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Feather plucking, also known as feather picking, happens when birds bite, chew, and pull out their feathers. Birds left free to pluck their feathers can do major damage to themselves, including physical harm and opening sores.
Some birds are at a higher risk of plucking, including cockatoos, cockatiels, conures, macaws, and parrots.
There is a difference between feather plucking, feather preening, and molting. Preening is a bird's way of grooming its feathers to keep them healthy and vibrant, and molting is the natural process of replacing old feathers.
This blog discusses feather plucking, why birds do it, home remedies, and modern medicine remedies.
WHY DO BIRDS PLUCK THEIR FEATHERS
Birds pluck their feathers for various reasons, including emotional issues, health issues, environmental factors, and nutritional issues. We can refer to these problems as root problems of feather plucking. Here is a list of potential root problems of feather plucking.
- Emotional – Emotional issues can include sexual frustration, stress, boredom, lack of interaction with other birds, and training.
- Health issues – Diseases like feather cyst, parasites like ringworm, liver disease, cancer, skin infections can all cause feather plucking.
- Environmental Factors – Environmental factors include allergies, lack of natural sunlight, and disruption in light and dark cycles. Cage size may also be a factor in feather plucking.
- Malnutrition – Imbalanced nutrition, mineral deficiencies, such as calcium, zinc, selenium, manganese, and magnesium, can cause brittle, frayed feathers and itchy skin, leading to feather plucking and bald areas.
HOME REMEDIES FOR FEATHER PLUCKING
First, it would be best to determine the root problem of the feather plucking. As discussed in the prior section, plucking can be caused by emotional, health, environmental, or nutritional problems. First, we will discuss the root problem remedies then break down other treatments.
- Emotional (Root Problem) – Your bird may have emotional problems leading to feather plucking. A common treatment for this is trying new toys or spending more time with the bird. Another option is to play around with the bird's food to make it a challenge. Generally, the bird needs more stimuli.
- Health (Root Problem) – Consult with your vet to find the underlying cause of plucking. It may be a health issue, and your vet will know what steps to take regarding treatment or medications.
- Environmental (Root Problem) – Give your bird 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of nighttime and quiet every day. You can cover the cage with a blue or black sheet to help block out light and distractions. You can also try moving the bird's cage to an area with more sunlight.
- Malnutrition (Root Problem) – Vary the bird's diet and make it interesting for them. Try different types of bird-recommended foods. Ensure the bird is getting all the proper nutrients from the food.
- Bee Pollen - Feeding bee pollen helps improve the immune system and prevent disease by preventing nutritional imbalances, inadequacies, and toxic buildup in the body. It is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet .
- The Vinegar Cure – The vinegar cure consists of a mix of 1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar (ACV) added to 1 quart of water three times a day (2 teaspoon ACV per cup of water). One the solution is prepared, you can spray-soak your bird with the mix. You can directly apply it to the damaged feather follicles with no issues. Birds do not like the taste of vinegar, thus the aversion to plucking.
- Aloe Vera – You can mix aloe Verajuice and water 50/50 to use for a daily solution. If you decide to use the Aloe Vera method, you can put the mix in a sprayer and soak the bird three times a day. Aloe Veraspray is quite effective in soothing and moisturizing itchy skin, and it will reduce dander. Aloe Verasprays are also available for those who prefer store-bought products.
- Palm Oil – Adding palm oil to a bird's diet can greatly improve feather conditions.
- CBD oil for birds – studies conducted with animals and humans have shown the safety of CBD. CBD promotes a sense of relaxation and helps optimize health. It can relieve your bird's worry, stress, and despair, allowing the bird to reclaim its positive side. It may help to reduce skin irritation and pain from self-mutilation. It may also help it regain his appetite and enjoy its food once more.
BIRD FEATHER PLUCKING TREATMENT: MODERN MEDICINE
There are other remedies for feather plucking. Some of these remedies include devices, and others are medications.
- Feather Plucking Collar – These collars were developed with avian veterinarians to deal with feather plucking. The device wraps around the bird's neck, blocking it from picking feathers. The collar is similar to a dog cone, and it just goes on the opposite way.
- Bird Vest Feather Plucking – A bird vest is similar to the collar in that it protects the bird from self-mutilation. The vest covers the body and back of the bird, whereas the collar creates a shield around the neck and head.
- Psychotropic Medications - There are five main psychotropic medications: antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, stimulants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers. These drugs include Diazepam, Haloperidol, Prozac, and Elavil. These are often considered a last resort by bird owners due to potential side effects.
- Hormonal Medications – Hormonal medications deal with an imbalance in the body. Unfortunately, there are harsh side effects from weight gain, polyuria and polydipsia (PU/PD), and lethargy to more severe conditions such as hepatopathy, diabetes mellitus, and death. These drugs include Depo-Provera, Chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), and Depo-Lupron.
FEATHER PLUCKING OR MOLTING
If you see your parrot losing feathers but don't see him plucking, he may be going through a molt, which is a natural process. Old feathers degrade over time and must be replaced regularly. Your bird's old feathers will fall off, and new ones will grow in their place.
- Feather plucking – Always happens, chewed up feathers in the cage, bald spots, areas the bird's beak and neck can reach, no feathers gone from the top of the head, plucking pin feathers, and damaged skin.
- Molting – Once or twice a year, intact feathers in the cage, no bald patches, all feathers shed, new pin feathers left to grow, and no damage to the skin.