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EUTHANASIA: WHEN IT'S TIME TO SAY GOODBYE ...
In Loving Memory for Benden ~ 1988-2006
©2006 Linda S. Rubin

CF Genetics Consultant  
& Panel Judge
All Photos and Articles “All Rights Reserved” by Author and Photographers
Written permission required for reprints.

First published in the October 2006 issue of BIRD TIMES magazine
Many pet owners and aviculturists have kept companion birds into old age, nursed sick or injured birds or
been faced, unexpectantly, with the inevitable. When it appears that the end may be near, that we may be
facing a final farewell to a special, beloved avian companion, how do we know when it is time to say
goodbye?


Throughout 30 years of birdkeeping - even more when counting back to my first pet budgies - I’ve had to
consider this decision more times than I care to count. My first experience was thrust upon me when, at
the age of 16, my eight year-old pet budgerigar developed gout, a very painful, progressive, debilitating
disease. There was only one option to consider; letting her go in a painless, merciful manner and end her
suffering by putting her to sleep.


As expected in any sizable aviary, I have encountered this dilemma numerous times over the years,
especially with an aging population developing age-related disease, or an occasional illness befalling
younger birds.  As heart wrenching as it is, this experience has helped to guide me, although the decision
is always a unique and difficult one to choose every time I face it.


Benden was 18 years old when he fell ill a second time. By ordinary standards, 18 is a ripe old age for a
cockatiel, although his cage mate, Dixie - the second cockatiel I bred and hand-fed from my aviary, was a
near record-breaking 29 year-old cockatiel. A small, yet “wiry” built male, I always thought Dixie would be
the first to go. Benden was a larger bird descended from national award winning show stock and his
aging father and other relatives were already several years his senior.


Although Benden had a bout with liver disease some years earlier, he had been hospitalized and returned
home where treatment was completed and he was able to return to normal life for almost another
decade. Some forms of liver disease are treatable, and Benden was fortunate to have board certified
avian veterinarians who kept appraised of cutting-edge information.


Recently, I discovered Benden symptomatic again: fluffed up, inactive, overly thirsty, with loose droppings,
depressed appetite and considerable weight loss. He was taken to his veterinarian who administered a
complete examination and took blood from his wing to run a chemistry profile, CBC (complete blood
count) and other tests. The results would be known the next day. Benden went home for supportive care,
a heated environment to keep him warm, and soft foods that would be easy to eat.


The next morning, I found Benden at the bottom of the cage and raced to the kitchen to prepare a hand-
feeding formula. The hospital called with the lab results, which were not good, and I arranged to
immediately take Benden to one of the avian veterinarians. Testing had indicated kidney damage to two-
thirds of his kidneys, with an underlying liver disease.  As an aviculturist, I knew well what this meant; as
a pet owner, my heart was breaking. We discussed the blood work, his history and his age and I was
presented with the options of treatment or euthanasia.


Under some conditions, euthanasia, known as putting a bird to sleep with an overdose of anesthesia, can
be an appropriate choice. Certainly, in an aging bird with little hope for recovery or further quality of life,
euthanasia is the best choice.


However, Benden did appear to demonstrate some quality of life. Strength was evident as he gripped my
finger, he enjoyed his head scratches as I held him to my face, he demonstrated interest in food, although
unable to eat, and he had vocalized to cage mates when separated the day before. The option of
attempting treatment was discussed, and it was decided that if he could successfully be tube-fed without
regurgitating his foods and medications, treatments might stop further damage, and provide weeks,
months, maybe even years of life ahead. It was worth giving Benden another day, perhaps two, and a
chance to find out if we could save him once again.


In determining what is in the best interest of the bird, the primary consideration is to observe whether
there is still quality of life. Quality of life implies a lack of pain and suffering, where there is joy in eating,
companionship and play, when the good hours steadfastly outweigh the bad, and the good days far
outweigh the poor days. If that balance should shift and quality suffers without hope of improvement,
when it has reached a point where all reasonable hope to save a special companion bird’s life has
passed, then the final gift of euthanasia can be a blessing.


Benden never recovered and could not keep down either the food or medications administered. I was
able to give him that precious gift of euthanasia, administered kindly by professionals. I know it was the
right choice for Benden.


The final blood work came back the next day revealing highly elevated levels of liver disease, reinforcing
that the decision made was in the best interest of Benden, to alleviate his pain and suffering.


Good night my dearest Benden, may you sleep well and in peace until we meet again.
To read an instructional article by Linda S. Rubin
and learn more on euthanasia, see the feature article
in the August 2011 issue of Bird Talk magazine.
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