Ni is a female African Grey parrot of unknown age. She loves to mimic noises. Her repertoire includes meows, barks, trucks backing up and even a bomb drop. She says “hello” in two different voices, a low masculine one and a soft feminine one. Ni loves having her head scratched.
About 50% of Ni’s diet is Harrison’s High Potency pellets. The rest is primarily vegetables with a few fruits and nuts thrown in. She has a large cage filled with toys, perches of various sizes and a box to hide in. Even though Ni hates baths, she receives two or three a week. She is toweled for her nail trims every 8 to 12 weeks. Her wings are left untrimmed.
Study her picture and answer the following questions: What condition does she suffer from? What causes it? Are there any cures?
DIAGNOSIS: FEATHER PICKING/PLUCKING
Unfortunately, feather picking or plucking is a common problem of African Grey parrots. Notice the normal feathers on the head compared to the abnormal body feathers. This condition is self-induced. It starts with the bird chewing on a few feathers and progresses to large areas of baldness. In severe cases, the bird might even mutilate themselves. I had one patient chew through the skin and muscles along the keel.
There are a wide range of causes for this condition. For convenience they are divided into two groups, medical and non-medical. Medical causes include a wide range of disorders from nutritional deficiencies and food allergies to heavy metal toxicities and cancer. Hormonal, behavioral and emotional factors make up the non-medical causes.
Identifying the underlying cause is difficult. My basic work-up for a feather picker/plucker is blood work, x-rays, gram stains of the crop, choana and cloaca, fecal check for parasites and a skin scrape. If these tests do not reveal the answer, a feather follicle and skin biopsy is the next step. Quite often, the cause is never identified. All of Ni’s test results were ‘within normal limits’.
Feather picking/plucking has multiple treatments depending upon the cause. For birds like Ni, the most common approach is behavioral modification therapy. A combination of drugs, environmental changes and behavior techniques are used. I reserve e-collars and body gloves for birds that mutilate themselves. Unfortunately, nothing worked for Ni. Hopefully a better treatment program will emerge in the near future, although I fear Ni’s feather follicles might be too damaged to ever grow normal feathers again.