Pet Vet: Canary needs to visit vet to start singing again

March 13, 2017


There are so many blessings to be had when we share our lives with animals.

Our interactions with our companions often depend on what type of creature we care for, and so, too, do the joys we receive from them. With a dog, it may be the time spent interacting with them on walks or simply playing in the yard — even the simple act of petting them can bring great comfort. Other companions do not interact in the same way but can be a joy just the same. Today’s patient would fit in that "other" group.

Henry is a 2-year-old male canary who lives in a cage indoors in Margaret’s family room. One of Margaret’s great joys is listening to Henry sing. He is especially prolific in the mornings, when Margaret has her coffee sitting next to his cage. Margaret feels as if he is singing just for her.

Unfortunately, in the past week or so, Henry has stopped singing. He spends most of his time now on his perch in one position, seeming to move only to eat and drink, and then it appears as if he is quite winded for his efforts. Margaret is very worried and realizes that he needs to see an avian veterinarian, but she is worried he might not be able to tolerate a trip to the hospital, not to mention the rigors of a potentially stressful examination.

Margaret’s concerns are valid. Whatever is causing Henry’s problem has likely been going on for a while. Birds are notorious for hiding their symptoms as an adaptation that comes from their roots as wild creatures. If a bird shows any weakness in the wild, especially a flock bird such as a canary, it is a target for predators. This is why they try to hide any symptoms that might indicate weakness. Unfortunately for the afflicted individual, this cloaking routine cannot last forever.

Henry is at the point at which he no longer can hide his symptoms. The "catch 22" now is that his disease has progressed and he is symptomatic, so any undue stress might throw him over the edge of no return. This whole scenario is precisely why people commonly think birds are delicate vulnerable creatures. The real truth is that they are very tough – but once symptomatic, they are far down the path of their disease process.

Henry does need to see his avian veterinarian. Margaret is correct that there will be stress involved, but without treatment he will likely die. Depending on his condition when he is brought in to the hospital, he may be able to receive a gas anesthetic to alleviate stress and allow a thorough evaluation.

One of the more common causes of respiratory signs in canaries — remember that Margaret mentioned Henry seemed "winded" when he moved to eat and drink — is an infestation of air sac mites.

Air sac mites are tiny bugs that infest the upper air sacs in canaries and other types of birds, which can lead to respiratory compromise — by primary obstruction of breathing as well as by causing secondary bacterial disease in the air sacs. It’s an ailment that is common and easily treated.

There are many other possibilities for Henry’s symptoms. Unless it’s discovered and treated, he has little chance for recovery. I truly hope he does recover, as I share Margaret’s feelings about the pleasure derived from listening to the beautiful song of a singing canary.

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