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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question

Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Vet
Satisfied Customers: 27372
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 44 years of experience.
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Our African Grey bird has just started pulling her feathers

Customer Question

Our African Grey bird has just started pulling her feathers out, she is now bald all round her neck, part way down her chest and has only 1 tail feather. She is eating and drinking normally. The only change in the house is a new puppy but we do have an older dog which she is used to. We also have a second African who is ok.
How can we stop the feather plucking?
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Vet
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.
Aloha! You're speaking with Dr. Michael Salkin
I'm sorry that your question wasn't answered in a timely manner. We don't have a lot of avian-oriented vets on the site. I can understand your frustration at this time. The etiology of feather picking/chewing/self-mutilation can be a challenge to determine particularly if you don't have an avian-oriented vet (please see here: www.aav.org) available where you live. Both medical and behavioral causes exist.
Birds usually chew the breast feathers and areas under the wing and around the legs but any pattern can present. Feathers on the head remain unless a molt or medical disorder is present. Medical disorders include infection with the protozoan parasite Giardia spp. and should be a consideration when picking of the feathers over the ventral (lower) abdomen is seen and zinc toxicosis due to chewing on zinc-plated cages has also been shown to be linked to feather picking. Anecdotal reports suggest that a unilateral (one-sided) pattern of picking may indicate a disease process under the area of picking such as ovarian or renal disorders. Viral infections such as psittacine beak and feather disease or polyomavirus, bacterial folliculitis, dermal yeast infection, or topical irritants need to be considered as well.
Rarely do birds feather pick with external parasites and so it's not appropriate to treat with insecticides unless directed to do so by a vet.
There are many rule-outs for behavioral feather picking including improper socialization when raised by humans resulting in phobic birds or those with obsessive-compulsive disorders - which should be a consideration when this behavior is preceded by a molt. A traumatic event can cause a bird to become nervous and pick; anecdotal examples abound such as witnessing an attack by a hawk outside the window at a bird feeder, the owner leaving for vacation, a change in the color of the cage, a nervous owner, and the death of a mate or owner. perhaps the new puppy has upset Gypsy. Some birds improve in a new home with a new owner for unknown reasons.
Here's where an avian-oriented vet will be necessary...
All possible medical causes for a bird's feather picking are evaluated first; then if no medical cause is found, behavioral causes are explored or presumptively treated with psychotherapeutic drugs such as clomipramine which would need to be prescribed by a vet. A complete blood count and biochemical profile, blood lead and serum zinc test (Louisiana Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory can run this test on just 0.1ml of blood and serum), X-rays, psittacine beak and feather disease test, and fecal ova and parasite exam and fecal ELISA test for Giardia spp, if necessary, are performed along with a feather follicle biopsy and culture. Consider the introduction of toxins into Gypsy's environment as well - the great majority of which can’t be tested for.
General and presumptive treatment includes removing any stressors, improving Gypsy's diet* and restoring what Gypsy perceives as a normal environment. Consider clomipramine which works well in true obsessive-compulsive disorders. Distracting Gypsy with toys, a "sweater" over the area may help but be sure that Gypsy can also engage in normal and necessary preening behavior. A collar isn't recommended as it doesn't allow Gypsy to engage in normal preening behavior, normal feeding behavior, and normal movement. A collar should only be used if Gypsy in imminent danger of hurting him/herself (self-mutilation). Finally, many birds normalize once their molt is complete and so simply "watchful waiting" may be appropriate at that time.
*Please consider a balanced pelleted diet such as can be found here: www.harrisonsbirdfoods.com/ and here: labefer.com/pet-birds/ Don't hesitate to offer hard boiled egg yolk, dairy products, the tops of fresh greens, a vitamin supplement in her water (Oasis, e.g.) at half the recommended dose so her water doesn't become distasteful and a calcium supplement such as Calciboost and Calcivet.
Please respond with further questions or concerns if you wish.
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Vet
Satisfied Customers: 27372
Experience: University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 44 years of experience.
Dr. Michael Salkin and 2 other Vet Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  Dr. Michael Salkin replied 1 year ago.
Thank you for your kind accept. I appreciate it.
I'm going to check back with you in a few weeks for an update. Feel free to return to our conversation - even after rating - prior to my contacting you if you wish.
Please disregard the info request.

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