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Dr. Pat
Dr. Pat, Bird Veterinarian
Category: Bird Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 3596
Experience:  25+ years working primarily or exclusively with birds
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My Quaker parrot is constantly biting all over his (her) body. Of cou

Customer Question

My Quaker parrot is constantly biting all over his (her) body. Of course a lot of feathers are pulled out, but no bald spots. This started about a year ago (he is 6). I hold him a lot & do not have any red spots or bites on my arms, so I guess that rules out mites. Each time I take him where I bought him to get nails, wings, & beck trimmed I ask the lady if she knows why this is happening. She doesn't. My town does not really have an avian specialist.
I order Avi-cakes & Lafeber's Nutri-berries' He also gets (alternately) a broccoli crown or a spinach leaf. When I have it, he loves to eat hard boiled or scrambled eggs & white chicken. For supper Nibbles gets (alternating nights) Vitakraft VitaSmart & Brown's Topical Carnival food. NOTE: He has always refused to eat pellets, so I pick them out before serving. Also he will not eat fruit
I would greatly appreciate it if you could recommend other "human" food that would be safe to give him for vitamins, etc.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Bird Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Pat replied 2 years ago.
OK, so I will start with the harsh bad news first: no more chicken. No more eggs. They cannot handle animal protein and it WILL cause problems. He needs to be on pellets, and yes he will eat them; you need to buy high quality pellets and be strict. If that is not possible, then the easiest thing to do is go to a good bird vet for "boot camp" boarding and be converted under veterinary care. I have never had a quaker refuse for more than a 24 hr period. They love to eat too much. It is up to you to take control of the daily diet and routine. Nutriberries and avicakes are TREATS ONLY and he should only --maybe-- one nutriberry or one square a day MAX. Diet recommendations below. Is the irritation constant, or only at certain times? What kind of wing trim? The wrong technique can cause major discomfiort and iritation, and a bird will pull its feathers frantically. Diagram attached for proper trim. Does the bird bathe or take showers? What do you have on the bottom of the cage and how often cleaned? What kind of cage/toys/foodbowls? what is the sleep cycle? How long has this been going on?How long have you had him?Where is he from?Any accidents or trauma?Interactions with other birds/pets/children/guests?What is the usual diet? has it changed recently?Has the bird gotten into anything? Chewed electrical wires? Feather issues can be caused by a multitude of things, including bacterial skin infection, viruses, fungal infections, allergies, metal poisoning, hormonal flux, psychological or combination of these factors. The difficulty is diagnosing the problems and assigning an intelligent treatment plan. Your vet will want to run a number of tests so that appropriate medications can be prescribed.Inflammatory skin/follicle disease is common. The causes can include local infection, metabolic problems, or even intestinal parasites. It can also be a prime area for even more serious problems like skin cancer. An avian-experienced vet should take a look at the poor bird, and run some tests.If this were my patient, and money no object, I would start with complete fecal analysis and direct smear, stained with Sedi-stain and unstained for multiple parasites, fungi, spirals; direct smear stained with Sedi-stain and unstained of the oral cavity and feather pulp; bacterial culture and sensitivity of the feather pulp, feces and choana. Depending on the case I might do a fungal culture. Routine blood work is necessary to rule out other issues. There are MANY DNA/RNA tests for bird diseases--and testing for Borna Virus would be a good idea. Generally I start them out on medications as indicated by the tests.Generally I start them out on injectable antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen. Pet/feed store medications and home remedies are harmful, ineffective, immuno-suppressive, and make them much worse and may interfere with the veterinarian's diagnosis and treatment. Do not use them. Homeopathy and natureopathic techniques do not work in avians and can actually be very dangerous.I know it is expensive, but you may not have many home options, because the first thing you need a vet for is to find out what is going on. Treatment is only as good as the diagnosis. If you call around, you may find a vet to work within your means.I really must stress that you need a bird-experienced person, and not just a vet who advertises that they care for birds. You need to take your bird to see an avian-experienced veterinarian ASAP for complete examination, diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Check click on "find a vet" members of AAV in your area or call your regular vet and see who they recommend; ask if they really have worked with birds a lot. Unfortunately, this list does not rate competency or experience, but is only a starting place; the vets at least take the avian medicine journal and hopefully see a bird or two a year. The best referrals are word-of-mouth, so check with several non-bird vets, the humane society, parrot rescue groups, bird clubs, etc. for their input. As you might guess there may be controversy and varying opinions even with this. Even board-certified avian specialists may not have a lot of practical bird experience. Unfortunately there are few resources available to refer you to really good, clinically-experienced bird vets. Here are a few suggestions that I give everyone: important!The following guidelines help with basic issues such as nutrition, obesity, good immune status. Surprising how the following can make a bird healthy, and how infrequently birds are ill if they are on the following regimen. No amount of medicine is going to work if the birds' basic needs are not met. ​great resource links:​ GuidelinesBirds should be on a high-quality, preferably prescription, pelleted diet: I prefer High-potency Harrison'shttp://www.harrisonsbirdfoods. In addition, they should be offered dark leafy greens, cooked sweet potatoes, yams, squash, pumpkin; entire (tops and bottoms) fresh carrots and so forth. No seeds (and that means a mix, or millet, or sprays, etc. etc.) and only healthy, low-fat high fiber people food. A dietary change should be closely monitored and supervised by your avian vet.Daily MaintenanceBirds should get 12-14 hours dark, quiet, uninterrupted sleep at night. Any less and they can suffer from sleep deprivation and associated illnesses. They should be covered or their cage placed in a dark room that is not used after they go to bed. The cage material should be cleaned everyday, and twice a day if the bird is really messy. Paper towels, newspaper, bath towels are ok. Never use corn cob, sawdust, wood chips, or walnut shell.Food and water dishes should be cleaned and changed daily. Keep one set cleaned while the other is in use.Fresh, perishable food should be placed in separate food bowls. Remove fresh food from the cage after a couple of hours to avoid spoilage.Change cage papers daily, and clean the grate and tray weekly.Clean food debris or droppings from toys and perches as needed (which can be as often as once a day).Grit is not necessary for birds, and will cause digestive problems and death. The best sources of minerals (and vitamins) are leafy greens. Never give grit, gravel sandpaper or cement perches. A bird will eat those to excess when it is not feeling well or if there is a nutritional deficiency. They do not need it at all (an old myth from the poultry days, even poultry do not need it). It can cause an impaction and lead to serious or fatal consequences. Dietary Notes: You really mean no seeds? No meat? no chicken? no eggs?Seeds as a sole diet are deficient in essential amino acids, calcium and vitamins. Reduced levels of vitamin A, a common problem with all-seed diets, alter the immune system and make a bird susceptible to severe bacterial, viral or fungal infections. Remember: seeds are the storage units for baby plants. Plants make their own nutrients. Seeds are very high in fat and low in almost every other nutrient. Think of seeds as rocket fuel: in the wild, extra fat has positive survival value. To alleviate the problem, you can feed your companion bird vegetables and pellets. Vegetables high in vitamin A include carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, dark leafy greens, and winter squash.A quick note about dietary protein: most pet birds are herbivores or granivores. Their digestive system is very efficient at extracting amino acids and proteins from plant material. Their liver and kidneys use a different method of processing proteinaceous material than the mammalian system. Animal proteins are especially harmful (egg, meat, fish products).Overloading with protein, especially animal protein, will lead to severe kidney dysfunction, gout, calcium/phosphorus imbalance, reproductive disorders, feather-picking, and death. Pet birds should be offered a minimum amount of legumes (never give tofu), sprouts, or other high-protein plant material.ConversionDietary conversion is a very stressful time. It is up caretakers to observe EVERY bird and make sure there is poop and food consumption. No poop = no food intake. It may take 2 days or 2 months. It can be very frustrating and stressful for all concerned; however, I have never failed to see a psittacine convert to pellets. Canaries and finches generally dive right in.
Conversion DietYAM BREAD (cornbread mix+cooked yam, cook according to instructions, no egg needed)1' cube per bird​1-2 x ​daily

RICE MIX (cooked short-grain brown rice plus fresh veg)1/4 cup per bird daily
PELLETS (we recommend Harrison's and T.O.P.)

Entire leaves of greens poked through the cage wires or on branches
Corn wheels
Cooked yams or squash
Whole carrots, tops included
Half of apple and whole (opened but not peeled) banana poked on sticks (in the aviaries)
Grapes, citrus, pomegranate, persimmon, etc. One small slice per bird. Put on twigs etc.

Weekly MaintenanceClean the cage weekly. Wash the cage and perches with soap and rinse with water to remove organic matter.

Daily Observations to Keep Your Bird Healthy Keeping your feathered friend healthy requires that you watch out for any problems and any changes from normal, including any changes in normal behavior. Be alert for any discharges, including those from nostrils, eyes, beak. Monitor the appearance of he droppings for changes in color or consistency. The vent should be clean with no matting of the feathers. The bottom of the feet should not have any wear points or sores. Watch for changes in the amount of food and water consumed. Observe the rate, rhythm and depth of several respirations and check to make sure there is no open-mouth breathing. If you observe any changes, consult your avian veterinarian immediately.

Be alert for environmental stressors, as they can easily affect a bird’s health. If your bird becomes ill or has bouts of infection, consider whether any of the following apply.overcrowding: A cage full of birds may seem pleasing, but if the birds are fighting, picking each others’ feathers or falling ill, there could be too many. Reduce the number of birds if these conditions are present.being hunted: A bird could be stressed if subjected to constant observation (staring). Companion birds are preyed upon by raptors and other animals and are sensitive to extended periods of a watchful gaze. They may also panic when a hawk flies by, especially if their cage sits directly in front of a window. Large objects like balloons or an overhead lamp above their cage can have the same stressful, frightening affect.poor nutrition: Birds need clean water to drink and a balanced diet with fresh vegetables, especially those rich in vitamin A or beta carotene. When a bird is molting, it may also need additional calcium-rich foods.dirty environment: Birds are susceptible to molds and bacteria. Maintain a clean cage and cage items in a clean room.over-stimulation: Birds need some "down time" to nap and preen. They shouldn’t live in the busiest hallway or room all of the time. A sleeping cage in a quiet room may be helpful.Bathing You may spray your bird in its cage or at the sink. A plant mister-type sprayer filled with tepid water works well. Spray a mist onto your bird to simulate rain. Special perches and gadgets can be used or you can put them up on the shower bar after bathing. However, caution should be used to make sure that the bird only comes in contact with water and not with soaps, shampoos or sharp objects. 

A shallow bowl of water may also be offered for bathing. Make sure it is heavy enough to not tip over when the bird perches on it. Cages
Having a nice place to live is important for your companion bird. A well-designed and well-maintained cage sets the stage for a healthy environment and makes cleanup easier. You may want to consider one cage for daytime use and one sleeping cage at night in a quiet, darkened room.

When choosing a cage, they should be longer than they are tall because birds fly from side to side, not up and down. Canaries and finches particularly like to fly back and forth from perch to perch.Make sure the bar spacing is the appropriate width so your bird cannot squeeze its head between the bars to cause serious injury or even death. With larger birds, it is important for the bars to be strong enough so that they cannot bend them with their beaks.Avoid cages made with dipped galvanized metal as birds may peck at and ingest residual beads of metal, causing zinc or lead poisoning. Decorative cages made of wicker or basket materials cannot be sanitized properly and psittacine birds can chew out of them easily and escape.Line the cage bottom with sheets of papers (newspaper, butcher paper or computer paper) and remove individual layers daily (or more frequently, if needed). Look at the bird’s droppings when cleaning the cage to make sure they are normal!If grates are used (allowing droppings and food to fall out of a bird’s reach), clean the tray at least weekly, but remember to change paper layers daily. Do not use shredded paper as a cage liner. Avoid nugget materials like corncob bedding, walnut shells, etc. Birds can ingest these, resulting in impaction. Some of these materials are highly toxic, and have heavy loads of bacterial and fungal spores.Finally, they hinder inspection of droppings, which is important in monitoring daily health.Placement and Perch Types Rope perches or cleaned, natural branches are best for perches.Select a size appropriate for your bird. Their nails should reach about half around the perch and never all the way around. Inappropriate perches can harm foot health and lead to severe foot infections.When positioning perches, be sure that droppings will not fall into food and water dishes. Make sure they are placed in a comfortable location for your bird to perch high but allow them to be able to get to their food and water dishes.