For a better understanding of feather picking in pet birds, one must realize that birds are emotional animals affected psychologically by both physical and mental stress. The feather picking or plucking bird can be identified by the presence of healthy head feathers with feather loss and/or mutilated feathers in body areas accessible to the bird’s beak. If feather loss on the head is observed, the bird may be rubbing the feathers, another bird may be picking the feathers off, or a disease other than feather picking is the cause. Typical feather picking sites include the propatagium (inner wing web area), inner thighs, and the chest. Diagnosis is based on detailed history provided by the bird owner, a physical exam and recommended laboratory tests that may include an exam of the droppings, blood profiles, radiographs, culture, and biopsy of affected skin areas.
Dietary history is especially important – type of diet, amount, what is actually eaten, and how often. Also your veterinarian will want to know how long the bird has been showing feather picking behavior, time frame of when this behavior first started and progression of lesions. Previous treatment and its effect on the feather picking behavior is also important in helping the veterinarian do their best in making treatment recommendations. Any environmental or household changes that one can associate with the onset of the feather picking would also be helpful information. All this background information is important to know as feather picking behavior is often divided into behavioral and medical causes.
As you can see there are many potential underlying causes for feather picking behavior and explains why your veterinarian may recommend a variety of diagnostic tests in order to narrow the origin of this frustrating problem. If diagnosed with a specific medical problem treatment can be tailored to alleviate the condition and hopefully stop the picking behavior. If the bird is considered healthy on thorough examination, then the owner must focus on behavioral aspects that may be the underlying cause. The bird owner must also realize that if this bird has been feather picking for an extended period (months to years) then it may be very difficult to reverse, and that as long as the bird is healthy otherwise it can live with the problem. Nutrition, cage environment and activity/play periods all need to be reviewed and modified if necessary. Time and patience along with trial and error, will go a long way in determining if the picking behavior can be controlled.
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