Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Palm Harbor veterinarian pushes for better nutrition for pet birds

PALM HARBOR — Inside the Amazon rainforest, thousands of miles from his office in Palm Harbor, the holistic veterinarian watched a colony of chattering macaws glide above the treetops.

"They looked like little blue and gold jewels filling the sky," said Dr. Joel Murphy, recalling a research trip in 2009. "They were so beautiful, healthy and happy."

Murphy, who taught graduate avian medicine at the University of Georgia and has lectured at veterinary schools from the Bahamas to Nepal, aims to recreate that vibrancy in the Tampa Bay area. He studies eating patterns in the wild to bring healthier diets to domestic pets.

Exotic bird owners from New Port Richey to Pinellas Park to Carrollwood seek Murphy's unusual care, which includes blood serum tests, a self-concocted line of flower essences, and dietary counseling. But most of the sick parrots, cockatiels and parakeets Murphy encounters in the bay area — about 2,000 annually — die early from malnutrition, he said.

"It's a huge, huge problem," said Murphy, who runs a practice for dogs, cats and his specialty, birds, on U.S. 19 near Nebraska Avenue. "People bring me their beloved pets and have no idea what's wrong with them."

For years, Murphy operated an exotic bird research center in Palm Harbor. When a surprise divorce rocked his finances in 2005, he closed the operation. His continued research is independent, out of pocket.

The rainforest macaws and other exotic birds Murphy has observed nibble nuts, berries and tree bark loaded with vitamins and essential fatty acids — ingredients largely missing from many brands of pet store food.

He's written four books and more than 100 articles related to the subject, most recently How to Care for Your Pet Bird. He constantly campaigns to visitors inside his waiting room, which he paid about $2,000 to "pet feng shui" with gold dragons and amethyst stones.

"I do everything I can to get through to people," he said. "Proper, natural nutrition information is out there. The problem is fixable. We just need to bring attention to it."

About eight years ago, when Clearwater resident Donna Taylor's emerald green Amazon parrot stopped talking and eating, two emergency room referrals guided her to Murphy. She felt her pet, Billy, was close to death.

A tissue biopsy determined the bird suffered from severe liver cirrhosis. His previous owner, a restaurant manager, used to feed Billy beer, Taylor explained.

"Dr. Murphy didn't even consider putting Billy down," she said. "I've never seen that kind of compassion in a vet. Instead, we started a regimen of twice-daily holistic medications and we got five more wonderful years with him."

Now, Taylor schedules regular appointments with Murphy to monitor the health of her Amazon, macaw and Caique birds.

"My husband and I had no idea how to correctly feed them before we talked to Dr. Murphy," Taylor said. "Now, they only eat fresh, human-grade foods."

To keep exotic birds healthy and happy, Murphy offers owners three basic guidelines: Provide a diet of fruits, vegetables, water and fortified pellets; weigh pets daily, because weight loss is often the first and only sign of illness in birds; and give large breeds proper training to foster good behavior (and avoid bouts of screeching and scratching).

"Birds are just like little people," Murphy said. "You've got to love them and treat them as though they're part of the family."

Danielle Paquette can be reached at dpaquette@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4224.

Palm Harbor veterinarian pushes for better nutrition for pet birds 11/07/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 7:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Plan your weekend Aug. 18-20: Elvis in concert, Jason Aldean, Monster Jam Triple Threat, Sing-Along Grease

    Events

    Plan your weekend

    The king

    Elvis: Live in Concert: This year marks the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, and Ruth Eckerd Hall will have a Graceland-produced Elvis concert on a movie screen, accompanied by a full live orchestra. Graceland calls it the closest audiences …

    Handout photos of Elvis: Live in Concert, a tour spectacle featuring a live orchestra backing the voice of Elvis Presley, projected onto a movie screen. The tour comes to Ruth Eckerd Hall on 8/18/17. Credit: Graceland.
  2. Woman convicted in murder of 18-year-old with cerebral palsy gets lighter term

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Linda Bonck, a 90-pound Chamberlain High School senior with cerebral palsy, lived near Tampa's Lowry Park. She struggled to walk and talk but was known for being friendly and trusting of strangers until she vanished one day in 1992.

    Georgia Miller, 39, was convicted for the 1992 murder of Linda Bonck, an 18-year-old Chamberlain High School student who had cerebral palsy. Originally sentenced to life in prison, Miller was resentenced Wednesday to 65 years, the result of U.S. and Florida Supreme Court decisions that found it unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life. With gain time, Miller will be released from prison in the next six years. [Florida Department of Corrections]
  3. Boynton Beach woman arrested on DUI, child abuse charges

    Criminal

    A Boynton Beach woman was arrested Saturday and faces DUI and child abuse charges after she blew a .200 on a breath test with an unbuckled child in the backseat, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.

    Brandy Lerma, 31 of Boynton Beach, was arrested on DUI and child abuse charges on Saturday. [Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Editorial: Why can't Hillsborough commissioners move Confederate monument?

    Editorials

    The violence in Charlottesville, Va., crystallized for much of the nation the danger of refusing to address painful symbols of the past. But not so in Hillsborough County, where the County Commission on Wednesday reversed itself yet again and left open the possibility of leaving a Confederate monument outside the …

  5. Former WTSP employee sues station's parent companies for gender discrimination

    Civil

    A former director at WTSP-Ch. 10 has sued the station's parent companies, claiming she was the victim of gender discrimination.