the remainder have an avian caseload of 30 percent or less.
“The majority of our members do not see birds exclusively. They have a mix of birds, exotic small mammals and reptiles, and dogs and cats,” Dr. Groskin said.
physiology have yielded important health care advances.
|||Pet birds make up more than 30 percent of the patient caseload at Niles Animal Hospital and Bird Medical Center in suburban Chicago. The practice was started by Dr. T.J. Lafeber, a leading authority on pet bird care and medicine, and has been run by Dr. Peter Sakas since 1985.|||
Dr. Peter Sakas has practiced at Niles Animal Hospital and Bird Medical Center in suburban Chicago for more than three decades. In 1985, two years after receiving his DVM degree from the University of Illinois, Dr. Sakas bought the hospital from his mentor, Dr. T.J. Lafeber, a leading authority on pet bird care and medicine at the time.
Having previously earned a master’s degree in parasitology, Dr. Sakas enrolled in veterinary college with plans for a career in research and academia. He spent his summer breaks working for Dr. Lafeber, who ultimately steered him into avian medicine. Now, Dr. Sakas is himself an authority on avian medicine. A frequent lecturer for veterinary colleges and associations, he is author of “Essentials of avian medicine: A guide for practitioners,” published by the American Animal Hospital Association.
|||Dr. Peter Sakas examines a patient during a checkup. Unfortunately, far too few pet owners see the value of such routine preventive health care, according to the Association of Avian Veterinarians.|||
Dr. Anthony Pilny is one of two veterinarians board certified in avian medicine on staff at The Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine in New York City. Birds make up more than half the practice’s caseload, Dr. Pilny said, and range from finches and macaws to pigeons and other wild birds.
“Birds are highly intelligent animals, and they get bored quickly. People who want them as an ornament keep them in a cage because they’re beautiful. However, when they don’t interact with them, not meeting the bird’s emotional needs, the bird will become frustrated and engage in unwanted behavior. Birds are flock animals, and they need activity outside the cage.”