Feather Picking & Skin Mutilation - Medical Options

The following information has been provided by Dr. Jill M. Patt, DVM practicing in Mesa, Arizona.

Certainly treatment of any primary or secondary medical causes of feather picking will need to be treated by your veterinarian. Many of these birds will develop secondary fungal and bacterial infections from the chronic skin damage. Also, many illnesses will cause picking and these will be discovered based on a physical and laboratory examination. Each illness will have its own treatment based on how it is affecting the bird.

A couple of things that I don't recommend for routine use in feather picking birds are:

(1) Medroxyprogesterone acetate (Depo-Provera) which can cause obesity and liver disease

(2) steroid injections which potentially can cause liver and gastrointestinal disease.

Drugs for anxiety: It is important to remember that a medication is not a "fix" for this very complicated problem and is not warranted in all cases. You must first have a complete physical and laboratory examination of your bird and then work on correcting any environmental concerns. The best use I've had for medications are in those birds who are long term picker, very nervous birds, and birds causing skin damage. Also, remember that none of these drugs are had formal studies done in birds and are not labeled or approved for this use.

Some medical options may include:

1) Clomipramine: This drug is labeled and used for dog separation anxiety.
2) Haloperidol: An antipsychotic drug that can have liver side effects
3) Fluoxetine: Prozac, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor
4) Amitriptyline: often used in cats for elimination problems, tricyclic antidepressant

Drugs for hormonal feather picking: Some birds will be greatly influenced by hormonal changes and this stress will cause feather picking. It is best to first make environmental changes such as removing mirrors or nest boxes (this can include anything the birds thinks of as a nest box), preventing hormonal stimulation such as petting that induces this behavior, and altering the light cycle to mimic winter sunlight. If all these changes fail than drug therapy may be warranted. Drug therapy is most effective in females but has also be tried in males.

(1) Lupron: leuprorelin acetate has an inhibitory effect on the pituitary that should reduce the hormones FSH and LH. This drug has been used in birds for chronic egg laying, hormonal aggression and feather picking. Again, this is not a perfect drug and certainly not for all situations.

Antihistamines for Allergies and itchy skin:

Most feather pickers are NOT allergic birds and are not picking due to itchy skin, but there are exceptions and some birds will benefit from antihistamines. For those birds that do have allergies or skin irritations it is important to reduce environmental causes such as cigarette smoke in the air or on your hands, perfumes or other aerosolized sprays, and dust from cockatoos which can cause allergies in birds such as macaws. Always have clean hands when holding your bird, don't use any sprays around the bird and ensure that the room is well ventilated.

1) Diphenhydramine: both oral and topical forms
2) Hydroxyzine: both oral (liquid) and topical

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This information has kindly been provided by Dr. Jill M. Patt, DVM practicing in Mesa, Arizona. She has been keeping and raising exotic birds for years, providing her a unique knowledge and understanding that goes beyond that of a regular vet who does not have the benefit of daily interaction with birds / parrots.

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