My 2.5 yr. old cockatoo plucks itself

by Chris Haydel
(New Orleans, LA )

My 2.5 yr. old cockatoo plucks itself when I don't give it all the attention she demands! ???

My vet told me to quit spending so much time with my G2(2.5 years old) and she might stop plucking herself. I know that cockatoos are affectionate and mine is handfeed so that makes it crave even more attention, I would assume. I could not lock her in a cage and ignore her. I told the experienced vet this. (This would seem to me to be more cruel.)

She gets a very balanced diet along with my other two birds. She began plucking her leg feathers after my having her for about 9 months. 1.5 years later--She has now allowed the left breast to grow back, but the right breast and under her wings remain bare. I have noticed that she plucks when I don't give her all the attention she thinks she should get. (Am I being emotionally blackmailed?)

I am with her about 10 hours a day, after a full time job, to the extent of my not exercising as much as I did before I got her. (Yes and no, in as far as using her as an excuse not to exercise.)

She even comes to bed with me for up to 4 hrs. a night. I tried less time in bed with her, but she will not let my fingers go. She has to be transferred after she has slept for a while and is a bit lathargic, at which time, she willing steps up to her perch. Because of what seems her reason for plucking, that is when I don't give her the attention she deems necessary, I strongly believe it is not a blood disorder.(The vet agreed with this thinking.)

For 3/4 of a year I have had her on the anti-anxiety white power, the Harrison pellets, and have even tried the spray stuff that is made of grapefruit rhine (not bad enough a taste to stop her). She takes head baths out of her drinking bowl on Saturdays (sounds rediculus), when I do not go to work. She is happy and wants me to use the blow dryer to warm her up and dry her off. (Party time!)

Other than that, I will give her a shower bath in my hands in the shower about once every two weeks, because she cowers from being misted.

I know that there are many reasons possible for why a bird plucks itself, and we cannot explain all of them. (Species most noted for plucking: cockatoos, African Greys, macaws, and cockatiels)I know that it has been called a psychogenic disorder.

After having said all of this, is there anyone out there who might have an insight into the why of it all or an idea I have not tried as of yet? I feel like I need to start a 12 step program: I am not in control of when my bird plucks itself, etc. PA= pluckers anonymous

Comments for My 2.5 yr. old cockatoo plucks itself

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Feb 08, 2012
Cockatoo plucking undiagnosed
by: The Avian Vet

Has your bird been DNA sexed? Do you have a journal that you record the episodes. Doing this can reveal a pattern that you may not otherwise recognize. This may be behavioral but in my experience behavior is rarely the root cause. Most often I find medical causes. Especially reproductive problems.

You are correct that locking up the bird is not going to help. What I see most is that owners spend too much time with their bird early on when they first get the bird, then the amount of time drops off. You cannot un-ring that bell.

Given that it is unilateral she could have a retained right oviduct, ovarian disease, or other reproductive problem. The pattern of plucking is common with these problems. Reproductive and hormonal issues will cause many different abnormal behaviors that are be mistaken for primary behavioral problems. There may be some blackmail, but there is more going on than that.

Blood samples are not the only diagnostic tool that you should have done. Has blood work been done or is this diagnosis bases strictly on your history of handling. Yes, you are spending entirely too much time with your bird. Although it may not be the primary reason for the plucking. You need to establish a routine that does not include spending 14 hours a day holding your bird. You also need to realize the possibility of a medical condition.

What powder? Has it helped? If not, then you need to stop it. Harrison's is the best you can feed. Sprays NEVER work. Bitter tastes do not prevent plucking. Switch her to a water bottle because water bowls are the number one source of pseudomonas bacteria which is a very common cause for illness and plucking. You need to wash the water dish every three hours to prevent this. A water bottle is more sanitary and can be changed once every 24 hours without the chance of bacterial infections. Be careful not to over bathe and over dry as this will cause dry skin and make the problem worse.

In my experience psychogenic causes are the least often diagnosed.

I think you need to consider that this is a medical problem and have a more thorough work up done including x-rays, extensive blood work, physical exam, viral screening and possibly other testing. You need to see a specialist. Based on the advice you have gotten so far, I don’t think it was a specialist that saw your bird. Find an Avian Vet You should also consider speaking with a behaviorist (I can counsel on behaviors and medical problems).

Dr B

Feb 08, 2012
Cockatoo plucking
by: Tracie

Dr B will eventually answer this. Have you tried any of the feather plucking remedies that are available?

You might also wish to read our Feather Damaging Behavior article that was written by an avian vet.

Feb 08, 2012
by: KB

Funny, I just posted a VERY similar letter about my African Grey under the article "Pellet Allergy?" Read my story too, it sounds we have something similar. I am totally "all in" for the PA club!! I wish I had some advice for you, but I am seeking the same!! Goodluck to you and your birdie!!

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