April 22, 2016 6 min read 1 Comment

What is a Broken Blood Feather?

Whether you're new to pet birds, or not, if you have a ird, you need to know what to do about a broken blood feather.  Broken blood feathers are the #1 minor medical problem that pet bird’s experience.

Your bird molts or loses its old feathers, once or twice a year in order to grow fresh, new feathers.  As new feathers are growing in, they require a steady blood supply which is delivered in the stiff middle part of the feather, the shaft.  Think of the shaft of a blood feather as a vein that delivers blood where it is needed.  

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, if they get it caught between cage bars, or if they fall off of a perch when they become startled.  Most birds will experience broken blood feathers in their lifetime, so be prepared to stop the bleeding. It may just save your birds' life.

You see, birds have relatively little blood in their bodies, so a broken blood feather can cause your bird to bleed out rather quickly.  It is important to stop the bleeding fast.

Precautions Matter

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. 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.

 

Broken Blood Feather

 

Treating a Broken Blood Feather

First, 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 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:

Induce Clotting

There are two schools of thought when it comes to managing broken blood feathers. The first says administer a clotting substance to the cracked feather shaft to stop the bleeding.  This can be styptic powder, common baking flour or corn starch.  You may have to apply light pressure to the affected feather shaft to allow the broken blood feather to clot up. While the feather won't be attractive, it will fall out at the next molt

To Pull or Not to Pull

The second school of thought, and not as common anymore, proposes removing the blood feather as quickly as possible.  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 embedded deeply in living skin tissue.  When you pull the feather out, you're ripping out a bunch of skin tissue and potentially causing damage to ligaments with it.  This wound can become infected or cause bleeding in its own right.  Just as important, causing your bird intense pain will affect your bond with it.  If you deem pulling the feather as necessary, I'd recommend that you have an avian vet perform the task.

Leaving the Broken Blood Feather In:

Unless your bird is bleeding profusely or listless, it is best to leave the blood feather in, applying a clotting substance and simply observing your bird to see the bleeding slows and stops.  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 his DVD Avian First Aid, 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 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.

If your bird experiences a broken blood feather, follow these home first aid tips: 

 
  1. Determine the location of the bleeding.
  2. Apply cornstarch or flour and a little pressure to induce clotting.
  3. Once the bleeding slows, place your bird in a clean hospital cage to minimize movement and make observation easier.
  4. 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 the hospital cage. Bird first aid, in this case, means applying the styptic gel or another clotting agent to 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 into your avian veterinarian immediately.
  • 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 into 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

Don't remove a broken blood feather unless absolutely necessary.

broken blood feather

Avian First Aid is a comprehensive presentation designed to
teach owners how to properly handle a pet bird emergency

 

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.

Once again, pulling the feather is extremelypainful 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 alwaysbe 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:

  1. Apply Super Clot Gel, corn starch or flour to slow the bleeding
  2. Apply pressure to the site of the wound to minimize the bleeding and promote clotting.
  3. Get the first available appointment with your vet.

Things to take note of:

Medihoney

Get Medihoney for Broken Blood Feather

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 Medihoney 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 growing healthy, vibrant feathers.

Sources:

  1. Burkett, Dr. Grey Avian First Aid DVD
  2. http://www.hagen.com/hari/docu/firstaidbleeding.html
  3. http://littlefeatheredbuddies.com/info/health-bloodfeathers.html
  4. http://www.newyorkbirds.net/bleeding.html
  5. http://www.hagen.com/hari/docu/firstaidbleeding.html

1 Response

Trina
Trina

October 08, 2019

I have a 3 week old or so duckling and my two chickens the same age started pecking at its pin feathers and made about 3 or so bleed. I put pressure on the wing and put him in a cool tub, the bleeding clotted pretty quick however I have a friend that raises ducks and chickens recommend pulling the pin feathers out with tweezers! I couldn’t bring myself to hurt my little duck like that! Since the bleeding clotted should lil duck be ok if I leave it alone? Is there anything you recommend doing?

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