How to stop a pet bird from plucking its feathers

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Information on birds that pluck their feathers and ideas on how to alleviate the causes.

Feather Plucking is one of the most disturbing and troublesome problems experienced with pet birds.

  Seeing our feathered friends pluck themselves causes concern, frustration, and confusion.  We all want our birds to be happy and healthy, and to stop them from plucking or biting their feathers off you must get to the root of the problem.

There are many possible reasons for this behavioral problem.   Things to consider are medical and psychological problems, diet, boredom, and stress.  The best place to start is with the veterinarian.  Schedule a full examination including a blood chemistry panel to look for obvious medical problems.  Medical problems are usually somewhat easy to treat, as you are dealing in tangibles.   If specific medical problems are found, pay careful attention and follow all of the veterinarian’s instructions to help protect the long-term health and happiness of your feathered friend.  

If medical problems are ruled out changes in the bird’s environments need to be considered, even small things.  This is where treatment is difficult as things are no longer clear-cut, and it becomes a process of elimination.  Has the cage been moved?  Has a mate been removed?  Are there changes in family members in the household?  Has the bird’s main caretaker changed something about his or her physical appearance?   Is the bird able to get enough sleep?  Is the cage environment too humid or not humid enough?  Has your devotion and amount of time spent with the bird changed? Or, has your smart feathered friend found a new way to get your attention?  Jealousy is thought to be a human emotion but is a huge part of the emotional make-up of a bird as well.

We have to accept and acknowledge that when dealing with our feathered friends we are dealing outside of our realm of understanding a great deal of the time.  Since our birds instinctually come from another world they are equipped for a different habitat and lifestyle than we can possibly provide them.  Is it really all that surprising that they find our lifestyle distressing from time to time?  The best cure for stress in your bird is prevention.  Make sure the bird is examined by a vet once a year, has a consistent diet tuned specifically to it’s species, and isn’t bored.  Stress is serious.  The simplest things can stress a bird, and what may stress one bird may be of no consequence to another.  

To fight boredom, which can lead to stress, plenty of interaction with you or other feathered friends is a must.  Our feathered friends come to rely on us for much of their social interaction.  They are instinctually very social and if you stop interacting with them you are literally cutting off their lifeline.  Also, a broad assortment of toys is a great way to fight boredom.  Some pluckers like ropes or toys that they can safely tear apart.  Polly Dolly toys are a reliable and safe line of toys to consider for your bird.  Also, music is a great way to entertain your feathered friend if he or she enjoys music.

Usually, if you eliminate medical problems, stress, dietary problems, or boredom the plucking will subside in time.  Sometimes the plucking becomes a habit and a veterinarian will suggest using a collar or drugs to stop the behavior.  A veterinarian and/or behaviorist should use these methods only as a last resort, and just in cases of extreme self-mutilation.  We cannot imagine the stress a collar or drugs would inflict on an already stressed bird.  A collar or the use of drugs can be seen as a quick fix for the problem, and we must remember that quick fixes should have no place in our search for a cure for our feathered friends.  

Regardless of our efforts some of our feathered friends will continue to pluck, and pluck, and pluck until they are naked!  The best thing we can do is to keep trying to help them be comfortable, healthy, active, and not stressed.  They need us to keep loving them, plucking or not!