We are frequently being asked about alternative, natural and herbal treatment as well as cleaning options being suitable for the care and treatment of birds. Instead of repeatedly answering multiple individual questions, we have compiled the following blog post, which gives hopefully some useful examples. Please note that this list is not thought to be exhaustive.
Please note that all information provided in this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your veterinary surgeon, physician, herbologist or other health care professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosis or treatment of any health problem. Please always consult with a veterinary surgeon or healthcare professional before starting any new supplements or diet, before taking or applying any new medication, or if you suspect that your animal patient or you might have a health problem.
It is important to note that medicinal plants contain powerful, pharmacologically active compounds, which means in other words that plants contain drugs. Like drugs, herbal remedies should be used with caution. While the right herb may help your bird, the wrong one may prove toxic. If in doubt, please check with your veterinary surgeon or an experienced herbologist before giving your bird any herbs or alternative treatments. At many occasions the right herbal treatment might be all your animal patient needs to get better. However, at other occasions herbs may rather be a useful supplement complimenting conventional treatments prescribed by veterinary surgeons.
Before we are going to look into natural and herbal treatment options, we would like to start this post with a list of plants and specific ingredients to avoid, when it comes to treating birds. Herbs to avoid include borage, calamus, chapparal, coltsfoot, comfrey, ephedra, germander, licorace, life root, lobelia, ma huang, pennyroyal, pokeroot, sassafras and yohimbe. When using herbal tinctures, one has to bear in mind that these often contain alcohol, which can be toxic to birds, in particular to small birds and when ingested undiluted or in higher dosages. Herbal infusions and decoctions are therefore much safer alternatives, as are juices and macerations. Herbal infusions usually require 25 g of a dried or 75 g of a fresh herb per 500 ml of water, and are being infused for about 10 minutes. Decoctions are stronger than infusions, as they are simmered until the total fluid volume has been reduced by about one third. Herbal infusions and decoctions should be used within 24 hours.
Commercial Products and Treatments
The first group of alternative, natural and herbal treatment options we would like to present are the following useful and potent commercial products.
WHEEZE EEZE Herbal Liquid (©The Birdcare Company)
This is a complex blend of natural herbal extracts, which can be sprayed, nebulised or added to drinking water. This product has anti-bacterial properties and helps with respiratory infections and breathing difficulties.
This is a supplement to restore and maintain gut vitality and is made from 100% natural active ingredients. The Verm-X range can be fed all year round and is also useful to improve digestion and increase energy levels. It is easy to feed as a liquid, pellet, a powder or as a daily treat. Effectively, Verm-X is a very effective herbal product that provides internal parasite control. Please note that the producers of Verm-X have to follow the rules and regulations which all herbal medicines have to follow, and that they are therefore not allowed to call the product an “anthelmintic” or “wormer”, since it is not a licensed medicine.
Blast Off Anti-Mite (©The Birdcare Company)
This is completely natural parasite repellent product. The natural ingredients (Piperonal and Cedarwood oil) have been combined with a free-flowing powder to make dusting easy. Blast Off Anti-Mite is safe for both, the user and the bird. The product can be administered directly onto adult birds and chicks and can also be used in nesting boxes.
Natural Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is made by fermenting the natural sugars found in fresh apples. Organic, unfiltered ACV contains strands of proteins, enzymes and probiotic bacteria. ACV can help to kill pathogens and has a long history of use as a natural food preservative. The main compound in vinegar, called acetic acid, destroys harmful bacteria and prevents them from multiplying. There is also evidence which suggests that ACV has potential as an anti-fungal treatment. ACV can be used for keeping bird baths longer fresh and is also an essential component in the treatment of canker, where it will be added to the drinking water. Natural ACV should be used in a dilution of 5 ml ACV in 1 liter of fresh water. Parasites cannot survive in acidic water as ACV drops the water PH to about 4-5 at the dosage outlined above.
Whilst on the subject of canker and thrush (oral candida albicans infection), one should also mention the superb treatment effect of neat fresh lemon juice, which is very effective when brushed on Canker plaques, and when subsequently overlaid with Lugol iodine solution 3%.
Oral thrush can be treated successfully with brushing the effected areas with Gentian violet solution. Gentian violet is a synthetic, antiseptic dye named so because it mimics the intense purple-blue colour of gentian wildflowers. It has mild antibacterial and antiviral properties.
GlucoGel (©BBI Healtcare)
GlucoGel is easy to use and rapidly absorbed through gums. It is also free from artificial colours, sweeteners, caffeine and gluten. It provides a fast acting measured dose of glucose. GlucoGel is the ideal product to help manage blood glucose levels in case of an emergency or to provide a short term boost of energy. It can be a lifesaver in the treatment of collapsed birds, in particular when treating nervous sea birds, egrets and herons, as it provides a quick energy boost, which may give easily stressed birds the physical strength required to start feeding independently again.
Traumeel Ointment (©Bio Pathica)
Traumeel ointment will provide temporary relief of minor muscle and joint aches and pains caused by strains, sprains and bruising. Traumeel ointment is a topical homeopathic analgesic. It works by reducing inflammation to temporarily relieve pain.
Traumeel S Ampoules (©Heel)
This is another homeopathic analgesic to be used orally for inflammatory and degenerative processes associated with inflammation involving various organs and tissues with particular focus on the support and joint apparatus. Traumeel S ampoulles are safe to be used for small birds as this particular preparation is alcohol free.
Viruvetsan Mischung vet. (©DHU)
This is a homeopathic treatment to be used for stressed birds to effectively boost the immune system, which seems in particular effective when treating viral infections. As Viruvetsan contains alcohol, it needs to be diluted (10 drops in 50 ml drinking water). This mixture is suitable for small birds such as swifts and martins and should be given once daily, 2 to 3 times a week, drop by drop, together with food. Viruvetsan is suitable for longterm treatment.
Natural Cleaning Solutions
Baking soda helps with cleaning in two ways. As a mild alkali, it helps to get rid of dirt and grease easily. When used as a powder, it has a mild abrasive effect that helps to gently scour surfaces. Baking soda also helps to neutralise odours.
Distilled White Vinegar
Distilled White Vinegar is another natural product that can replace harsh toxic cleaners. The acidity in vinegar is what makes it effective on various but not all surfaces. Like baking soda, vinegar can help to deodorise and is effective at removing stains.
DIY All-Purpose Cleaner
An easy to prepare all-purpose cleaner can be created by combining 3 cups of hot water with 2 tablespoons of baking soda and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in a plastic spray bottle. Shake the contents, spray over dirty surfaces and wipe clean. Another, slightly stronger all-purpose cleaner can be me made of distilled white vinegar, when mixed in a 1:1 ratio with water. Lemon juice can be added to achieve a fresh citrus smell.
Natural Treatments and Herbs
The second part of this blog post contains other natural products or herbs, which can be useful in the treatment of common ailments and diseases.
Aloe gel acts as a purgative, bile stimulant, tonic, demulcent, antifungal, styptic, sedative and anthelmintic. When applied topically, Aloe gel can help to heal small cuts, abrasions and skin rashes.
Anise or Aniseed
If a bird is suffering from constipation, then one can offer an anise infusion or tea instead of the usual drinking water. Anise has got remarkable anticonvulsant effects. Aniseed tea can be used by its own, but can also be combined with Fennel.
Arnica is well known for its healing properties. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory, healing and circulatory stimulant. Arnica should not be taken internally other than in homeopathic doses and should not be applied to open wounds. It is very useful and efficient in the treatment of painful bruises and in easing acute and chronic joint pain.
Cayenne is an overall digestive aid containing small amounts of vitamins A, C, B-complex, calcium, phosphorous and iron. It works as an anti-inflammatory and helps arthritic conditions. Cayenne contains capsaicin, which helps to stimulate the appetite. It is a great natural treatment for sinus congestion. When used topically, cayenne has potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Chamomile is known for its anti-inflammtory, antispasmodic, sedative, carminative, antiemetic and antiallergenic actions. An infusion made from the flowers of this plant has proven anti-inflammatory effects. Therefore chamomile infusion or tea is very helpful during the treatment of infectious diseases including sour crop. Chamomile is also very useful in treating diarrhoea caused by a wrong diet. Inhalation of vapours from chamomile tea is a very effective additional treatment against diseases of the respiratory system. Chamomile is one of nature’s safest and mildest sedatives, which can be safely used to calm birds in stressful situations. Chamomile tea can be used for local wound cleansing as well as to flush and clean infected eyes.
Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several trees from the genus Cinnamomum that is used in both sweet and savoury foods. Cinnamon powder or oil is thought to have antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal and antioxidant properties. It can be used to prevent and to treat escherichia coli and salmonella infections. It has also been successfully used in pigeons to treat young bird sickness, canker, candida, yeast and aspergillus infections.
Cornstarch, maize starch or corn flour is the starch derived from corn (maize) grain. If a bird has injured a blood feather and is bleeding, one can use unbleached cornstarch instead of styptic powder to stop the bleeding. Press some cornstarch on the spot that is bleeding and put pressure on it for a few seconds.
Cuttlefish bone, or alternatively cleaned empty grounded snail shells, work well as a natural calcium supplement. Cuttlefish bone, also known as cuttlebone, is a hard brittle internal structure or internal shell of cephalopods. Cuttlebone is composed primarily of aragonite. Cuttlebone is very much appreciated in animal care thanks to its high calcium and mineral salt content. It also comes in handy by helping to keep beaks nicely trimmed.
Echinacea is known to act as an antibiotic, antiviral, immune stimulant, antiallergenic, lymphatic tonic, anti-inflammatory and wound healer. As it strengthens the immune system, it is also known to speed up the recovery from poxvirus infections and generally of debilitated birds.
Eyebright acts as an anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, anticatarrhal and astringent. An Eyebright infusion or tea can be used as an eye wash to aid discomfort from irritated eyes.
Fennel is known to act as a carminative, anticonvulsant, circulatory stimulant, mild expectorant, diuretic and anti-inflammatory. Fennel infusion or tea brings quick relief in cases of constipation, flatulence and colic. It can also help to avoid the production of too much gas inside the crop or abdomen of a bird suffering of a yeast infection. Fennel is in particular useful when raising sensitive hatchlings and nestlings.
Flaxseed / Linseed Oil
Flaxseed oil is high in ALA omega-3 fatty acids, which have been associated with numerous health benefits. Lack of omega-3 fatty acids can increase the risk for inflammatory and metabolic conditions. Omega-3 fatty acids appear to reduce blood pressure and increase the elasticity of arteries. It also may have anti-inflammatory properties. Flaxseed oil, or alternatively cod liver oil, is an essential component in the complex treatment of oiled seabirds, where it helps to protect the intestinal mucosa and aids the rapid discharge of ingested oil.
Another antibacterial is garlic, which is good for the immune system and heart and carries antioxidant and antifungal properties. It is also acts as an expectorant, hypotensive, antiparasitic, hypoglycaemic, hypolipidaemic and antihistamine. Due to its antiparasitic properties it is being used to kill intestinal parasites. Garlic juice is thought to be as strong as conventional anti-fungal drugs normally used for the treatment of candida infections. Garlic should be used sparingly and in the form of fresh garlic slices.
Ginger is known to be a circulatory stimulant, peripheral vasodilatator, expectorant, antiemetic, antispasmodic, carminative and antiseptic. Ginger has been used to prevent motion sickness when pet birds must travel. A few drops of ginger extract can be added to the water, along with slices of fresh ginger, the night before a planned travel. Ginger is otherwise very useful in treating nausea and regurgitation.
Lavender is known to act as an antiseptic, antibacterial, antidepressant, carminative, relaxant, circulatory stimulant, antispasmodic, analgesic and tonic for the nervous system. Lavender can be used to reduce stress and to aid the digestive system. Lavender is known to eliminate nervous tension, relieve pain, disinfect the skin, enhance blood circulation and to treat respiratory problems.
Mānuka honey originates in Australia and New Zealand and is produced by bees that pollinate the native Mānuka bush. Mānuka honey has anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antioxidant properties, which makes it the perfect ingredient for wound dressings. Honey protects against damage caused by bacteria. Mānuka honey does also boost the production of special cells that can repair tissue damaged by infection and is known to quickly ease pain caused by inflammation.
Marigold or Calendula
Marigold acts as an astringent, antiseptic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, immune stimululant, antispasmodic and wound herb. It rapidly heals wounds, abrasions and skin conditions. It is also useful for birds, who are prone to feather plucking and who are suffering of skin allergies.
Passion flower acts as a sedative, spasmodic, vasodilator, analgesic and tranquilliser. It is therefore used to calm nervousness and anxiety and to reduce pain. Passion flower is one of the best natural tranquillisers. Hyperactive birds, or those with compulsive behaviour patterns like feather destruction, may benefit from passion flower.
Peppermint is known to act as antispasmodic, digestive tonic, analgesic, antiemetic, bile stimulant, carminative and peripheral vasodilatator. It is a calming and soothing herb, which is useful for anxious or feather plucking birds. Peppermint is also very helpful in cases of digestive upsets.
Ribwort and Common Plantain
Ribwort plantain acts as an expectorant, is tonifying to mucous membranes and is known to be antispasmodic and anticatarrhal. Common plantain also acts as an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and astringent. Both contain valuable minerals and trace elements and are helpful in boosting the immune system. Applied topically, plantain aids wound healing and reduces the risk of wound infections.
St John’s Wort
St John’s Wort is known to act as an astringent, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, sedative, restoring tonic of the nervous system, antidepressant, antispasmodic and antiviral. It contains hypericum, which has antidepressant properties. It is often used as a natural substitute for Haloperidol in pet birds suffering of feather plucking.
Self-heal is known to be antibacterial, hypotensive, diuretic, astringent and a potent wound herb. It can be used to stop bleeding and to ease wound inflammation.
Thyme is known to work as an antiseptic, expectorant, antispasmodic, astringent, antibiotic, antimicrobial, diuretic, antitussive and topical wound herb. Due to its anti-fungicide and fungal suppressive effects, thyme infusion or tea is a very helpful healing remedy during treatment of diseases caused by fungi and yeast. Thyme is also very helpful in patients suffering of diarrhoea.
Valerian is known to act as a tranquilliser, antispasmodic, expectorant, diuretic, hypotensive and carminative. It can be used as a sedative and pain reliever. It is known to be stronger than most other herbal sedatives.
Applied topically as a spray, it has astringent and healing properties. It can also be useful to stop external bleeding. It can be used in addition to or as an alternative to aloe vera spray in the treatment of itchy skin.