Pet bird on finger
I often hear bird owners say that they never go away on vacation because they can’t find anyone they trust to take care of their pets. Yet there are many reputable bird sitters and boarding facilities that provide excellent care to birds so that their owners can feel secure leaving them to go out of town. The key to finding great bird care is knowing what to ask. Here are some questions you should ask if you’re searching for a sitter or boarding facility for your pet bird:

1. What previous experience do you have with birds?

You don’t want your bird to be the first bird that the sitter or facility is caring for. Ask for references from other bird owners for whom they have provided care and call them. Do they have only one reference or 20? And are the references recent or years old? Get as much information as you can.

2. Are you licensed and insured?

You wouldn’t trust your furniture to movers who are not licensed or insured, so why would you trust an unlicensed, uninsured individual with your precious pet? Licensing requirements for pet sitters vary from state to state (with some states requiring no licensing at all). You need to check with your state to see what the requirements are for sitters near you. Most states require permits to board animals, but once again, specific requirements vary from state to state, so you must check your locale (a good place to start is to call your state’s department of agriculture) to see what is required. The more accountable the sitter or boarding facility is held, the better. All individuals and organizations caring for pets should be insured, just in case the pet is injured in their care and requires emergency veterinary medical attention (which can be expensive). It’s important to be clear, in advance, about who is responsible if the pet gets hurt or causes property damage or injures someone.

3. What happens if my bird gets sick while I am away?

Whether your bird is in your home with a sitter, at the sitter’s home or at a boarding facility, be sure to leave your veterinarian’s contact information, plus the address and phone number of the nearest 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital. Alert your veterinarian that you will be away and provide him or her with written authorization allowing your sitter or boarding center to act on your behalf if emergency medical care is required for your bird and you are unreachable. Be sure, too, to arrange for some form of payment for emergency care in your absence.

4. How many times a day will my bird be checked, and how much time will you spend interacting with him?

Birds need to be checked on a minimum of once a day for feeding and cage cleaning, including on weekends. Ideally, they also should have daily out-of-cage time for exercise. To allow this, your caretaker must be comfortable handling your bird and getting him into and out of his cage. Previous bird handling experience is a must.

5. Can I call you for progress reports? Will you text me photos of my bird?

At a minimum, you should be able to call your bird care provider at least once a day for an update. However, a picture says a thousand words, so ideally your provider should be willing to text message you a photo of your bird a few times while you’re away. Seeing pets playing with toys or eating in a clean cage can help put bird owners at ease.

6. Is a clean bill of health required before boarding?

Where there are birds, there is likely disease. Birds are prey species, so they often hide illness until they are really sick.  As a result, a bird may look apparently healthy, but still be carrying disease. Therefore, unless your pet is staying at home while you are away, you should ask whether your bird will be exposed to other birds. If so, all owners should be required to provide a health certificate with proof that the bird has normal blood and stool sample analysis results, as well as negative test results for common avian infectious diseases, such as psittacosis, also known as “parrot fever.” To ensure that all boarding birds are healthy, this testing should be performed just before boarding, not months to years beforehand. The more medical testing that is required just prior to boarding, the lower the likelihood that your bird will be exposed to potentially infectious illnesses. In addition, if your pet will be housed in a place where there are other birds, ideally the birds should be kept as far apart as possible (at least several feet) to minimize spread of disease and caretakers should wash their hands thoroughly after touching each bird.

7. Will other types of pets be around my bird?

While some birds are raised in homes with other pets and are used to hearing dogs barking or cats meowing, other birds have never heard or seen a dog or cat. Both of these species are predators and can be very scary and stressful to birds. If your bird is to be cared for in a place where there are other animals, such as dogs or cats, ideally your bird should be out of view and earshot of these other animals so he isn’t stressed or at risk for injury.

8. Can I provide my own bird’s food? Cage? Toys?

Birds tend to be creatures of habit, so if you are taking your bird out of your home for care, it’s great to bring as many familiar things with you as possible. But different facilities have different rules and space limitations. Some places may not allow you to bring your own cage but will allow you to arrange your bird’s toys in the boarding cage the same way they are set up in your bird’s own cage at home. For birds as well as us, there’s no place like home! 

9. What happens if there is a power outage?

This isn’t something most of us think about, but power outages do happen frequently in some geographic locations and given how sensitive birds can be to rapid temperature changes, it’s best to be prepared. Ideally, your bird should be housed somewhere that has a generator in case the electricity goes off and it might become excessively hot or cold. Even if you don’t have a generator at your home, the local 24-hour veterinary hospital may, so be sure to leave your pet sitter or boarding facility the name and number of that facility so that your bird won’t freeze or overheat if the power goes out.

It’s perfectly normal to be nervous about leaving your beloved bird behind when you go away. However, if you ask the right questions in advance, you should be able to find a reputable care provider who can offer reliable, loving care for your bird so that he can enjoy a vacation while you enjoy yours!

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