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Stunted Chick Help! Is this an emergency?- Sad Update Post #14

Cecily

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Hi, everyone! I hope this is the right place to put this -- please let me know if I should move it or can provide any other information! I'm in a weird situation and desperately need experienced advice. I've raised baby birds, but none before at LEAST 6 weeks of age. :( Joined to see if someone can help!

My partner contracts for nursing homes. These homes often have aquariums or aviaries for residents to watch. Feb 19th, a lovebird was injured by a care home resident; he accidentally shut her head in the aviary door (!!!) What's worse, she had BABIES. The home was unable to tell us when they'd hatched, but here's a photo of them from the 17th if that can help anyone guess their age.

IMG_2855.jpg


We immediately took mama lovebird to the vet, then brought her and her babies home with us for observation and care. The vet said the mother had damaged both eyes but was otherwise fine. During the first few days, she stopped feeding the runt nestling completely; as soon as she did I picked up the job with Kaytee formula, made at the temp and ratio directed (using boiled water and clean feeding tools.) Eventually she kicked the two smallest babies out of the nest, at which point I put them in an incubator (started at 90, brought down to 87.) I've been caring for them ever since, and I'm hoping anyone with experience can help me troubleshoot what I'm doing wrong.

The older one, Jon, is very active and alert. Crop emptying at a good rate; I feed him every time he's down to about 1/3rd full, which is every three hours right now. I have him on thick Kaytee formula, and every other feeding I include a little kale/apple baby food. He's starting to chew curiously on soaked food pellets, but isn't interested in them if they aren't offered, so I offer them every other feeding and will go at his pace with that. I suspect he's food-panicy due to being abandoned, as he won't stop begging even when stuffed completely to risk of regurgitating, so I'm keeping him on a strict schedule based on crop emptying. He had splay legs, but I have him in hobbles and they're straightening up well. He has a cowlick on head, which I believe is a sign of stunting; his feathers are not coming in as fast as his brothers, but I am hoping if I feed patiently and regularly, he may just be a slow grower, as his attitude is otherwise bright and engaged. Is this all reasonable? Is there anything else I can be doing for him? His attitude and weight gain suggest he's okay, just slower than his brothers.


PROBLEM CHILD:

The smallest, Martin, sleeps mostly, but will go on random adventures in his makeshift nest and has serious strength in his legs, though they're starting to splay (I have him on aspen shavings, but will hobble him if this continues.) He begs eagerly if aware of your presence, and digestion is moving well. Poop looks normal. However, like Jon, he continues to beg even when full to danger of regurgitation, and here's what he looks like...

Here he is on the 22nd:

IMG_2720.jpeg



And here he is today, the 9th (so he's at least 20 days old.)

IMG_2853.jpeg


What am I doing wrong?! He has gained a little less than two grams in the past two weeks, and is now SEVEN GRAMS. His brother Jon already has pinions coming in! He's incredibly stunted, right? Bulbous head, veins showing through nares, no feathers coming in? Normally I'd assume I've fed too-thin formula, but I'm following mixing instructions closely.

Here's what I've done/considered so far:

1) Called vet, described situation; was told they'd suggest euthanasia based on his description. I'd like to keep trying as long as Martin seems to be in no pain/distress, rests well, and shows energy for exploring/eating, if that doesn't sound unreasonable/unfair to the bird. Am I being selfish in continuing to try for this little guy?
2) Had a fecal stain done; good results.
3) After two days of a 'clicking' while breathing (which in the past has always signified a respiratory issue in wild fledglings I've fostered) I put him on a five-day course of Morning Bird company's Amoxitex, which cleared up the clicking. Today is the final day, after which I'll be giving him Morning Bird probiotics to recover his bacteria. In the meantime, his digestion slowed a little (which I've had happen before to birds on antibiotics) and I've been lacing his Kaytee with a little fresh squeezed papaya and apple juice, which seemed to get him back to normal speed.
4) Incubator at 87 degrees, feeding happening every time crop is 1/3rd to 1/4th full (about every two hours.) Kaytee formula made to measurements on packaging, fed at 106 degrees. Every other feeding, I mix in 1/5th baby food: apple, carrot, kale, or mango.

Is there something obvious I'm missing? Is this a genetic issue I can't win against? Am I somehow messing something up?

Immense thanks for reading all of this, and any thoughts/help would be so incredibly appreciated!
 
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Zara

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Welcome to the Avenue, I applaud your efforts. You´ve done everything you could for the little ones. I´m amazed the mum made such a speedy recovery, how lucky! You did great caring for the two abandoned chicks, and that shows in Jon. I had a bird like him, and she turned out well.
This family were lucky you were able to help them. I do wonder where is dad though. The father will help out on feeds, so maybe that ´s why she booted the two youngest, unable to keep up?

I mix in 1/5th baby food: apple, carrot, kale, or mango.
This is not needed.

Am I somehow messing something up?
No, you´re doing everything you can.

He's incredibly stunted, right?
Yes, it´s very unfortunate.

was told they'd suggest euthanasia based on his description. I'd like to keep trying as long as Martin seems to be in no pain/distress, rests well, and shows energy for exploring/eating, if that doesn't sound unreasonable/unfair to the bird.
Do what you think is right, I´m sorry I really don´t know the answer. I´m sure that´s very difficult for you.
 

Zara

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The home was unable to tell us when they'd hatched, but here's a photo of them from the 17th if that can help anyone guess their age.
The chick at the top approx 10 days old, the others approx a week old (could be around 8 days). Hard to be more specific than that.
I´m thinking that is Jon in the pic? and Martin is inside the egg. Impossible to guess Jons age.
 

Cecily

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Zara, thank you so, so much for taking the time to give such thoughtful responses. I'm doing my best to do right by these guys but lovebirds are waaaay outside of my wheelhouse and I was desperate for an experienced eye (our vet is great, but not hugely experienced in fledglings, and in our very rural area my choices for vet care are slim.) I've been loaded with guilt thinking there must be something I'm failing or missing to cause such a stunted baby, but at this point it sounds like it might be a bad luck combo of genetics, stress, and timing: I called the care home this afternoon to get more info and found out this is the THIRD clutch this mother has had this year alone! My partner had done everything she can to avoid breeding (light timer, no nesting material, etc) but an employee at the home put in a box against her request and mama immediately put it to use. :| Between Mom being injured and maybe out of nutrients, I'm wondering if Martin was just not provided the nutrition he needed from the very start (he also looks like he might be albino or very light?)

The father is alive and well, but he has a history of being nippy with babies after a certain age, and normally this mother keeps him at bay (another reason my partner had requested the home avoid letting the pair breed.) Since she was so non-responsive for the first few days after injury, we didn't dare bring him home with her and the babies. Now that she's back in the aviary and well, he's feeding her constantly.

The chick at the top approx 10 days old, the others approx a week old (could be around 8 days). Hard to be more specific than that.
I´m thinking that is Jon in the pic? and Martin is inside the egg. Impossible to guess Jons age.
I had thought so too! I called the care home, though, and they said the egg never hatched -- so that little one must be Martin. He's lost fluff and gained nothing in return! I'm crushed that he might be a lost cause, but I'll keep him happy and warm/fed until I make a decision. We always got to do what's best for the animal but it's hard when he's clearly still full of fight. Thank you so much for your kindness in this issue.

At your convenience, if you wouldn't mind putting an eye on Jon in case there's any obvious issues I've missed? This is him mid-feed this afternoon.

IMG_2858.jpeg

IMG_2859.jpeg


The feathers on his crown came out in a spiral. Not sure if that's a lovebird thing or a cowlick but I'm cocking a suspicious eyebrow at it. I've only worked with wildlife rescues or parrotlet babies before so I'm just googling "lovebird babies" and trying to compare his skin/fluff/posture with whatever I can find!
 

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Thank you for trying so hard with these babies. @Zara is very knowledgeable and will steer you right.

Unfortunately it does look like Martin has some issues. The size of the head makes me wonder if he's developed hydrocephalus, although there's no way to tell without a physical examination. I don't think it's unreasonable to continue to care for him as long as he's active and not in distress. However, I would be very very careful about monitoring his quality of life and to err on the side of caution to ensure that he isn't suffering. If he does get sick, his tiny body probably doesn't have the physical reserves to fight it. It's a heartbreaking decision but I would euthanise rather than dragging things out.

As well as the issues of stress and timing, there's a high likelihood that the parents are related if they were purchased at the same time from the same place. Well done on your partner for her efforts - these birds really shouldn't be breeding.

How are you feeding them? It's generally better to feed them with a small spoon or syringe so that they learn how to swallow properly. Gavage-fed babies sometimes have problems learning how to co-ordinate movements in their beaks and throats so that they can swallow.
 

Zara

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I called the care home this afternoon to get more info and found out this is the THIRD clutch this mother has had this year alone!
Poor girl :( If she carries on, especially without the right supplements, she could easily deplete her nutrients and breed herself to death. Lovebirds are little machines and won´t stop. The nest box encourages the laying, with is extremely unhealthly. Allowing the clutches means the chicks, especially the ones laid last may not have optimum nutrients in the egg, and that guarantees a bad start for them. This could be why your littles ones aren´t in a good way.

My partner had done everything she can to avoid breeding (light timer, no nesting material, etc) but an employee at the home put in a box against her request and mama immediately put it to use. :|
I really hope they start taking your partner more seriously. Yes it´s lovely for residents to see the birds inthe aviary, but allowing them to breed is irresponsible. Maybe your partner could do some checks and boil eggs? or pursuade a worker at the home to. It won´t stop her laying, but at least it takes away the stress of feeding and raising chicks.

in case there's any obvious issues I've missed?
You would really need a vet to diagnose if there were any problems. Just by looking at him he looks a little underweight, but as he is growing slower, hopefully he will catch up in the end. Just keep on as you are, you´re doing great :) Remember with Jon, don´t wean by when they are ¨supposed to¨, go by when he rejects the formula. So it could be a few extra weeks, but it´s important he weans on his own accord.
Be sure humidity is set to 60-65%
 

Cecily

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How are you feeding them? It's generally better to feed them with a small spoon or syringe so that they learn how to swallow properly. Gavage-fed babies sometimes have problems learning how to co-ordinate movements in their beaks and throats so that they can swallow.
Thank you so much for your help!! Right now I'm using a 1ml syringe, aiming for giving a swallowable amount across the tongue towards the back right (his right) of the chick's mouth. That's how I do it for wild fledglings; is there anything different I should be careful of for a parrot?


Poor girl :( If she carries on, especially without the right supplements, she could easily deplete her nutrients and breed herself to death. Lovebirds are little machines and won´t stop. The nest box encourages the laying, with is extremely unhealthly. Allowing the clutches means the chicks, especially the ones laid last may not have optimum nutrients in the egg, and that guarantees a bad start for them. This could be why your littles ones aren´t in a good way.


I really hope they start taking your partner more seriously. Yes it´s lovely for residents to see the birds inthe aviary, but allowing them to breed is irresponsible. Maybe your partner could do some checks and boil eggs? or pursuade a worker at the home to. It won´t stop her laying, but at least it takes away the stress of feeding and raising chicks.


You would really need a vet to diagnose if there were any problems. Just by looking at him he looks a little underweight, but as he is growing slower, hopefully he will catch up in the end. Just keep on as you are, you´re doing great :) Remember with Jon, don´t wean by when they are ¨supposed to¨, go by when he rejects the formula. So it could be a few extra weeks, but it´s important he weans on his own accord.
Be sure humidity is set to 60-65%
It's really good to hear our concerns aren't unfounded! Lauren is a fierce advocate for the animals, but some care home/hospital managers just don't want to hear how important it is to follow her instructions to the letter (she's dealt with a fair amount of "it's just a fish" or "it's just a bird" in her time, and as fish and parrot parents, that drives both of us bonkers.) This facility is one she's made repeated reports about to her supervisor, and we're hoping this debacle will finally convince everyone she knows what she's talking about! If not, she's going to request swapping the love pair out for a different one that aren't broody. She does check eggs every time she visits, but this home is a state away and she visits every two weeks -- this clutch fit right in the gap. Normally she catches and removes any fertile eggs before there's real formation. She's real upset that staff didn't take her seriously in her attempts to halt breeding, so we'll see how this goes.

I've set up a vet visit to get both Jon and Martin checked out. In the meantime, I'll continue with what I'm doing. Thank you SO so much for all your time and knowledge!
 

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Hi there, first I want to say what you are doing is EXCEPTIONAL. You are doing absolutely everything right. The only thing not needed was the baby food. I do believe the papaya and apple can be very good for digestion and have tested adding papaya with my birds (I can see a difference when I use it so I keep it on hand and use it as I need to). I the tiniest bit of papaya with all my young babies and especially the slow growers. It does seem to speed digestion which allows me to feed just a little more and keep slow crop at bay.

As you may know parrots hatch in the order that their eggs were laid and so a clutch of birds will vary widely in age and size, the younger ones are more often neglected then the older ones so they can get behind in growth. If they start out with a enough nutrients but not an over abundance they will start out growing more slowly and will continue to grow on that slow path until mature but will usually catch up. Slow growth is not the same as stunting syndrome. Don't give up on Martin. The best thing to do is compare him to himself and not to the others. His progress will not match theirs so just keep taking care of him. Make sure he is warm enough and gets those extra feedings. If he is only at 7 grams then it will take a long time to gain a significant amount of weight per day. Those first few grams seem to take so long. Just keep going as long as he seems to be comfortable.

I have seen the slower growth path many times with babies who were not feed enough or frequently enough by their mom or handfeeder. All you can hope for is that he got enough to get started.

Stunting happens when growth occurs but the bird does not take in enough nutrients to support the growth. Slow growth occurs when the bird starts out with less nutrition but still gets enough to support growth. Once the growth gets set at a slow pace the pace will not increase but normal growth can occur, just at a slower rate. This same thing happens with wild birds whose parents can't find an abundance of food. If growth is slow enough then the babies can still be normal with less food. If growth starts out fast and then food supplies drop off you will also getting stunting because the body tries to grow and build itself up without the proper nutritional support and the bird will have major problems.

My point is I think there is a decent chance that Martin will be fine, only time will tell. Extra special care is in order :) Keep up the great work!
 

Zara

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If not, she's going to request swapping the love pair out for a different one that aren't broody
Maybe switch the female/s for male/s.

I hope all goes well at the vet visit :fingerscrossed:
 

Cecily

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Hi there, first I want to say what you are doing is EXCEPTIONAL. You are doing absolutely everything right. The only thing not needed was the baby food. I do believe the papaya and apple can be very good for digestion and have tested adding papaya with my birds (I can see a difference when I use it so I keep it on hand and use it as I need to). I the tiniest bit of papaya with all my young babies and especially the slow growers. It does seem to speed digestion which allows me to feed just a little more and keep slow crop at bay.

As you may know parrots hatch in the order that their eggs were laid and so a clutch of birds will vary widely in age and size, the younger ones are more often neglected then the older ones so they can get behind in growth. If they start out with a enough nutrients but not an over abundance they will start out growing more slowly and will continue to grow on that slow path until mature but will usually catch up. Slow growth is not the same as stunting syndrome. Don't give up on Martin. The best thing to do is compare him to himself and not to the others. His progress will not match theirs so just keep taking care of him. Make sure he is warm enough and gets those extra feedings. If he is only at 7 grams then it will take a long time to gain a significant amount of weight per day. Those first few grams seem to take so long. Just keep going as long as he seems to be comfortable.
Gosh, I can't even verbalize how grateful I am for all the wisdom and advice!! This forum is a gem! Thank you so much for the information.

Martin's not emptying quite as fast as he was initially, but I expected that due to the antibiotics. I've pulled all baby food, as you said, but am providing the appropriate amount of probiotics in the morning and a little fresh squeezed papaya/apple in most feedings, and the improvement in his digestion speed is visible! I'm so relieved!

I'm turning this issue over in my head, and maybe you have some thoughts: With formula mixed to the consistency I was using when Martin was twoish weeks, he empties about every three hours. If I use a consistency closer to what I'd use for his 'technical' age, a month, I'm looking at a six hour wait for that to be digested; maybe more with the post-antibiotics. My assumption was that (as long as I don't see empty crop below two hours) the speed was good because it would allow him to keep processing nutrients; however, I don't want to be artificially (with the thinner formula than I would feed a month-old) making his digestion move so fast that he's not got the time to properly absorb what he needs. Because his body is still so 'young', I'm feeding based on what I presume his body wants. Any thoughts on this?

Maybe switch the female/s for male/s.

I hope all goes well at the vet visit :fingerscrossed:
Yeah, we're thinking female setup. Mama needs a break! And thank you so much. Driving out tomorrow in the evening. I've never transported anyone as young as Jon and Martin, and I'm trying to brainstorm ways to keep their temp correct; any ideas? Right now my best thought is heat packs in a cooler for the babies to snuggle into.
 

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A small container lined with plenty of aspen shavings, Martin may need a small unscented kleenex to keep him from rolling around.
If you have a thermometer , take that so you can monitor temperature during the journey.
Ideally, have someone sit in the car with you to check in on the little ones if possible.
 

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I'm turning this issue over in my head, and maybe you have some thoughts: With formula mixed to the consistency I was using when Martin was twoish weeks, he empties about every three hours. If I use a consistency closer to what I'd use for his 'technical' age, a month, I'm looking at a six hour wait for that to be digested; maybe more with the post-antibiotics. My assumption was that (as long as I don't see empty crop below two hours) the speed was good because it would allow him to keep processing nutrients; however, I don't want to be artificially (with the thinner formula than I would feed a month-old) making his digestion move so fast that he's not got the time to properly absorb what he needs. Because his body is still so 'young', I'm feeding based on what I presume his body wants. Any thoughts on this?
I am so glad that he is doing well. I am not familiar with the so called feeding schedule for a lovebird but I suspect that it works the same with most parrots, I have raise parrotlets and caiques for a number of years each. In both cases it is only necessary to thin the formula if you are having issues with slow crop if the bird is less than 5 days old. Anytime it is thinned then you are reducing the amount of nutrients that the bird is getting so I would only thin it if there is a real reason to do so. One reason that I can think of is in the case of severe slow crop, the reason you might do this is to allow the old food to pass out while offering some nutrition and still hydrating but this is the most rudimentary way to accomplish that. It is much more preferable to use either a more nutrient rich food, add papaya to speed up digestion or use a formula that is fortified with nutrients but easier to digest. Any time the formula is thinned it is always the goal to slowly get it back up to the full thickness.

Also the thinner the formula the more risk there is of aspiration. It is possible to feed liquid and not aspirate but the risk is higher if the food is more liquid. I find with slow growing babies that you should treat them the way you treat a normal baby who looks like them rather than going by their age. So if he looks like a two week old but is 4 weeks then you should feed and warm him like a two week old because developmentally that is where he is.

To make it more simple, if you weigh him then you should feed him roughly 10% of his weight at each feeding. That is the goal but in reality it will depend on how much his crop can hold. If it can hold less then you should fill him up to capacity each time so it will continue to stretch if it is bigger then you can still fill him but you don't want it to stretch too much. Most times 10% (give or take a little is about right).

In my opinion if he is not having any digestion issues then you could try to give regular undiluted formula, if you encounter a problem then just add a little more papaya to the mix. As you observed it makes a huge difference in crop motility. The benefit of adding more papaya rather then more water is that he will get more calories and nutrition from the papaya.

Just monitor carefully.

Sorry that I have no idea what at "normal" schedule for feeding lovebirds is maybe @Zara can help.
 

Zara

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I find with slow growing babies that you should treat them the way you treat a normal baby who looks like them rather than going by their age. So if he looks like a two week old but is 4 weeks then you should feed and warm him like a two week old because developmentally that is where he is.
Agreed. I had one slow grower and this was how I fed her. Her siblings were down to two feeds and she was still on 4.

So if you´re feeding Martin aver few hours right now, as he grows he will gain weight, and therefore be able to eat more formula per feeding, meaning the time between feeds will shorten.
For chicks, I pulled at 3-3.5 weeks, I start them on 4 feeds. Then at approx 5 weeks they reduce to three and start getting adult foods (weaning), from there they get a feeding dropped ever week more or less, but really their schedules are created by the bird so it´s hard to say exactly. Once they aren´t eating full feeds for a few days, they get one removed. They can wean anywhere between 6-8 weeks.
My slow grower weaned at about 5.5 months, I think that is unusual though. She did eat lots of adult foods, but wanted her formula too.
 

Cecily

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Hi, everyone. First, thank you so much for all the help for feeding and travel.

Took them to the vet. Beforehand I was so nervous about traveling with something so young -- went back and forth on how much it worried me -- on the drive I kept panicking, like, should I hold them instead for comfort? Temp in the cooler was good and I allowed for air flow, but was it enough? Kept telling myself to stop being anal. Vet visit went incredibly; Jon's doing great, and the vet said Martin was in extremely good health for his situation, and that his prognosis was good! She predicted slow growth, but said he was in peak health for the situation; when I relayed all the steps I've taken/am taking for him through the secretary, the vet sent the secretary out to my car specifically to deliver this message: 'I'd let you raise any baby bird that has come through here!' God, the wash of relief. This whole time I've been so worried I was doing something, anything, wrong.

So we drove home absolutely giddy with relief, cautious optimism, almost heady celebration. I kept whispering "thank god." I was so proud of him. He wanted so terribly badly to live. I was just so proud.

At home I opened the cooler immediately, and Martin was on his back, dead.

I don't know. Called the vet once I got my bearings to see if there was anything she suspected for contagion (for Jon); she was floored. The only thing she could give me was that at his young size, the stress of the trip killed him.

I just don't know. I keep running over everything I did and did not do. I'd spent weeks up every two hours, expecting every time I checked the incubator to find him gone, prepped for the loss, but I was so ecstatic and grateful for him in that moment as I opened the carrier. It didn't feel real. He fought every inch of the way through so many near misses -- I had to feed him tiny drops of food for six hours straight once to bring him back from body temp loss -- and then I killed him by doing what I thought was the right thing. Or maybe doing it wrong. Maybe if I held him he'd be alive. Maybe if I brought them in a different carrier or less tissues and more shavings. Maybe it was too hot. Maybe it wasn't hot enough. I checked the temp but maybe it went up while I wasn't looking. Or down. I can't stop crying. I knew this was a distinct possibility but for those twenty minutes on the drive I had such relief. God.

I'm sorry to dump all this on folks who have been so incredibly helpful. I didn't have anyone to tell how much it hurt. I hoped someone would understand.

Jon is doing fantastic; today he's up two grams, accepted spoon-feeding for the first time (and quickly became a pro!) and he's starting to like snuggling after feedings instead of just wanting more food no matter how stuffed he is. (I've been practicing holding him a bit longer each time before tucking him back into the incubator.) He's got his first feathers starting to come out of their sheaths on his head, and I'm very proud of how far he's come. Thank you all so, so much for your incredible experience and wisdom; he's got a good chance, I think, and it's due to you guys being so incredibly helpful. I can't thank everyone enough.
 

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Awww, I am so incredibly sorry to hear about Martin. I don't think the vet should have surmised that it was the trip. Babies really do not get super stressed like that. I don't believe it was the trip. It could have been many things that are not detectable with a physical exam. When they are are so little and so fragile anything can go wrong. We always have to hope for the best but it doesn't always work out the way we would like.

Take comfort in knowing you did all that you could, you did everything right and you gave him the best chance. Hugs.
 

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I am sorry for your loss.
 

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Poor sweet Martin...Fly free young one...
 

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I’m so sorry for your loss. :sadhug2:


Sometimes, there isn’t a reason for these things. Try to be easy on yourself. You gave him the best possible shot and I know he was grateful.
 

Zara

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So sad. It´s always hard to lose the little ones.
You really did do everything you could and you took great care of the chicks and are doing wonderfully with Jon.
Sending my sympathies :sadhug:
 

tka

Rollerblading along the road
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I'm sorry for your loss. For what it's worth, I don't think you did anything wrong - my guess is that he had other issues that wouldn't have been picked up during a physical exam. You've done and are doing a superb job at caring for them both. You gave both the best possible chance at life. Without you, Martin wouldn't have made it even this far. He got to experience love and warmth and care in his short life, and you made that happen.

It sounds like Jon is thriving!
 
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