Broken Blood Feathers Happen
Whether you’re new to pet birds, or not, if you have a pet bird, you need to know what to do about broken blood feathers. Broken blood feathers are the #1 minor medical problem that pet bird’s experience. Your bird molts once or twice a year to grow fresh new feathers. New feathers require a steady blood supply to properly grow. Think of the shaft of blood feathers as sort of like veins that deliver blood where it is needed. The shaft is the thick middle part of a feather. While you may not be able to see the pink, blood filled shaft of a small blood feather on your bird’s neck or head, you can see the pinkish blood flow in larger wing and tail feathers. These larger feathers are critical for balance and flight. Pet birds can easily break larger blood feathers in play, a fall or when they become startled. Imagine getting a new wing feather caught in between cage bars or breaking a tail feather from falling off the perch. It will happen so be prepared. Keep your hospital cage clean and ready for just such an accident and replenish your Super Clot Gel yearly. A broken or bleeding blood feather is a very painful and frightening experience for your bird, and can result in rapid blood loss if not dealt with quickly. A frightened bird may flap about out of fear, thereby increasing its heart rate and worsening the bleeding.
** Before you do anything **
Take a deep breath and calm yourself. Birds are very sensitive to reading our emotions and pick up on them as cues about how to react. That reaction will be a flight or fight response if they sense your fear.. If you are stressed out and frantic, you will put your bird into a panic, increasing blood pressure and the loss of blood. You should remain calm at all times during this process, being steady and clinical with your bird, almost as if you had no emotional attachment whatsoever. Your bird will sense your self-assuredness and will likely calm to match you.
Two Schools of Thought:
There are two schools of thought when it comes to managing broken blood feathers. The first says to leave the feather alone and to let the feather recover naturally, administering first aid if necessary. The second school of thought, and not as common any more, proposes removing the blood feather as quickly as possible and then applying Super Clot Gel or corn starch to the open follicle. Corn starch and flour tend to make hard little “biscuits” and are difficult to remove without causing even more damage and pain, so stick with the gel.
Leaving the Feather In:
Unless your bird is bleeding profusely or listless, it is best to leave the blood feather in and simply observe your bird to see if the body heals itself. In most cases, it will. While any blood loss is a concern, birds have remarkable clotting abilities and minor blood loss can be treated at home. Dr. Greg Burkett describes in Avian First Aid DVD, that he has not pulled a blood feather for over a decade! Why? It used to be thought that a bird could only lose 10% of its blood volume without becoming a critical emergency, but Dr. Burkett, a Board Certified Avian Vet, proposes that a healthy bird can lose up to 30% of its blood with fast recovery. Of course, you don’t want to push it! But, keep in mind that while a serious concern, you’ve got time to let the body heal. So do what you can to minimize blood loss calmly and quickly. So, for the majority of broken blood feathers follow these Home First Aid tips:
- Determine the location of the bleeding.
- Place your bird in a clean hospital cage to minimize movement and make observation easier.
- Observe your bird for 5 minutes.
- Is your bird listless or panting? Yes? Call the vet and get your bird in ASAP. Never the less, your calm reaction and a safe, confined space may reduce stress immediately.
- If bleeding doesn’t stop within 5 minutes, administer Bird First Aid and return to hospital cage. Bird first aid in this case means applying styptic gel at the site of the bleeding and applying pressure for 1-2 minutes.
- Once the bleeding has stopped continue to observe your bird in the hospital cage for at least 1-2 hours to be sure the bleeding doesn’t reoccur.
- If the bleeding reoccurs, take your bird in to your avian veterinarian immediately.
In 95% of these cases, the feather clot, it will continue to grow normally and the follicle will remain intact and produce healthy feathers in the future. Super Clot Gel allows you to apply an appropriate amount of clotting agent to exactly the source
Removing the blood feather:
Removing a broken blood feather is NOT the recommended treatment in the vast majority of cases. Remember that an overwhelming majority of broken blood feathers will heal on their own. First, pulling the feather is extremely painful for your bird and very emotionally traumatic. Primary wing and tail feathers are attached to a bone and ligament. Imagine how painful pulling one of these feathers would be to an already stressed bird. Would you want someone to restrain you and pull your fingernail out with a pair of pliers? NO WAY!! You want your bird to trust you to always be its ally. Causing severe pain while under the additional distress of restraint will severely damage your relationship with your bird. Leave this painful medical procedure to an experienced avian vet if time allows. Secondly, you will most likely damage the follicle if you pull a primary broken blood feather. This will result in even worse bleeding underneath the skin; a hematoma and probably an infection. Liken it to a puncture wound. Ouch upon Ouch upon Ouch. On a larger bird, the feather shaft may grow into the flesh to a depth of up to 1″. The depth of the wound is relative to a smaller bird. Pulling the feather probably won’t stop the bleeding. So now, you’re bird will develop a large, deep painful hematoma deep underneath the skin that is very difficult to treat and prone to infection. Thirdly, the follicle can become stretched and damaged resulting in the probability that it will always produce weak, abnormal feathers that easily break and grow weird. Weird feathers can’t be preened into shape, causing irritation. You don’t want to give your bird any reason to initiate feather plucking! For these reasons, we don’t want to promote pulling broken blood feathers. If the bleeding is so profuse that you are contemplating pulling the feather, we recommend that you:
- Apply Super Clot Gel, corn starch or flour to slow the bleeding
- Apply pressure to the site of the wound to minimize the bleeding and promote clotting.
- Get the first available appointment with your vet.
Things to take note of:
The important thing here is remaining calm. While bleeding is a major concern for your bird and always should be treated very seriously, birds do have amazing clotting abilities. While very resilient to minor blood loss they still can only afford to lose around 30% of their total blood volume before things start to get dangerous. In a 100 gram cockatiel that means that around .8 mls (or around 24 drops). By keeping your bird quiet your healthy birds natural clotting abilities will engage. If not, apply Super Clot Gel. So keep a clean hospital cage available at all times, get some Super Clot Gel and Soother Ointment to sooth pain and treat potential infections and develop a plan. All in all though, if you have moved quickly, calmly, and clinically throughout the incident, you can expect the broken blood feather to clot and heal on its own and the follicle to continue grow healthy, vibrant feathers. Sources:
- Burkett, Dr. Grey Avian First Aid DVD