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What is Overheating?

Overheating in birds can be brought on by being left outside in the direct sunlight, or by being exposed to an interior heat source that has been set too high ( heating pad or a lamp). If your bird is on the obese side, the extra weight can also cause overheating so try to keep your bird at its natural weight. If a bird has difficulty cooling themselves, overheating can become a health risk and even cause death. Be especially aware during the summer months of how your bird is reacting to the day’s temperature and ensure some shade relief is available.

Companion birds acclimatise to the air-conditioning in homes, but if they are exposed to high temperatures, they can overheat and it can be deadly.

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Symptoms of Overheating in Birds

A sure sign of overheating is when your bird holds its wings away from its body to enable it to cool itself down; it looks ‘fluffed out’. 

  • Your bird may act stressed and out of character
  • He may be aggressive or uncharacteristically passive
  • If your bird is panting or is exhibiting an open mouth breathing pattern, it is trying to cool itself down
  • Severe head tilting as a sign of neurological distress 
  • Your bird may be less active than normal 
  • Sitting on the cage floor and very quiet

Causes of Overheating in Birds

  • Birds don’t have sweat glands to regulate their body temperatures – but they do have types of adaptations that help them 
  • They have a rapid respiration that allows the heat to disperse through regular breathing 
  • The bare skin areas such as legs, feet and face allow heat loss 
  • Panting allows for heat control
  • Your bird can overheat if its cage is in full sunlight with no shade available either outside or in a hot sunroom
  • Lack of ventilation and too high a heat source (air conditioner, lamp close to your bird’s cage)
  • Overweight birds often experience overheating during the height of summer 
  • Too many birds in one enclosure, too cramped on hot days 
  • Transporting your bird in a hot car without respite 
  • Wrapping in a towel for too long (while restraining)

Diagnosis of Overheating in Birds

It is quite easy to notice your bird’s distress on a hot summer day if you are observant. The fluffed appearance, quiet demeanour or grumpy reaction is a sign that all is not right. Although birds can regulate themselves to adapt to the heat, there is a point where the heat can be overbearing and they can suffer or even die from too much. If your bird is holding his feathers out and wings are drooping, this is a very strong signal that your bird is in difficulty. If his cage is in direct sunlight in a hot oppressive room, the kindest thing you can do is to remove it to another cooler room. If your bird is left for too long in the heat, they can become dehydrated and may show neurological symptoms. They can even lose the ability to perch or fly. When a bird sits on the ground without moving it can be a sign that they may slip into a coma and can easily die. Birds that are in aviaries cannot escape the heat and owners can only bring so many birds inside.

In this case, providing a shade cloth material can provide a welcome respite. Setting up a sprinkler or misting system on a timer during the hot months can keep your birds wonderfully cool and they will enjoy the experience. If preventative measures have been taken and your bird still appears to have experienced an overheating event, veterinary care should be sought. The veterinarian will assess the condition of your bird based on clinical signs and advise on the safest way to cool your bird down.

Treatment of Overheating in Birds

Unless your bird is almost comatose, you may be able to manage the overheating at home, without the need to call your veterinarian. However, if in doubt, do not delay in carefully transporting your bird for a professional assessment. The veterinarian may recommend misting your bird or cooling it in a room temperature bath. Extreme care must be taken as cold water may cause your bird to go into shock. Moistening your bird’s feet and legs can also assist to drop its temperature.  

Ensure on hot days when your bird is alone at home, that his cage has shade, and perhaps a breeze (a slightly open window or a fan set on slow to move the air and not fully on the bird - extremes are to be avoided) away from your bird in the room will keep the temperatures pleasant. 

If at any time your bird is very overheated and is not responding, then call your veterinarian quickly, it may be that your bird needs an electrolyte solution and additional aid to enable it to recover.

Recovery of Overheating in Birds

Regular observation of your pet bird in warm temperatures, to ensure he remains his chirpy healthy self, should become second nature. Birds need shade in high temperatures, clean cool water, variety in their food such as fresh juicy fruit in summer, and a nice misting or two throughout the day. During the heat of summer, spare a thought for the wild birds and provide a nice clean bird bath in a safe area (where the cat cannot reach) so they can cool off as well. One idea is to freeze a deep bowl with some water in it overnight, and then sit another bowl containing food on top of it which will keep the food refreshing. Fruits with high water content make ideal frozen treats for your bird to eat during the day.