The most common emergency call avian vets receive concerns bleeding from broken blood feathers. All feathers on the body will have a blood supply inside the shaft that nourishes the feather while it grows, and the blood dries up after the feather matures.
Birds with clipped wings are most vulnerable to breaking these new blood feathers since they will be longer than the surrounding trimmed feathers, and may break when the bird flaps its wings and hits something. Less frequently, a tail feather or smaller body feather will bleed, and all of the same principles apply to treating these.
Blood may be splattered on the walls near the cage, or smeared on the side of the body, but we have never seen a verified case of a bird dying from a single broken feather.
Liver disease may result in blood clotting and a simple broken blood feather may result in prolonged, life-threatening bleeding.
If your pet picks at the site, or if bleeding recurs, a veterinarian may need to assist in pulling the broken shaft. However, it is not really an emergency if it is not bleeding any more, so you don’t have to seek out emergency care in the middle of the night.
However, if the bleeding doesn’t stop, action needs to be taken …
- Note: Blood feather pulling is not to be attempted by anyone who is inexperienced handling birds and even then it is risky. It is safest to have a vet pull the blood feather and show you how to do it for future reference.
- Blood clotting issues: The blood of birds with infections, bleeding disorders or liver disease may lack the ability to klot and if the bleeding cannot be stopped, the effects of exsanguination will kill a bird.
- Risks include broken bones, permanent injuries to the wing joint(s) and asphyxiation (smothering) if people hold a bird too tightly or incorrectly. It’s a simple procedure for those experienced at it, but it can result in injury and even death if inexperienced bird owners perform it without at least the oversight of a vet. Please refer to disclaimer.
Pulling a Blood feather / NOTE: To do it safely, it’s best done with 2 people
Things You’ll Need:
- Small towel
- Pliers (tweezers will NOT work)
- Restrain your bird. Wrap the bird in the towel. Its back should be against your palm. Hold the bird tightly as you don’t want it to be moving around a lot. Hold the bird’s head so that it is between your index and your middle finger. If you use the towel right, the bird will bite the towel instead of your fingers. Extend its wing, using your thumb and index finger. This does take some practice.
- Locate the stem of the blood feather. Note: The wing should be carefully supported to avoid breaking the delicate wing bones. Special care should be taken to keep the wing joints stabilized during the procedure. Using pliers, grab the stem of the blood feather as close to the skin as you can get, making a very firm grip. Pull firmly and quickly! Pulling slow will cause more pain and may further damage the feather.
- Apply light pressure to stop the bleeding.
- Use cornstarch, stopping powder, flour or a bar of soap to the bleeding area to help the wound clot. Important: The use of Quick Stop aka Kwik Stop or silver nitrate sticks powder is not recommended, as both silver nitrate and Kwik Stop can cause systemic poisoning.
- Note: The bleeding area may be a tiny stub barely visible protruding from the skin, or the blood may come from the end of the shaft where the feather is emerging.
- Apply blood stopping powder, flour or cornstarch to help the wound clot. The bleeding area may be a tiny stub barely visible protruding from the skin, or the blood may come from the end of the shaft where the feather is emerging. Inspect the wing in about a half-hour to make sure it is no longer bleeding.
- Afer the bleeding is stopped, keep the bird calm and quiet in its cage. Treatment by a veterinarian may not be needed if there is no further bleeding, and the bird seems to act normal.
Like any animal relationship, your bond with your bird will help make this process easier. After the ordeal, be sure to praise the bird and give it a treat.
Consult your veterinarian immediately…
… if your bird appears weak or there is excessive blood loss
… if the wound does not clot or else, your bird will bleed to death
… if the feather broke off below the skin line, the feather cannot be totally removed and the bird should be immediately examined by a veterinarian.
Do not trim flight feathers until new feathers have grown in. This means that the bird may be able to fly, so take precautions when handling your bird.
This is a fairly simple procedure. However, if you are at all uncomfortable with it, seek a professional veterinarian that deals with birds. Your hesitancy will scare the bird and may do more damage.
Species Research by Sibylle Johnson
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