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Paulie's feather picking breakthrough

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Paulie's feather picking breakthrough

Postby patti » Thu Aug 03, 2017 2:33 pm

I have had Paulie a year now and I am so excited to tell you about our feather-picking breakthrough.

He is a blue crown about 21 or 22. Don’t know anything about his past for sure, but from his behavior with me I suspect it goes something like this: young girl gets bird and loves it for about 15 years but thinks of it more as a pet – tacitly accepting the fiction that humans are superior to other creatures and only humans have a sense of self and the ability of symbolic/abstract thinking. Paulie accepts his boring cage-bound life because he knows he is loved and gets to eat yummy seeds all the time. He starts chewing on his feathers. She gets married. For five years she progressively isolates Paulie (who starts to become very depressed) but fights with the husband about keeping him. Husband wears glasses and doesn’t like the bird and sometimes kicks him. Paulie tries to bite him regularly. Then the couple has a baby. The girl totally forgets Paulie, whose depression and behavior problems worsen. Paulie bites the baby and the girl loses her standing in the fight to keep him. They give him up right after his yearly molt, when his feathers look the best, hoping he will find a good home that way. The girl feels terrible, but accepts the logic that because Paulie bit the baby the “pet” must go and submits to her husband. After 20 years, Paulie finds himself abandoned, when he did nothing wrong, in totally new surroundings, with overwhelming loss and grief – and he is an old old bird and very set in his ways which makes it that much worse. Then I take him home.

From the moment I got him he picked constantly, but my efforts were initially concentrated on solving the problem by providing good environment and alleviating stress. His obesity, foot sores, lack of foraging, adjustment to sharing his human with another bird, and alleviating the stress caused by changing homes (and then moving immediately after when I moved for a new job), were pressing issues. The seasons are completely different here in Northern California, and it shocked his system and ultimately changed his molting patterns. His first molt in October was only a few chest feathers, tail feathers, and wing feathers. He molted four feathers from one wing, then four or five from the other wing… not alternating like they are supposed to. Same with his tail. Lost them all progressively on one side only. No bird could fly like that. And some flight/tail feathers molted out but then did not grow back till the next molt six months later (now). His molt programming got completely scrambled. He is a conure that refuses to bathe – so obviously something is wrong with him! Plus, with all my efforts his feather condition has not gotten much better.

The breakthrough came one day recently when he made himself bleed by chewing too much on a still-growing downie feather on his rump. He was molting - his first real molt with me - and itchy. It was driving him crazy and he was extra grumpy. I dabbed the blood away with a cotton ball soaked in warm water (he will only accept it warm) then dabbed the spot with a teenie bit of muprocin to keep it moist. He was shocked when he looked back and saw the sore was completely gone, and it felt better too. And I think it was that moment that he trusted me more, because he realized that I really *was* trying to help him and that I knew what I was doing. I had to capitalize on this.

I made him a collar a month or two prior when the molt started. Watching him, it was clear that his picking is compulsive in nature. So I wanted to redirect his gnawing behaviors away from his body. He accepted it immediately and chewed on the collar (mostly) instead of himself. He is skilled and can still reach almost every place on his body with the collar on, but it distracts him and he hates it so he chews on it instead most of the time. He really does try not to pick, but he can’t always seem to stop even though he wants to. And he gets frustrated with himself. I started reinforcement training with the collar when we had our breakthrough. The command is “no picking” and if he refrains from touching his feathers I take the collar off. He tried very hard, but sometimes he refused to “play along” because he just had to pick at himself or he was going to die. You know its bad when the urge to pick is stronger than the hatred for the collar.

I bit the bullet and took him in for the follicle test even though I couldn’t afford it. As I put it to the vet “Paulie is an old man and he does not have time to wait for me to be able to afford it.” The results showed he has some sort of allergy. Also, he has a lot of scarring in the follicles from digging at them constantly. For two weeks now I have been giving him Benadryl and it is a cherry-flavored miracle cure. He still picks constantly – but he is able to stop himself now when I ask him to. Within two days he had earned the right to go to bed without his collar on!

The problem of his compulsive behavior is going to be hard to break, but with allergy medication I feel like it is no longer impossible.
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patti
Cockatiel
 
Gender: This parrot forum member is female
Posts: 91
Location: Los Angeles
Number of Birds Owned: 2
Types of Birds Owned: Jenday Conure, Blue Crown Conure
Flight: Yes

Re: Paulie's feather picking breakthrough

Postby Pajarita » Fri Aug 04, 2017 10:02 am

Oh, geez! I realize you are very enthusiastic about this 'breakthrough' and you have worried and worked so hard on his plucking that I hate to be the party pooper but please understand that I am not doing this to show off or make you feel bad but because of concern for your bird. So, before anything else, can I please ask what, exactly, was found in the skin/feather test that made the vet diagnose an allergy? Because, although there are skin tests for allergies, they are only done to figure out exactly what is the allergen [they make 'patches', each exposed to a different allergen and they check to see which patch reacted and which did not] and not to prove whether the person or animal is allergic. That's determined by the symptoms [but feather plucking per se is not a symptom of an allergy] and blood work. And why was the bird prescribed Benadryl instead of trying to find out exactly what protein was causing the allergy? Because that is the way doctors go, you know? They determine there is an allergy, then they figure out what is causing the allergy so the patient can eliminate the exposure to it. In animals, allergies are almost always dietary ones so the cure is to change the diet, not give them antihistamines... Aside from that, I don't know if you are aware of this but Benadryl has never been tested long term on birds so nobody really knows what a safe long term dosage might be for them. It has been used as treatment for what is called drug-induced ESP [these are things like tremors and other abnormal involuntary movements caused by a toxin or drugs] but it's always temporary. Furthermore, it affects the liver, is full of artificial crap [the cherry flavor and red color] and causes drowsiness so it's not something that a bird can take long term. So, in the improbable case that your bird plucks because of an allergy [there has never been, as far as I know, a bird that plucks because of an allergy], the only cure would be to identify the allergen and eliminate it. I really do not mean to make you feel bad but I am very concerned about your thinking that giving the bird Benadryl is a solution. I don't even use it on my allergic dogs any longer - I identified the allergens and eliminated them from their diet, instead.

Let me tell you what I know about birds' allergies: avian vets don't even know if they actually exist. Nobody has ever being able to prove that birds actually suffer from any type of allergy and I've had two avian vets admit to me that they tell the bird owners their bird is allergic when they cannot figure out what is wrong with it - mind you! these were the best avian vets I've had and they did not do it because they wanted to fool the owners but because, sometimes, people would feel better if they can put a name to a problem so, instead of telling them they did not know, they said it was an allergy. I don't know if I approve of this but some people are not easy to deal with, I guess... If birds did have allergies, it would show on the blood work as there is one type of white blood cell, the eosenophil, that reacts to allergens so this type is always elevated and that's why it's good to get a differential (the blood test that gives you a breakdown of the count of the different kinds of white cells and not just the total count of all of them together]. Has he had this test done and the results came back with elevated neutrophils?

There have been birds that pluck because of a skin condition but it's always a bacterial or fungal infection, not an allergy, and it's taken care of with appropriatel medicine, not an antihistamine.
Pajarita
Norwegian Blue
 
Gender: This parrot forum member is female
Posts: 11735
Location: NE New Jersey
Number of Birds Owned: 30
Types of Birds Owned: Toos, grays, zons, canaries, finches, cardinals, senegals, jardine, redbelly, sun conure, button quail, GCC, PFC, lovebirds
Flight: Yes

Re: Paulie's feather picking breakthrough

Postby patti » Sun Aug 06, 2017 8:33 pm

No need to worry about letting me down - I was just reacting to the news and the big changes in his behavior.

When they did the follicle test they took one from the back of head (whe're he cannot reach) in addition to places where he does pick, and both came back with evidence of irritation. I forget the word. The vet said basically the same thing that you did - that the test does not tell you specifically what the issue is, only that he is reacting to something in his environment. The next daunting task was to start identifying the culprit and I know from experience that is very difficult. He suggested benadryl as a 'test' to see how Paulie reacted, given the test results so far.

But for now, I am just excited to see how much different he is with the medication. He doesn't get irritated when you touch his feathers anymore. He And he is able to stop picking when I remind him, and he is overall way less grumpy. He seemed to get used to the drowsiness factor after a week. So I really do see that as an improvement (even just that I now *know* that there is something that underlies the compulsive behavior). But I do not want to medicate him for the rest of his life either. He is an old bird with weight issues and history of seed diet, so I do not want to tax his liver.

The vet mentioned that there is a patch test for birds, but the results are not clear enough to produce reliable results. I was planning to identify common irritants and go from there. And read up on. I am glad to hear that diet is a common issue because I was thinking that might be a likely place to start. I am allergic to wheat and I get awful rashes from that. The vet suggested switching him to harrisons as a first step, too.... we didn't talk a lot about identifying the culprit because they know I can't afford any more tests right now. The last visit was 1500!! We left it unresolved, and in the meantime I would educate myself about potential irritants and work on training him to reduce the compulsive aspect of the behavior. I think we were talking about using the benedryl until we could find the problem, and recognizing that it might take some time.

The thing I am wondering about the most is the kind of irritant. Benadryl is an antihistamine and the fact that it works suggests an allergen. But if the irritant is a toxin or something fungal then then I am wondering whether the benadryl would still relieve the itching.

I am waiting for the prinout of his bloodwork and I will check on the WBC count you mentioned when it gets here, and I think I am still waiting on results from his poop analysis. I seem to remember him pointing out a slight elevation that was suggestive of fighting something off.
User avatar
patti
Cockatiel
 
Gender: This parrot forum member is female
Posts: 91
Location: Los Angeles
Number of Birds Owned: 2
Types of Birds Owned: Jenday Conure, Blue Crown Conure
Flight: Yes


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