Is bird's problem real or in its head?

September 2, 2008 

Have you ever considered how interesting it might be to practice veterinary medicine?

I have been doing so for two-plus decades and I must say it continues to be quite fascinating.

Among the challenges are diagnosing patients who generally do not relate their symptoms and trying to glean solutions to symptoms presented in letters -- without actually examining the patient.

Peedy, an 8-year-old parakeet, is my most recent challenge.

According to her caretaker Kelsey, Peedy has taken it upon herself to pull out all of what Kelsey states are her rear feathers.

I am going to assume that by "rear feathers," Kelsey means tail feathers. Kelsey says that now that these feathers are gone, Peedy is picking at the spot. Kelsey has tried a spray purchased from the pet store -- she doesn't say what it was -- but it does not seem to be helping.

Now, wouldn't it be nice to sit down with Peedy and say, "So, Peedy, why did you pluck out your feathers and why now are you picking at yourself?"

Wishful thinking.

The next best thing would be a thorough examination of Peedy, with a focus on the area that seems to have piqued Peedy's interest.

Coming in with the bronze medal is the idea of trying to come up with a possible cause for Peedy's plucking simply from the information I have shared. This scenario isn't easy, but here goes.

I guess the first thing to determine is if the plucking is because of a disease or is a behavioral issue.

Some birds, and I believe other species as well, can develop behavioral problems that will manifest as self-trauma to varying degrees. In birds, this can include feather plucking and, in more severe cases, tissue destruction. I prefer to rule out underlying physical disease processes first, then consider behavioral issues. This is primarily because the patient will get worse only if the actual cause is physical disease.

The list of causes for Peedy's symptoms is extensive. From nutritional deficiencies to internal parasites, from metabolic disorders to external parasites, plucking behavior can be associated with all of these. Thus we begin the diagnostic process to try to reveal the underlying problem.

This process begins as always with a thorough physical examination, obviously paying close attention to the area where Peedy seems to be doing the same. This is not done at the exclusion of examining the rest of her as well, though. Beyond this first essential step, a specific diagnostic profile will be outlined based on physical examination findings and the patient history. It is through these steps that we hopefully

will be able to diagnose Peedy's problem. If we are unable to find an underlying physical disease, behavioral issues need to be considered.

I do not want you to think that this is a cast-in-stone method for cases like Peedy's. Every case is different and it is this dynamic nature of individuality that helps make this practice of veterinary medicine so interesting and challenging. Hopefully, for Peedy, the frustration part can be minimized.

Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.

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