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My 12 yr old african grey starting picking on her feathers…

My 12 yr old...

My 12 yr old african grey starting picking on her feathers especially on shoulders. She started pecking her feathers as if she has fleas about 6 weeks ago but it increased in the last 3 weeks and top of wing bone appears irritated

Veterinarian's Assistant: I'll do all I can to help. Using the wrong medication for fleas can be dangerous. You should definitely talk to the Veterinarian. What is the bird's name?

JO JO

Veterinarian's Assistant: Is there anything else the Veterinarian should be aware of about the bird?

She changed her environment about 2 months ago while apartment where she lived was being rennovated

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Answered in 4 hours by:
12/7/2017
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Pet
Satisfied Customers: 34,919
Experience: University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 45 years of experience
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You're speaking to Dr. Michael Salkin. Welcome to JustAnswer. I'm currently typing up my reply. Please be patient. This may take a few minutes.

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I'm sorry that your question wasn't answered in a timely manner and I'm sorry to hear of this with Jo Jo. Feather damaging behavior directed toward the bird itself is one of the most common and vexing conditions that avian veterinarian can be presented with. The causes for this condition are often multifactorial and cascading in their effects. By the time I see such a bird the original inciting cause may have disappeared or been obscured by other complicating or reinforcing factors. It's important for caretakers to understand that a successful outcome may simply be a reduction rather than elimination of this behavior. Please take your time perusing the following. There's quite a bit of information to absorb. Please return to our conversation with further questions or concerns if you wish.

Feather damaging behavior may be due to either physical or behavioral problems and these are not mutually exclusive. Physical causes include the following:

Dermatitis: infectious (bacterial, fungal, viral); chemical (e.g., nicotine absorbed from the caretaker's fingers) or allergic (unproven at this time).

Folliculitis: bacterial, fungal, viral.

Malnutrition: Important; an all-seed diet often results in dry, flaky, skin that is predisposed to superficial infections and pruritis (itchiness). Nutritional imbalances are a common cause of illness in our pet birds. What has Jo Jo's diet consisted of, please? Seeds should compose less than 20% of her diet. Ideally, a balanced pelleted diet such as can be found here: www.harrisonsbirdfoods.com or here: www.lafeber.com/pet-birds should be fed as well as hard boiled egg yolk, pancakes and cornbread, the tops of fresh greens, dairy products such as yogurt and cheese, fresh fruits such as apples, pears, melon, kiwi, and berries, vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, beets, asparagus, cabbage, sweet potato, and squash, and even tiny pieces of meat.

Environmental conditions: extremes of humidity, aerosol contamination and cigarette smoke.

Heavy metal toxicosis: often incriminated but not proven

Underlying painful lesions: liver pathology, osteomyelitis (bone infection), pancreatic disease, renal disease, neoplasia (cancer), underlying abscesses.

Reproductive activity, perhaps through ovarian and oviductal enlargement and liver changes might cause abdominal discomfort and feather damaging behavior of the thighs and ventral abdomen.

Parasites: mites and lice are overdiagnosed; the protozoan Giardia has only been associated with this behavior in cockatiels.

Psychological causes include the following:

Attention seeking behavior: this occurs when a pet uses feather damaging behavior to obtain attention from a caretaker when the caretaker isn't engaged in an activity with the bird.

Anxiety: anxiety disorders may have both biological and/or environmental causes. Improper socialization during the hand-rearing process may be reflected in an inability of such birds to cope with otherwise normal situations due to fear, real or imagined, of a person or situation that the bird is exposed to combined with a lack of self-confidence due to a history of undermining events. An example of this is severe wing clips in juvenile birds that are learning to fly. The resultant heavy falls to the ground may trigger feather damaging behavior. Separation anxiety is another disorder characterized by behavioral signs of distress (screaming, feather disruptive behavior) that occurs when the bird is left alone. These are a distress response to separation from the caretaker to whom the bird is attached.

Boredom: for captive birds with food provided in a dish every day, only 20% of the day is spent foraging and eating while the other 80% is spent socializing and grooming. When socializing opportunities are limited (e.g., the lone bird in a household where everyone is at work during the day), over-grooming may occur and feather damaging behavior results.

Compulsive disorders: compulsive grooming (grooming in excess of that required for its purpose and which interferes with normal behavior) is a good example. It can't be interrupted.

Displacement behaviors secondary to stressors: examples include unwanted exposure or contact with people; this behavior may be accompanied by aggression and fearfulness of humans.

The diagnosis is made through a thorough history which should focus heavily on the bird's interaction with its environment and the people and other animals around it. An avian vet (please see here: www.aav.org) should perform a detailed physical exam including diagnostics in the form of blood and urine tests and whole body X-rays. Skin biopsy, pathogen detection through cultures or PCR (DNA-based testing) may be recommended.

If a physical cause is unable to be determined and the patient's history supports it, a diagnosis of behavioral feather damaging can then be made. At this stage a specialist veterinary behaviorist should be considered. In general, the following is true when the timing and nature of feather damaging behavior ...

...occurs when caretaker is not present - separation anxiety and boredom should be considered.

...occurs when caretaker is present but not paying attention to the bird - attention seeking behavior should be considered.

...occurs when the bird interrupts other behavior to damage feathers - obsessive/compulsive disorder or true pruritis should be considered.

...occurs when the bird exhibits signs of unwarranted fear - anxiety or stress of generalized anxiety disorders should be considered.

...starts at an extremely young age; handfed bird - improper preening or poor early socialization should be considered.

...causes frayed and splintered feathers - suggests anxiety disorder, improper wing trim, feather trauma due to small cage.

...is seen in an overly bonded, sexually mature bird that displays sexual behaviors out of context - reproductively related.

Management

Elizabethan collars are rarely indicated unless self-mutilation and/or physical trauma is occurring. Restraints may worsen the patient's anxiety state and aggravate the original problem.

Psychotherapeutic drugs may be of benefit. These include benzodiazepines (e.g., diazepam/Valium, haloperidol, tricyclic antidepressants such as clomipramine, SSRIs such as fluoxetine (Prozac). All are available through an avian vet.

It must be ensured that stability and security are present in the bird's lifestyle at home. Anxiety disorders arising from fear of human interaction or fear of falling due to an inappropriate wing trim can lead to feather damaging behaviors. Triggering events that may have had a role in the development of feather damaging behavior such as changes in the household or a perceived lack of attention should be identified. Basic training is implemented and strengthened using a system of positive reinforcement. Once this has been achieved, training can be extended to guide more normal behaviors. 80% of the bird's day should be spent foraging for food, the remaining 20% on grooming and socializing activities. In practical terms this can be done by:

Providing foraging activities both with and without the caretaker being present. The bird may need to be taught how to participate in these activities as at first it might be afraid of new objects or activities.

Enhancing "normal" feather care through gentle misting with water and by providing other items that can be groomed in addition to the bird's feathers.

Developing more normal flock and social interaction. It's important to remember that it's essential to replace unwanted behaviors with more desirable behaviors; at no time should a behavioral void develop through removing an activity or interaction without replacing it with others.

Regular communication and follow-up evaluations with the avian vet and/or behaviorist are important. If the result is a healthy, well socialized bird that actively engages its environment and its human companions, the state of its plumage becomes less significant.

Thank you to Dr. Bob Doneley at the University of Queensland, Australia, for an excellent synopsis of this behavior which I freely excerpted here.

Please respond with further questions or concerns if you wish.

Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Pet
Satisfied Customers: 34,919
Experience: University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 45 years of experience
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Customer reply replied 7 months ago
thank you for your comprehensive response. I am typing this from my Lenovo PC (Windows7 Professional) which is easier for me than using my iphone. JoJo has been recently separated from her usual environment where she had a very close and loving relationship with her owner Joseph and all his many rescued critters which he lovingly cares for in his home and includes 2 cats, numerous NYC rescued birds, fresh water fish. For the past 3 months Joseph sees and cares for Jo Jo everyday in my apartment while he is renovating Jo Jo's living space in his apartment, a short distance from mine in the same zip code. He is expediting her return to her original home and her furry, feathered and scaly friends ASAP. JoJo's basic diet has included many of your recommendations and suggestions above. I read most of your response to Joseph a few minutes ago thank you very very much for such a comprehensive response.

You're quite welcome. Yes, I recognized that Jo Jo had been displaced and that may well be the reason for her misbehavior. Thank you for your kind accept. I appreciate it. I would appreciate your (or Joseph's) update after Jo Jo returns to her regular digs. There's no extra charge for your doing so. I can't set an update in this venue.

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Customer reply replied 7 months ago
OK

I appreciate it.

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Customer reply replied 7 months ago
I believe I sent your rating after your response last night. If it did not go through let me now. I will contact you again when I have more questions and/or to provide followup

You did. Thank you. Sounds good.

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Customer reply replied 7 months ago
thank you for you followup inquiry today 12/10/17. JoJo's skin is no longer red and irritated, she is not scratching herself, and is eating her foods and responding to Joseph. She is still missing some feathers on her shoulder. Her home renovations are in progress and we hope she will be able to return there ASAP. Thank you

Thank you for the good update. I appreciate your taking the time to let me know.

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Customer reply replied 7 months ago
Thank. I will contact you again with further questions as applicable
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