The Feather Plucking Parrot
One of the most common reasons parrots are brought to the vet is for biting/chewing or stripping their feathers. A wide array of conditions can cause this behaviour to occur ranging from liver, kidney or respiratory disease, bacterial or viral infection, hormonal problems, poor nutrition or lack of stimulation/stress (this was previously over-diagnosed, and in fact many of the “stressed” pluckers actually have internal illness).
Investigation into feather plucking is very important, as if the cause is infectious it could have consequences not only for the birds own health, but for the health of the birds (and in some cases humans) around them.
In terms of investigating feather plucking, the following may be required, depending on the vets assessment of the case:
- A complete, thorough history of the birds enclosure, environment, diet and daily routine (pictures/videos can be useful in this instance).
- A thorough clinical examination by a vet
- Blood samples for routine haematology and biochemistry (this gives an indication of organ function and will flag up infection/inflammation)
- Specific blood tests for infectious diseases and/or toxins (Tests for bornavirus (PDD), circovirus (PBFD), polyoma virus, chlamydia, aspergillosis, zinc, lead etc)
- Specific faecal tests for infectious diseases (such as Chlamydia)
- Feather samples for analysis under the microscope
- X-rays to assess organ size/shape/position and to look for any abnormalities
- Endoscopy to visually assess internal organs and take samples (biopsies) as necessary
- Samples of skin (biopsies) for analysis
Often, owners opt for everything to be done at once to minimise costs and stresses of multiple visits and anaesthetics. This also can reduce lab fees and can considerably cut down on "waiting times".
Whilst samples are being processed, we advise that the bird be put onto an appropriate diet with the correct supplements.
In addition, many parrots are kept inside without UV light: something which is essential for proper calcium metabolism as well as improving their quality of life by giving them a normal day/night rhythm and allowing them to properly see the UV reflective colours on their plumage, toys and feed which we cannot see.
Due to the number of possible causes and number of tests required, it can be costly, time consuming and frustrating (both for vet and owner!) to track down the cause. Unfortunately, some cases will not be resolved, and occasionally the plucking itself becomes habitual, so even once the underlying cause has gone the bird may still pluck.
Repeat sampling/procedures may also be required to monitor response to treatment.
At the time of writing, we estimate (at the practice I work in) approximately £300-500 for investigating feather plucking, but given their long lifespan and strong bond to their owners, many clients are happy to spend this for investigating this potentially serious problem.
We recommend that all companion parrots undergo a routine health check once per year to pick up any early signs of illness.