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Blood Feathers, The Bleeding Won’t Stop!

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It was a very busy week, lots and lots of patients. We had our hands full with annual physicals and grooming visits. It seems all of our clients are getting the routine things done before cold weather arrives.

Wing clips are quite common. We bend to the owner’s wishes and clip the flight feathers as required. We try to hit that magic point where the bird can glide but not fly. By gliding I mean that the bird has some control over how they land if they start from a higher point.

Too often we see clips (home or professional) that have gone too far. When, the bird loses their balance and fall they go splat on the floor. This sometimes results in internal injuries, broken bones or broken feathers. It’s not pretty when they arrive at our office.

Broken Blood Feather

One of the simplest and worst outcomes we see is when a blood feather gets broken. A blood feather is a feather that is in a fast growth stage. A large blood supply is present in the shaft of the feather and profuse bleeding can occur if broken.

Bird owners try all kinds of things to stop the bleeding. Some try to pinch the feather closed, others try to apply pressure to stop the bleeding. Others push cotton or gauze into the bleeding feather. None of this works for long. Please do not do any of these things unless you are in route to your avian veterinarian as a very temporary measure.

Perhaps the best option I have seen is pressing a paper towel or clean cloth against the tip of the bleeding feather while transporting the bird. Typically the bleeding is not going to stop on its own. A blood feather usually provides a strong source of blood. Chemical blood clotting agents may produce a temporary reduction/stoppage of bleeding. They are not a cure.

When we get the bird we first try and calm them down so we can work with them. Owners tend to expect the extreme worse and create anxiety in their bird. Once we get them calmed down the fix is not too complicated.

The biggest problem is that we are likely to get bitten! First we find the broken blood feather, then, assuming the shaft going into the skin is intact we remove it. A sharp jerk usually does it. It is quite painful to the bird but the shaft usually comes out clean. We then wait a few minutes to see if the bleeding will stop on its own. Most of the time this is what happens and a new feather will soon grow out.

In the wild the bird will do the same thing if they can get ahold of the broken feather, they will attempt to pull it out. I know of no instances where other birds have assisted in removing a broken blood feather.

We do not recommend bird owners attempt to remove the shaft from the wing. It is really quite painful to the bird. Birds have good memories. Often when an owner removes the feather successful or not the bird’s attitude towards that person will change for the worst.

If the shaft has been shattered under the skin this can be a real problem. The sharp pieces of the feather shaft can create a great deal of discomfort and pain. They can also become a source of infection that might require the wing being amputated.

When the shaft is shattered we typically us anesthesia to put the pet into a deep sleep. Then we try to remove all the fragments of feather shaft. If this can be done, all is good, the bleeding will stop and the bird will heal. A feather will begin to grow out in a matter of weeks.

It is another thing if we have to open the wing up to remove fragments. In these cases the surgical intervention will almost 100% of the time keep the bird from ever growing a feather back in that location. In the wild it is not a problem, the bird will still be able to easily fly missing a flight feather or two.

At home it simply looks like a gap in the wing feathers and is purely an aesthetic issue. The bird will be their own self when they return home.
With a little forethought and planning a broken blood feather can be easily treated by qualified personnel.

It is REALLY IMPORTANT that you know how to get ahold of your veterinarian after hours and on weekends. Talk with them; find out how and when they will respond to an emergency. Often when out of town another vet will provide services in their absence.

Find out if there are any 24 hour emergency treatment options available. Contact your local college, if they teach any veterinary skills they may have an emergency room for pets. At the minimum, any veterinarian school, should be able to point you to well qualified people.

Call first. Have a list of phone numbers for an avian emergency. In an emergency you do not need a Board Certified Avian Veterinarian. Most, if not all vets have some training in avian medicine. Keep calling the people on your list until you find help. But, first you need to build that list. Do it now before your need it.

Keep your bird warm and calm, slow the bleeding and transport your bird to receive the qualified medical attention they need.

I’ll see you on the flip-side!

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