If you have a bird, whether you're a "newbie" or an experienced birder, you need to know what to do about a broken blood feather. Broken blood feathers are the #1 minor medical problem that a pet bird will experience.
Your bird molts or loses its old feathers, to grow fresh, new feathers once or twice a year. As new feathers are growing in, they require a steady blood supply which is delivered through the shaft. A feather shaft is the stiff middle part of the feather. Think of the shaft of a blood feather like a vein that delivers blood where it is needed.
At first glance, you may not see the pink, blood-filled shaft of a blood feather. They're hard to spot on your bird's neck, head, or torso. You can see the pinkish blood flow in the larger wing and tail feathers.
Our birds can easily break larger blood feathers in play, if they get it caught in between the cage bars, or if the bird falls off of a perch when it becomes startled.
Baby birds often break blood feathers. They may not have the physical stamina to perch all night long and they can get night frights and fall off of the perch.
Most birds will experience broken blood feathers in their lifetime, so be prepared to stop the bleeding and offer at-home treatment. It may just save your birds' life.
In order to fly, bird's have to be lightweight, so they have smaller volumes of blood in their body. When a blood feather breaks, it's a bit like an open faucet, depleting the blood supply. The wound will bleed until it clots.
An untreated broken blood feather may cause your bird to bleed out. It is important to stop the bleeding as fast as possible.
Plan ahead so that if and when your bird breaks a blood feather, you're equipped to act fast. Keep your hospital cage clean and ready for just such an accident and replenish your Styptic powder yearly.
Image of a broken blood feather
While your first instinct may be to pull a broken blood feather out, keep in mind that your ultimate goal is to stabilize your bird, NOT to cause it further injury. Any time that your bird is injured and bleeding --
Take a deep breath and calm yourself. Birds are very sensitive to reading our emotions and they pick up on our 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 its blood pressure and increasing the blood flow. 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.
Most cases of bleeding can be clotted. This is definitely the treatment of choice. Read on for everything you need to know about home treatment of a broken blood feather.
No! (In most cases.)
It's 2021. Prominent avian vets are no longer encouraging us to pull out a bleeding blood feather as the first line of defense.
There are a couple of reasons why this method is frowned upon by modern veterinarians.
First, pulling out a feather is incredibly painful to the bird as the feather shaft is deeply embedded in living skin tissue. When you pull the feather out, you end up ripping out a bunch of skin tissue and potentially causing damage to ligaments and bones, too.
Can you imagine how painful that would be?
Secondly, your bird will have a rough time getting over this painful, traumatic experience. Causing your bird intense pain will affect your bond with it and could possibly result in a very nervous pet. Sort of birdie PTSD.
If you deem that pulling the feather as necessary, I'd recommend that you have an avian vet perform the task. They can support your pet should it go into shock from the pain and treat the area to prevent an infection or deal with the pain that this secondary injury has caused.
In most cases, the safest, most efficient home treatment for a broken blood feather is to induce clotting. Your goal is to minimize blood loss and avoid further injury.
Unless your bird is bleeding profusely and you just can't stop the bleeding after several minutes, it is best to leave the blood feather in.
Stop the bleeding by applying pressure to the affected feather and use a clotting substance. Then, eep a close eye on your bird observe to ensure that the bleeding has indeed stopped.
While any blood loss is a concern, well-nourished birds have remarkable clotting abilities and minor blood loss can be treated at home. Birds with vitamin K deficiencies will have a rougher time.
Vitamin K rich foods includegreen leafy vegetables, like kale, spinach, turnip greens, collards, Swiss chard, mustard greens, parsley, romaine, and green leaf lettuce.
Dr. Greg Burkett describes in his DVDAvian First Aid, that he has not pulled ablood feather for over a decade!
Why? It used to be thought that a bird could only lose 10% of its blood volume without it becoming a critical emergency, but Dr. Burkett, a Board Certified Avian Vet, proposes that a healthy, well nourished 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 broken blood feather is a serious concern, you’ve got time to let the body heal naturally. So, do what you can to minimize blood loss calmly and quickly.
In 95% of these cases, the affected feather will continue to grow normally and the follicle will remain intact and produce healthy feathers in the future.
GetMiracle Care Kwik Stop Styptic Solution Gel Swabs to apply an appropriate amount of clotting agent directly to the source of the bleeding.
Removing a broken blood feather isNOT the recommended treatment in the vast majority of cases. Remember that an overwhelming majority of broken blood feathers will heal with clotting support.
As I mentioned above, pulling the blood feather out is extremelypainful for your bird and can put your bird into shock. It can also cause severe emotional trauma. Primary wing and tail feathers are attached to a bone and ligaments. Imagine how painful pulling one of these feathers would put a bird in a deadly case of shock.
You want your bird to trust you. Your bird needs to trust that you willalwaysbe its ally. Causing severe pain while under the additional distress of restraint and pain will severely damage your relationship with your bird. Leave this delicate and painful medical procedure to an experienced avian vet if at all possible.
But, more than that, it is likely that you’ll damage the feather follicle when pulling out a blood feather. In other words, the skin tissue that holds the feather in place will be ripped out with the feather.
It's likely that that particular feather follicle will not be able to grow normal feathers again. The feathers may grow in curved and they won’t align with the surrounding feathers. This discomfort alone can result in a feather plucking problem.
Next, pulling the shaft out can result in even worse bleeding underneath the skin. This is called a hematoma. A hematoma is when your bird develops a large, deep painful bruise deep under the skin. It is very difficult to treat, prone to infection, and may induce a feather plucking habit.
Once the bleed has clotted, the healing can begin. But, your bird has been through a traumatic event and it will be critical to provide general supportive care to your injured bird.
The healing time depends on a variety of specifics about the injury:
If you were able to clot the blood quickly on a healthy bird so that it didn’t incur any additional tissue damage, you can anticipate a quick recovery of about 24 - 48 hours.
If your bird lost a moderate amount of blood, other body organs ma have been affected.
You may need to make an electrolyte mix to support your bird or even hand-fed it. You can find a bird-safe electrolyte recipe for it here.
Please note that electrolytes don't take the place of emergency veterinary care. Force-feeding may be necessary if your bird is very weak. You may try getting fluids into the sick birds using a dropper.
At this stage, I’d suggest:
If your bird lost a substantial amount of blood or the broken blood feather had to be pulled out, recovery will take longer. Please seek veterinary care if this is the case.
Hopefully, you were able to get quick, expert veterinary care. Read this blog post to learn how to stabilize a severely injured bird and know when to get veterinary care: Stabilizing a Sick Bird & When To See A Vet.
Expect your bird to feel sick and weak. It’s resiliency and stamina will be lower. Plan to potentially support your pet with the following activities:
It's scary to find your bird bleeding. Broken blood feathers is a common problem, especially when a birds wings are trimmed to avoid flight. But, they happen at one time or another with all pet birds. You don't want your bird to bleed out. Print my free guide of the steps to take to stop a bleeding blood feather.
Burkett, Dr.Grey Avian First Aid DVD
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