Pet shop Gloucester advice series. Does your parrot pluck its feathers? Have you considered zinc poisoning?
It is known that in many birds that pluck their own feathers there is a toxic level of zinc in the blood.
Zinc is an essential trace element in birds (and humans) but in high levels it becomes toxic. A blood zinc level of over 2ppm is indicative of zinc poisoning. Zinc poisoning can be acute, i.e. caused by ingesting an large item of zinc coated metal or chronic – caused by ingesting lower levels of zinc over a longer period of time. Due to the nature of zinc and its low excretion rate from the body, the levels gradually increase to toxic.
Where could your bird have ingested zinc? The first place to look is the cage or aviary. What is the cage constructed of? If it is galvanised wire (“hot dipped”) bits of zinc coating will have pooled in the corners of the wire mesh. Not only are these attractive to parrots as something to be picked at, they also are relatively easy for the bird to get off and ingest. Also a white powder will, over time, coat the surface of the wire and this can also be ingested, gradually poisoning the bird. Older cages may be painted with paint containing zinc pigments (not in modern cages) which can flake and be picked off by the bird. Electroplated galvanised weld mesh is a different product to hot dipped wire and is considered safe. Our cages are iron which is then powder coated which seals the metal. Make sure you know which yours is.
Another place to look is cage furniture and locks.Are any of you feeding or water bowls galvanised? Zinc will dissolve in acids so fruit in bowls will cause heightened levels. It will also dissolvein slightly basic water, so check your waterers as well. Some padlocks are galvanised. Parrots like to pick locks and swallow any object they can. Did you have any metal objects in your cage that are no longer there and did you notice them go missing before your parrot started plucking?
Feather plucking is only one symptom of zinc poisoning. The zinc builds up in the liver, kidneys, pancreas and muscles and produces a range of symptoms, depending on levels. The commoner symptoms are excess urine (in the droppings), excessive thirst (to replace the water lost), weight loss, lethargy and weakness, anemia (lack of red blood cells), raised blood sugar level, cyanosis (low oxygen level in the blood, linked to anemia) and seizures. Acute poisoning can also lead to green diarrhoea, vomiting and death.
So if your bird is feather plucking the first thing you should do is remove any source of zinc from its environment (this will often be enough to stop the plucking) and have a blood test to see if zinc poisoning was the cause. There are treatments to reduce blood zinc levels available if acute poisoning was the cause (usually either oral or injected chelating agents which lock the zinc up in harmless forms that are more easily excreted).
Contact us if you want further advice.
Pet shop Gloucester advice series.
The Angell Pets Team