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FEATHER ABNORMALITIES

Is your cantankerous conure persistently pulling out his primaries? Perhaps your balding budgie never grew her feathers at all.

Feathering abnormalities are one of the most common and obvious conditions affecting pet birds. After all, many people choose birds as pets because of their bright beautiful colors. Feather picking, deformed feathers, feather loss, and prolonged molts can all point to feather disease.

Causes

Not all feather loss is reason for concern. Your bird will drop feathers periodically as new ones grow in. This molting process usually occurs twice a year over several weeks. Although the feather loss can be alarming, you won't see large bald patches on your bird during molting, and new pinfeathers quickly emerge.

But if your pet loses so many feathers that you see bare skin, you need to investigate. Is your bird pulling her feathers out herself? Many intelligent birds compulsively pick their plumage and mutilate themselves out of boredom, sexual frustration, separation anxiety, or the need for attention.

Itchy bacterial, viral, parasitic, or fungal infections also may cause your bird to pick at and pull out her feathers. Pets who dine exclusively on seeds often develop nutritional deficiencies that lead to dry flaky skin, brittle feathers, and infection. Allergies and environmental factors such as high heat or low humidity also can irritate your bird's sensitive skin.

If the feathers are falling out on their own, your bird may be suffering from hypothyroidism, which causes prolonged molting. Small, club-shaped, or twisted feathers with cracked shafts often indicate polyomavirus and psittacine beak and feather disease.

What You Can Do at Home

If you suspect a nutritional deficiency is causing your bird's feathering abnormalities, talk to your veterinarian about adding more fruits, vegetables, and other supplements to her diet. But if you're not sure what's causing the problem, see your veterinarian right away.

As with other illnesses, feather abnormalities need swift treatment. If your pet was exposed to birds exhibiting similar signs or if she was recently imported, the doctor will test for contagious diseases. If your bird is pulling out her feathers, the doctor will check for infections and allergies using skin and feather biopsies.

If test results are negative, a behavior problem may be the culprit. This complex condition calls for behavioral modification therapy and possibly anti-anxiety medication.

Prognosis

While many feather problems improve with medication or a change in diet or environment, others are more difficult to control. Behavioral feather picking can be frustrating but not impossible to treat effectively. It requires patience on your part. The bottom line: With proper treatment, most pets regain their spectacular plumage.