Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Feathers Bird Clinic Question of the Day

What treatments are available for a feather picking umbrella cockatoo? The bird has been vet checked. I've tried about everything, except a collar, which I wouldn't do unless the bird was mutilating. Bach flower essences and aloe vera did not help.

Dr. Karen Becker's Answer:
Unfortunately, feather picking is one of the most frustrating syndromes for avian veterinarians and owners alike. You mentioned your bird was "vet checked", which is important. There are a variety of reasons birds feather pick and we can't always assume it's behavioral in origin. It's important you know your bird is free from diseases, including PBFD (psittacine beak and feather disease) and Chlamydia (psittacosis). It's also important your veterinarian does bloodwork to make sure internal organ funciton is normal. A Giardia parasite test should also be a part of the work-up. After this comprehensive vet check your veterinarian may conclude the picking is more of an emotional issue, which means there are no physical abnormalities causing the behavior
At this point it's important to evaluate the bird's environment and diet. Were there any abnormal circumstances surrounding the start of your bird's picking? A family member leaving for college, a divorce or death of another bird? Was the cage moved to a different spot in the home? A new baby? Many people don't realize that birds will pick up on the general stress level in the home. If you are stressed, angry or hostile your bird knows it.
Is the bird eating wholesome, living foods? Are fresh fruits and veggies a daily part of the diet? A pelleted (preferably organic, dye-free) diet is imperative. Is the bird allowed to eat junk food? Dairy and meats? A balanced diet is not only important to maintain normal physical well-being but very important when the body must repair itself or produce new plumage. Consider adding a source of essential fatty acids, such as red palm oil or coconut oil, if the bird has been consuming seeds. Also consider a full spectrum (UV) light.
Once the diet and environment has been evaluated (and all controllable factors corrected), it's time to consider all the treatment options. Traditionally, avian vets have used human psychotropic drugs, tricyclic anti-depressants, antihistamines or hormones to help alleviate the urge to chew. Depending on the reason and severity of the case these medications may be minimally to significantly effective. Downsides include drowsiness and lethargy as well as potential internal organ changes, including liver and kidney enzyme elevations. Sometimes owners don't see any side effects, but also don't see any improvement. Some owners and veterinarians are not willing to use these medications because of the potential side effects.
Some drug-free options we use at Natural Pet Animal Hospital include aquapuncture, herbal therapy, homeopathy and flower essence therapy. Aquapuncture involves injecting tiny blips of vitamin B12 at acupuncture points known to balance emotions and promote a sense of well-being...the Chinese call these "Shen" points. I used this technique on my own Timneh after I rescued her. She required 8 treatments one week apart. That was 4 years ago. She had been pick-free since then...until April 26th! That week she was in the middle of a moult. It must have itched something fierce. I awoke on the 26th to find a cage full of chewed new and covert feathers. I was shocked and quite dismayed. I gave her an aquapuncture treatment that day and included points for itchy skin. She has not picked since...but her tattered appearance is there until the next moult!
We also use calming herbs like St. Johns Wart, L-theanine, Passion Flower, Hops, and Valerian to take the edge off of stressed birds. Dosing is always consult an avian vet before supplying these herbs to your birds. Homeopathy is a wonderful, natural way of encouraging your bird to become more emotionally balanced. Homeopathic remedies are dispensed based on your bird's unique symptoms, so you need to work with a homeopathic practitioner..
You mentioned you tried Bach flower essences. I have had some good luck using flower essences, but they need to be selected and prepared correctly. Did you work with a Bach flower therapist? I have not heard many success stories about people adding Rescue Remedy to their bird's water and, in turn, improving their bird's feather picking condition. However, I have seen first hand the wonderful effects of accurately assessing a bird's condition according to Edward Bach's methods. Then blending, storing and dispensing essences correctly to achieve the desired effect.
The most difficult question: which therapy will work best in your bird's case? Would a combination of drugs and herbs be most beneficial? These are questions that are best addressed with the help of your vet. The most important thing is to be understanding about your bird's condition. Don't become irritated or upset. After all...our feathered friends never become frustrated with how we look!

Reference: Dr. Karen Becker runs Feathers Bird Clinic within Natural Pet Animal Hospital located in Bourbonnais, Illinois. She also happens to be SNOWBALL's avian veterinarian of several years.