My 18 year old male cockatoo recently starter feather picking and now has several bald areas. Is this a behavioral problem and what can I do about it?
Feather picking or over-preening of the feathers to the point of feather destruction and plucking is a common and frustrating disorder in many parrot species. In particular, many cockatoo species, African grey’s, love birds, and cockatiels are over represented.
There are many medical and behavioral considerations as underlying causes. We can help many, perhaps even 70% of the birds that pick, but the journey to achieve this is sometimes frustrating, time consuming, and expensive. In general, a full medical work-up is needed to eliminate the possibility of a medical underlying cause. This is not a simple task, as some conditions will not show up on routine lab testing. If a medical condition exists, behavioral therapy alone is doomed to fail. Only after all medical causes have been ruled out or eliminated can we truly diagnose behavioral feather picking (which by itself has many factors and causes). In many instances, even if the underlying cause is determined, a complete cure may be impossible
Medical causes of feather picking include: Toxins, other skin irritants, infectious diseases, allergies, hormonal disorders, reproductive disorders, parasites, nutritional deficiencies, metabolic disease (organ diseases), tumors/masses, and skeletal disease.
Common behavioral causes include: anxiety/stress (from humans or other pets), separation anxiety, over bonding with one person/jealousy, boredom/attention seeking behaviors, and fear/phobias
It is the job of your avian vet to sift through the medical and behavioral causes, form a diagnosis, and properly formulate a treatment plan that may include medical therapies as well as behavioral “homework” for you to initiate at home. The time and dedication often required to manage this syndrome takes a very dedicated owner. Unfortunately many avian sanctuaries and bird-friendly humane societies end up with many of these pets, or they are bumped from one home to another, all of which can compound the behavioral aspects of the problem.
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