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Parrots/Nanday conure plucking


QUESTION: My nanday is 7 years old, has been a happy healthy bird.  Eats everything but major diet is Zupreem pellets.  She gets lots of attention, has lots of toys, etc.  She's been plucking her feathers for about six months.  All the feathers under her wings and down her back (anywhere covered by her wings) - feathers are all gone.  I took her to one vet - he gave her a shot which made her rummy for two days.  Took her to another vet - she's had bloodwork which came back fine.  Now they want to do x-rays, then maybe heart or lung surgery if x-rays show a problem.  Is this normal?  I really love my bird but don't want to put her through all this if not needed.

ANSWER: -- Wait, heart or lung surgery for feather plucking?  HOW did they get there from here? Something's not right.  The bloodwork is normal, so why on earth would she need surgery?

And as for the blood work, what specifically did they test for?  That's important.  

Are these people actually avian vets or are they fudging it with a bird and see mostly mammals (dogs, cats, etc)??

Please get back to me on this and also, tell me what's been new or different in the last 6 months in your home.  Everything from new carpeting to someone moving in or someone moving out.  Even re arranging the furniture --- anything 'new' or different.

Thank you

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for your response.  I have been beside myself with worry - I really love my bird.  I received the results from the assistant to the vet so I don't know what the blood work entailed - she just said it all came back good. I have a friend who owned a parrot store and cared for, sold, and has many different kinds of parrots.  I called her - she does not recommend surgery either.  Honestly, that I can remember, nothing has changed in my home.   My daughter did move out and my bird loved her but I'm not sure about the timing on that one.  She moved out the summer of 2011 so that's been a year and a half?  I did get new carpeting in the summer but my bird had already been plucking for about 4 months already.   Haven't moved the furniture.  She's had the same diet, the same routine, the same toys, the same play times with me.  I work and am gone six hours a day but she's used to that.  She sleeps 12 hours - goes to bed at 7 pm and gets up at 8 am - sleeps in a cuddle sock and the cage is covered, ...... large cage!   I won't do the surgery but is there some kind of topical salve I could use on her skin?

-- No topical treatments please.  Remember, this is an avian system and ALL medications available to us are for mammals.   Just as different as it gets other than being a fish.

Also remember that pet store owners, breeders and self entitled 'experts' need absolutely ZERO education with regard to animals.  I know a huge number of people who have killed their beloved birds because a 'bird store owner' or 'bird breeder of 50 years' told them to do something.

Never setting foot in a veterinary school, let alone one specifically for avian science - it's like asking your grocer how to treat your child's serious and unknown disease.   

I never said 'no surgery', I'm asking how the vet came to that suggestion.  The pet store owner is highly irresponsible and ignorant to just say 'no surgery'.  Based on what?  Their extensive education by sales pitches they get when product pushers come into the store.  Hands on experience with animals is worth something, yes, but it doesn't make 60 year old mothers of 15 children a pediatrician does it?

In any case, surgery on organs to address wing web dermatitis is like putting a cast on a toe to address that brain tumor.  You see?  

Just from what info you've provided, it helps rule out a great deal of the more common causes and leaves me thinking it's physiological rather than behavioral.  

I'd really like to know what those blood tests looked for and found so I won't be taking a shot in the dark here.  Both you and your bird deserve more respect than guesses.

I'd also urge an eval for heavy metals, especially zinc.

Have your vet perform a blood serum test for zinc levels (just in case your vet isnt an avian vet, zinc levels over 2 ppm are positive for zinc toxicity).   There will also likely be elevated WBCs (white blood count).
Zinc can be ingested slowly over time when toys, clasps, chains, links or even cages are chewed on or played with.  Other poisonings occur when the bird actually swallows a toy, link or piece of one.  Watch out for bell clappers for instance.
Metal toxicity (lead, zinc being most commonly found). Quick links, cage bars, even professionally supplied toys, depending on where they're manufactured, may contain lead and/or zinc. It's frightening to learn how many sources of zinc there are in any household. If anything in your bird's environment is magnetic, it may be a toxic metal.

X-rays should also be employed to rule out toxic ingestion of foreign object.
An approximately one week stay at the vet for monitoring and treatment is generally necessary.  Administration of a chelating agent such as DMSA (dimercaptosuccinic acid) to help bind with the zinc is one option for treatment, as well as removal of foreign object (if any).  
Calcium EDTA and D-Penicillamine injections may also be employed as deemed necessary and appropriate by your medical caregiver.
The survival rate with early and proper treatment is actually very good.

Again - not knowing what your vet has done, it's impossible to really know what's next to advise.  I can't be irresponsible.  I care too much  


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Rev. Dr. S.August Abbott


Certified Avian Specialist; Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council member; Own animal rescue org; National Wildlife habitat #66378; bird care, nutrition & behavior consultant; International Assoc. of Animal Behavior Consultants Associate; National Wildlife Federation Leaders Club member; published bird care, info and behavior articles and guides. Ongoing education in exotic bird behavior and nutrition I can answer behavioral, nutritional, environmental, characteristic/personality questions as well as general health and health care. No animal emergency can ever be addressed on the internet. We cannot see your animal, perform an examination, provide necessary care or medication. Please value your companion for the priceless, living creature they are; not for what you might have paid for them.


Certified Avian Specialist. For more than 30 years I've worked with veterinarians, protective facilities, nature centers, preserves and on my own in providing care and education with regard to multiple animal species, including raptors (hawks, kestrals, owls, etc) and marsupials. In recent years I've focused on parrots, usually rescued from abusive or less than ideal situations and helping educate owners as to proper care. Expert in behavior studies and modification of problem behavior.

4AnimalCare is the organization I run as an animal ministry; World Wildlife Association, Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, National Wildlife Federation Leaders Club and more

Bird Talk Magazine articles about rescued and problem macaws.

Doctorate, Ordained Minister

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