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feather picking

Discussion in 'Pre-Veterinary' started by bern, Dec 2, 2005.

  1. bern

    bern Member
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    I've recently started volunteering at a macaw refuge where a number of the birds pluck their feathers out to varying degrees. (I believe they all came to the refuge with the problem). The man who founded the refuge had hoped the behavior would abate when the birds were in a more natural environment, able to fly and socialize with numerous other birds, but apparently this hasn't been the case.

    I've been reading up about it and it seems the etiology is rather difficult to determine. Etiologies, I should say.

    I know there's at least one bird person on this forum. I've read some articles, but does anyone have any personal experience with succesful or unsuccessful treatments? I'm talking about cases where physical causes like skin infection or poor nutrition have been ruled out and it is thought to be a behavioral problem. I know haloperidal is used, and the use of naltrexone makes intuitive sense to me. It's a shame, some of the poor bald things don't look far off from the chickens you'd see at the supermarket.
     
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  3. birdvet2006

    birdvet2006 Glasgow c/o 2006
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    The expert bird vets on VIN (some of whom I've worked with personally or met) say that behavioural drugs are not used very often (i.e. they don't use them and don't know many who do).

    Why use drugs? The problem is the behaviour, and IMO these drugs just sedate the poor bird. It's stopping the clinical sign, but not solving the problem. What kind of life is that to live on some of these drugs? Imagine how it would be to be put in an insane asylum (mental health institution, whatever). I get the feeling they drug their patients heavily (but that's just what I've seen in movies). The idea is to work on improving the bird's life instead of using drugs. Often, these birds have been picking for way too long and it has become a habit that may never be broken (or their feather follicles are damaged and will never grow feathers again). But the lives of the birds deserve enrichment.

    Enrichment includes better nutrition, better activities to stimulate their intelligent brains, and the feeling of security in a flock (not pair-bond) environment. Better nutrition means 70-80% pellets with only veggies as the remaining 20-30% (and maybe an occasional treat, usually used for rewarding good and desired behaviour/tricks etc.). This plane of nutrition is perfect for good plumage and overall health (integumentary health, immune system health, no amino acid deficiencies or vitamin/mineral deficiencies). It is a plane of nutrition that does not stimulate breeding (sexual frustration can cause behavioural feather picking, and in general reproductive activity is not a desired behaviour in *pet* birds).

    Activities to stimulate their brains include foraging type activities. Cover their food bowl with a piece of tissue paper - see if they can figure out how to get to their food (chew through it, pick it up and remove it w/their feet etc.). Some birds don't "get it", but it's a good activity for their mental stimulation. Other foraging activities - especially good for flock feeders like budgies and cockatiels: spread a bunch of pellets out on a table and peck at it with your fingers. The birds will start pecking at the pellets too, eating them and enjoying the sociality of it. Or you can buy certain foraging toys - have you seen those round acrylic things that are circular - you put a piece of food in it and the bird has to figure out how to get the food out? Or for macaws: a piece of wood (2x4 for example) with holes drilled in it. Put in nuts and goodies (this would be a time when feeding healthy "other" goodies is OK) and see how long it takes them to chew through the wood to get their food.

    In the wild, they must work for their food. This is the idea of foraging activities. It is good and normal for them, but as owners of these great birds we must be a bit creative to find stuff for them to do.

    Feather care - daily misting is also recommended for all birds (and especially pluckers). It helps to stimulate "normal" preening behaviour (vs. abnormal, including plucking and feather damaging/mutilating the feathers).

    Eating near your bird and letting them have some of your food is a good activity to make them feel "part of your flock". Make sure the food is healthy though (veggies, tiny amounts of anything else).

    The cases that are REALLY frustrating are mutilation cases. These are where you often resort to the use of collars (not Elizabethan ones, but tube collars made from pipe insulation) and drugs. But the collars and drugs are just tools, not a solution. These tools are used initially so that the wounds can heal.

    Sorry I've gone on and on! But feather plucking is a special interest of mine, and it's a very tough one to solve. Behavioural plucking is often never solved. It takes a lot of work.
     
  4. bern

    bern Member
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    No, it's great--I was hoping for a lengthy response from someone knowledgeable about the subject.

    I'm very interested in stereotypic behavior in animals in general. I agree that the majority of such problems could be prevented with proper exercise and enrichment. (Even most people would be happier and less neurotic with proper exercise and enrichment.)

    As you said, after enough plucking the feathers stop growing back. I was told this is the case with most (all?) of the birds at the refuge. It's still sad to see. The founder of the refuge is adamant that people simply should not keep macaws as pets. I don't know if I'd agree with such a blanket statement, but I'd agree that few people out there are genuinely prepared to offer the time, money, space, and personal attention that these birds require, especially considering their potential longevity. But unprepared, unsuitable people still buy birds, and this is the reason this refuge and others are now full and turning away new birds.

    But it's the same with dogs and cats. A person buys a puppy, doesn't spend the time to train it and meet its daily exercise requirements, so they drop the ill-behaved dog off at the shelter when it isn't cute anymore and chews on their furniture. Doesn't mean there aren't responsible dog owners out there.

    I hadn't had much experience with birds before this. I'm amazed at just how wonderful they are--so much fun to play and interact with. I can't see myself ever being in a situation where I could have one of my own, but I certainly can't blame anyone for wanting to have one in their life.
     
  5. birdvet2006

    birdvet2006 Glasgow c/o 2006
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    Bern,

    >>>but I'd agree that few people out there are genuinely prepared to offer the time, money, space, and personal attention that these birds require, especially considering their potential longevity. But unprepared, unsuitable people still buy birds, and this is the reason this refuge and others are now full and turning away new birds.<<<

    This is one thing that makes me feel so passionate about birds - I feel they are really great, intelligent, amazing beings. It is a joy to have one in your life. But most people don't know how to care for them properly and maybe would not have one if they had known the requirements prior to purchase. I feel real sad for all the birds out there that are cage-bound 24/7 or are eating crappy diets (and therefore will die young).

    ...and what really eats me is the bad information that continues to be spread by pet stores and pet store employees etc. Feed these seeds, use this anti-mite spray (or anti-mite thing), use these sandpaper perches, clip the feathers this way, *take the bird to me for beak grinding/grooming* (that's REALLY terrible!), and on and on...never ending terrible-ness.

    I think it's great that you are volunteering at the bird refuge/rescue place. Maybe you'll venture into avian medicine? We always could use more bird vets. :) As for macaws...they are birds that I am still intimidated by. I have never had the opportunity to handle macaws much, so they are a challenge for me. I am afraid of the big beaks, but I know they need to be handled for exam and everything else (like any other bird). I am also not that strong and not that big, so it's a bit tougher. But I think they are beautiful birds with fun personalities (and LOUD voices, hehe). I just feel more comfy with conures, cockatoos, budgies, 'tiels, eclecti, caiques and such at the moment (my own bird weighs 115 grams - I'm used to that!).

    Can you imagine how I felt with two hyacinth macaws on my shoulders? (See photo).
     
  6. rdc

    rdc
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    horses are better than birds. ha!
     
  7. bern

    bern Member
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    Birdvet--that's funny! I had been looking at your picture and thinking, "Eep! Brave girl!"

    It can be quite intimidating working in close quarters with a bunch of macaws--those beaks are dangerous. Even the really friendly ones will occasionally try to nip me just to get my attention or jump on me when they really want to be picked up. I have yet to actually get bit, but only because I've been very, very careful.

    There is one bird that immediately disliked me for some reason. Some were friendly from the beginning and most of the rest warmed up quickly. But not this one--perhaps I remind her of someone? Anyway, she really has it in for me and will try to bite me whenever I go near her. I'm just glad she's one of the smallest macaws there!
     
  8. verbal_kint

    verbal_kint Senior Member
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    does anyone find having/keeping some birds, if not all birds, ethically wrong? I'm not really a bird person, but it's an attitude I know that exists and was wondering what other people thought on the issue.
     
  9. birdvet2006

    birdvet2006 Glasgow c/o 2006
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    No more ethically wrong than keeping other pets, IMO. Cats and dogs are more domesticated than birds or reptiles, and I do find it very sad when people think that keeping a bird or reptile will be "just like a cat/dog" (when they don't even take proper care/responsibility for the cats/dogs!).

    I know that many people think keeping a bird in a cage is "wrong". If you keep birds properly, IMO, it will only be in its cage during the day while you're at work - for its own safety, and they usually are good at entertaining themselves with toys. What about keeping something like a rabbit or ferret in a cage? "But keeping birds without them being able to fly is WRONG" (I hear this sometimes too). But compare that to a dog or cat being able to be free to roam or whatever - it just isn't always possible and safe for the animal. You can also get flight cages and aviaries for your bird if you really want to. What do you think about keeping aquarium fish? They're stuck in a box all their life, when they were "really born to swim free".

    I think that anyone with an ethical problem about it should NOT be seeing birds as vets (not even the "occasional budgie"). If you only feel negativity towards your clients - that cannot be a good thing.
     

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