One of the most universal requirements of health and wellness is water. Proper hydration is essential to living well, some animals need constant access, some get hydrated from food with high water content and some need daily water access. In the case of our feathered friends, how long can a bird go without water?
How Long Can Birds Survive Without Water?
In the wild, there are several ways for birds to find water to drink and bathe in, some sources better than others. In captivity, pet bird owners are expected to regularly provide clean drinking water for their birds.
If a bird doesn’t have access to water, how long can they go without it?
For most pet bird breeds, they can go up to 24 hours without fresh water. After that, they start to weaken from dehydration. Without water, their situations quickly turn drastic.
One day without anything to drink may seem like a short time, especially considering how many people walk around dehydrated all day, but 24 hours without water is a serious bird emergency.
This is because water makes up 5% of their body weight and, with their fast metabolism and active lifestyle, birds burn through their water intake quickly and will need constant refueling. Although birds don’t perspire, they use up their water through their activity, body nutrition, and through their elimination habits.
Importance of Fresh Water for Birds
Water is a basic need but not just any water will do for birds. Birds need fresh water from a clean source and, with how clever and discerning their senses are, they know when their water is good or not.
The rule of thumb for the water you give your bird is that if you can drink it, it's (most likely) good for your bird.
If you only drink bottled water and don't want to spare that expense on your bird, simply making sure that the tap water is safe is enough, which depends on the water quality in your area.
If your tap water goes through treatment facilities to clean out bacteria and excess minerals, this is fine for your birds. However, if your water source does not go through any filtration, it might be dangerous for them. This is because unfiltered water can contain large amounts of harmful bacteria or excess minerals that can cause issues with birds, harming them in the long run instead of keeping them healthy.
Water Bowl or Water Bottle?
Giving birds water is not just about water quality but also about where you place it. The most basic way to help your pet birds through their thirst is with a water bowl or a bird water feeder.
The danger of placing their drinking water in a bowl is that they might choose to bathe in it and make a mess. Spillage, in general, is a huge possibility with water bowls and will require the need for frequent checkups from their owners, to make sure they have enough water.
Water bottle bird feeders also come with their own set of dangers, particularly with stagnated water. Birds need fresh water and if the water you placed in the bottle hasn't been finished within a day, most owners will leave it there to stagnate and develop bacteria.
Veterinarians recommend changing a bird’s water daily. While birds have powerful metabolisms, large amounts of bacteria in their water directly affects their body and makes it difficult for their systems to flush out the bacteria and fight against it.
Another danger of keeping the water in a bottle is that the tip could randomly get stuck. This leaves the birds struggling to drink, despite having a fresh change of their water.
It’s up to the owners to be responsible enough to decide which water feeding source is best for their birds.
If a bird is unable to drink enough or have access to clean water, they'll be at risk of dehydration. While this is less of an emergency with human beings, it can be deadly for birds, especially considering their size, metabolism, and delicate bodies.
Dehydration in birds is a serious issue that, fortunately, presents itself in distinct and easily recognizable symptoms. When determining your bird’s hydration levels, you’ll need to be familiar with how your bird acts when it’s healthy.
1. Skin Elasticity
Birds are covered in feathers. If your pet bird does not ordinarily have a bald spot but you suddenly find one, you should check if it’s caused by dehydration using a simple test.
All you’ll need to do is gently pinch your bird’s skin and release it. Well-hydrated skin will quickly return to normal while dehydrated skin takes longer to settle, or can stay wrinkled and not return to proper smoothness. Skin elasticity is directly linked to internal water levels and wrinkly bird skin is a sign of dehydration.
2. Mucus Levels
If a bird is particularly affectionate with you, it will not be shy in kissing or licking your skin to show their love. From this experience, you’ll know that birds have very wet saliva when they’re healthy.
Bird mucus dries up when they’re dehydrated.
If mucus levels are low, their saliva tends to be sticky or dry. It’s not a good feeling on your skin and is cause for concern, especially since saliva helps break down food for easier digestion. When saliva runs dry, the digestive process slows down.
3. Energy Levels
A universal symptom of ill health is a lack of energy. Whether your bird is extremely hyper or if they’re more docile, a decrease in energy levels will always be apparent.
When their energy levels are low, they become lethargic and stop engaging in ordinary bird habits. Even simply singing, flying, or being interested in their surroundings is difficult to do when birds are dehydrated.
With the amount of energy that birds need, just lacking water for one day will make a huge impact on how they act.
Bird droppings have a distinct look and feel to it. Their excrement presents a direct look into how well their bodily functions are and helps identify any diet changes needed.
Each pet bird has a different diet and exercise routine so the specific look of their healthy droppings should always be known by their owners.
That said, if a bird is dehydrated, their droppings will be less solid and won’t have its usual shape and color. If their droppings start to turn dry or they relieve themselves less often, this is a dangerous sign of dehydration and will require immediate action taken up.
5. Abnormal Behavior and Appearance
While every bird comes with a unique personality, they don’t easily get tired of their environment and routine. If they start acting differently, this could be a sign that they feel unwell.
One example is if your bird always greets you when you arrive. If they stop doing this, it's important to check on how they’re doing right away. This is the same with all their personality and behavioral quirks. If you notice that their appearance has dulled or that their eyes have lost some of its brightness, it would be best to make sure they‘re properly hydrated.
Any change in the way they look or act should be treated as a red flag and be followed up with vigilance on any other signs of abnormalities.
With how small a bird is, health concerns show up quickly and need to be dealt with even quicker.
To avoid dehydration, you need to always make sure your bird has constant access to clean water and that you refresh it every day. Never leave your birds without fresh water for more than 24 hours, especially not up to 3 days!
Remember that, when in captivity, birds are under your care and rely on you for their survival. It’s up to you, as their owner, to make sure they live long, healthy, and happy lives.
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