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Avian Feather Picking

Feather picking can be one of the most frustrating problems not only for the bird but for the owner and the veterinary team. Diagnosing the cause for the feather picking needs to be done prior to a treatment plan being implemented. You need to start with a detailed history along with a complete physical examination. Diagnostic testing may include skin scraping, biopsy, feather analysis, blood test and radiographs. A diagnosis of a behavioral condition can only be made once all medical conditions have been eliminated.

The following is a list of some of the medical and behavioral issues to consider. Veterinary medicine has come a long way but many times we are still unable to find the reason for the feather damage. When this happens we need to try and make the patient as comfortable as possible, which may include prescribing antidepressants, antihistamines, or psychotropic drugs. At times an Elizabethan type collar may be applied to allow new feather to grow in or stop the patient from causing damage to their skin. These types of collars will often work while they are in place but most patients will begin to feather pick the moment the collar is removed.

Medical Concerns
Skin infection/dry skin/allergies
Heavy metal poisoning
Environmental contaminant

Behavioral Concerns
New home and/or family
New cage/toys/perch/bowls/cage liner
Change in diet/type of food/shape of food/texture of food/location of food
New location of cage
Change of location in cage of toys/perch/bowls
Loss of cage mate/other pet in the home
Loss of family member
Change in routine
Family vacation
New cage mate or new pet in home
Additional people in home including small children
Increase in sounds/children/music/all traffic sounds/alarms
Night fright/injury/illness/trauma/stress
Improper wing trim/beak trim
Decrease/increasing in bathing
Decrease/increase in light exposed to
Cage being covered/not being covered


Exotic Animal Care – Tully and Mitchell
Veterinary Nursing of Exotic Pets – Girling
See our Specialty folder for various articles on avian medicine