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Educational Series: Is My Bird Sick? Part 2 Skin Condition

For those birds who are all covered in feathers (aren’t they the lucky ones?), it’s hard to tell if their skin is in good health. It’s a little easier to view the skin condition of birds who engage in feather destruction, but the truth of the matter is we need to be inspecting the skin condition of all of our birds whether they engage in feather destruction or they are full feathered.

Skin can tell us a lot about the overall health of our birds if we only take the time to take a look at our bird’s skin from time to time.

For the most part our bird’s skin should be fairly taught and without too many crepe-like wrinkles. Yes, there will be some wrinkles; we don’t want our bird’s skin to be so tight that it looks like it is about ready to burst open. Let me explain the difference.

Super tight skin may indicate that our bird is obese. We want the skin to be taught or without too many wrinkles. This indicates that the skin is well-hydrated and our bird is probably receiving enough food on a weekly basis. There is a caveat to this, “Is our bird receiving the right kinds of foods to maintain healthy internal systems?” Just having taught skin is not enough proof to base that decision upon, but taught skin is *one* indicator of an overall healthy bird. If the skin is overly tight then we may need to cut back on the amount of food we are feeding or the *kinds* of foodstuffs we are feeding such as too many grains, seeds, legumes and other starchy foods.

Too many wrinkles or crepe-like skin indicate other potential problems. The first and most frequent problem I see in birds with wrinkly skin is under-hydration due to lack of intake of drinking water or lack of moisture in the main staple diet. If we are feeding extremely dry foods to our bird, such as heat-processed and/or extruded kibble, we are starving our bird’s digestive tract of the intrinsic moisture it REQUIRES in order to extract the nutrients from the food it consumes! This concept holds just as true with dried out, dead seed that is not sprouted. Or one other very prevalent problem is the inability for the digestive tract to absorb moisture due to damage of the lining of the digestive tract. I just outlined three potential problems to overly-wrinkled skin. Did you catch them?

1. Lack of intake of drinking water.
2. Lack of moisture in staple foods.
3. Inability of the digestive tract to absorb moisture from foods.

Drinking Water Intake

Many of us have witnessed our birds visiting their water bowls frequently to dunk their food in the water. Part of the reasoning behind this (yes, birds do have the innate ability to “reason” to some extent), is because they intrinsically know their digestive tract requires moisture in order to extract the nutrients from the food they consume. Plus the moisture softens the food so the rough edges does not scrape the delicate mucous lining of their digestive tract. A dried out digestive tract leaves it vulnerable for bacteria and fungus to enter the blood stream. Furthermore dunking the food “washes” away naturally occurring food constituents like the chemical toxins Nature places in foods to keep pests from eating those foods. Naturally occurring chemical constituents like salic acid and histamines that are placed there by Mother Nature to deter pests and herbivores from eating the plant so that the plant can continue to grow. Yes, every living being in Nature has been given its own unique defense mechanisms of protection, even plants that do not have the ability to “run away” from their predators! Plants have built-in protection in the way of naturally occurring chemicals like alkaloids, acids, tannins and histamines and other anti-nutrients to prevent pests and animals from eating them! Many foods nowadays are picked before their perfect ripeness, or at home we allow them to over-ripen before serving them to our birds. If these foods are fed unripened they contain high amounts of salic acid. If they are fed too ripe they contain histamines. Or birds sense these naturally occurring chemicals present in these foods with their intrinsic intuition and attempt to wash those chemicals away in their water bowls. In the wild birds know just the perfect time to eat these foods when they are at the perfect ripeness and have the least amount of naturally occurring anti-nutrients and toxins present.

Moisture In Foods

If we are not feeding a primarily fresh diet full of original moisture our birds may not be receiving enough moisture if they do not seem to have the intrinsic intuition, I call it “Parrotuition™” to know to dunk their food, or drink large volumes of water. Our company produces Origins Wild Diet™ foods in such a manner that much of the original moisture is retained in the fresh ingredients. We do not use high heat or extrusion to produce our foods. Instead we use gentle dehydration at temperatures below 115 degrees. Industry standards call for 15% moisture for “semi moist” foods. Our foods do not meet that standard, but come very close at about 12-13%. Most other commercial bird foods are well below that percentage averaging about 10% at best. One well-known company does not provide the moisture content which, by industry standards is not only unethical, but illegal. Still there are other small, home-based companies that are not licensed, nor do they provide any guaranteed analysis whatsoever. Please be wary of these companies. While no one knows the exact and specific “balanced nutritional profile” for every species of parrot, we all do have generally accepted guidelines. Those guidelines should be viewed as a “rule-of-thumb” to base our home as well as our commercial formulations upon so that we can use a scientific approach along with good, common sense ensuring our birds are receiving the best possible well-rounded nutrition. Simply using a “concept” and the “throwing in the kitchen sink” approach will not satisfy our birds long term, overall nutritional requirements to thrive throughout the long years they are supposed to enjoy!

When it comes to providing moisture in our bird’s diet I would encourage feeding a lot of fresh tropical fruit such as mango, papaya, green banana, parsley leaves, cilantro leaves, dandelion leaves, and microgreens. I would limit the amount of cruciferous microgreens due to the fact they contain “goitrogens” that can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones. I would also feed a limited sprouted seeds and legumes with only a tad of sprouted grains IF your bird’s species originates where grains are indigenous (not imported crops) to the region. In addition, it may not be a bad idea to add moisture to your bird’s commercial food, just a bit to soften it, if you will be home to remove any uneaten food within a 2 hour time frame. The FDA strongly suggests we do not leave moist food in the open air any longer than 2 hours to prevent bacterial growth. I agree with those guidelines for the good health of our birds.

I also have a preference as to the pH level of the water I use for my birds’ drinking water as well as the water I use to rehydrate dry foods. I use natural spring water with a pH of about 7.2 to 8.0. I do not have a natural spring near me so I opt for bottled water, preferably Fiji spring water with a pH of 7.7. Although Evian spring water is acceptable with a pH of 7.43. Slightly alkaline water with naturally occurring trace minerals aids in the absorption of those minerals and other nutrients.

Moisture Absorption Via Digestive Tract

Even though our birds may be drinking enough water, or receiving moisture from fresh foods it doesn’t mean they are absorbing that moisture from their foods into their system through their digestive tract walls.

If their digestive tract has incurred and sustained any damage from foods they should not have eaten, or from foreign objects passing through, the absorption of nutrients will be limited. Ultimately this will result in the condition of their skin. Not only will they not be able to absorb moisture in the form of water, they will not be able to absorb dietary fats once they are saponified (turned to liquid by the digestion process), nor will they be able to properly absorb any of the nutrients they consume.
How does a bird’s digestive tract incur injury that can be permanent?

Birds are not mammals, they are aves and a very special class of aves at that. They do not produce the digestive enzyme “cellulase” in order to digest cellulose found in botanically classified vegetables. Nor do they have the organ known as a “cecum” to pulverize and liquefy cellulose in order for the liquid version of cellulose to be reabsorbed into the metabolic system and used as glucose. Therefore if our parrots, having a very delicate, short and narrow digestive tract are fed high volumes of cellulose, such as from a high-vegetable diet the cellulose potentially tears away at the mucous lining of their digestive tract exposing the thin walls of the tract. This leaves the digestive tract wide open for scraping (allowing bacteria and fungus to enter the blood stream) and eventually scarring of the digestive tract. As more and more scarring builds up the digestive tract is unable to absorb any and all nutrients, including moisture and saponified dietary fats. Thus the skin does not receive the hydration necessary to keep it soft and supple.

Pink or Reddish Skin

If your bird has pink or reddish skin you may want to rethink your bird’s diet; most likely your bird has some kind of food sensitivity. Most parrots have a neutral color to their skin. While there may be a very normally slight pink color to your bird’s skin, if it is obviously pink to red your bird is suffering some kind of food sensitivity or a sensitivity to some kind of airborne allergy or some kind of trigger in its immediate environment.

I have seen this over and over again; many foods we think are fine for our birds will cause pink to reddish skin. Our birds may not actually scratch. They may be overly active, they may scream, they may not seem to rest well, or, or, or, but something is triggering the pink skin.
Often I find it is salicylates or histamines in food that our parrots cannot tolerate. Or it may be food colorings or preservatives. Some parrots cannot consume strawberries or foods in that family. There is a certain protein in strawberries, apples and birch that some parrots are almost deathly allergic to. The protein in strawberries is the Fra a1 protein. (1) In addition some parrots do not tolerate quercetin found in a number of foods. Although quercetin is normally considered an anti-oxidant, when consumed with foods high in Vitamin C it may potentially actually trigger food sensitivities. I have witnessed this in the parrots I rehab. Some parrots are extremely sensitive to phenols found in many herbs and spices.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of airborne antagonists too numerous to list. Let’s begin with the obvious; chemical air fresheners of any kind in the can, potpourri, candles, incense, essential oils, wall plugins, etc. Even your fireplace or wood-burning stove can trigger your bird. Cooking pots and pans, utensils and equipment if coated with non-stick films can triggers birds. Some self-cleaning ovens are coated with films that trigger birds. Needless to say if you have a gas furnace or oven be sure there are no leaks in your house. Oil-burning heaters should be checked too. If your bird is uber-sensitive you will want to stop wearing perfumes and colognes, stop using scented shampoos and conditioners as well as scented body washes and lotions. The cleaning solutions in your home should be scent-free. We only use 3% hydrogen peroxide and baking soda to clean our entire home, sanctuary and production facility. “Clean doesn’t have a scent.”

Pimples, Papules, Pustules, Nodules & Cysts

Due to the fact it is very difficult to find photos of birds with pimples, papules, etc I have inserted photos of humans with these skin blemishes in order to describe them. Pimples are basically a skin irritation and can indicate an allergic reaction to something or that your bird has been bitten by an insect, spider or some other creepy-crawly or has parasites. You need to perform a thorough examination to make sure your bird does not have parasites. If you deduce that your bird does not have parasites then you need to try to learn if your bird is allergic to something you are feeding or some kind of airborne allergy.

Once a pimple turns into a papule or pustule infection probably has set in. The body’s defense mechanism in terms of white blood cells has come to try to kill the infection and this is why you see white pus. I would not try to pop the blemish myself. Instead take your bird to your vet to have the blemish checked. Nodules are hard cysts that are not able to be determined by you what they really are. They could be nothing and will go away over time, but they could be tumors. You should have your vet look at the nodules to determine if further diagnostic testing needs to be performed. This holds true for cysts as well. Most likely a cyst can be opened and drained with no further medical treatment needed except for antibacterial ointment or remedy, but you should have your vet perform this medical task. In the case of an underlying tumor your vet will know how to proceed. Sometimes in the case of a nodule or cyst it is nothing more than a feather that curled up in the follicle and could not break through the skin.



Yellow Skin

If your bird’s skin is yellow or has a yellow tint this is a sign that some internal organ is beginning to suffer or fail. It could be the kidneys, liver or pancreas or all of the above. When a bird’s filtration system begins to falter the toxins begin to filter through the skin. The skin is the body’s largest organ. Every living creature takes in and excretes both nutrients and toxins through the skin. If the internal filtering system is over-burdened the skin will take on as much of the job as it possibly can. When we begin to see yellowing skin on our bird we know our bird is in serious trouble. At this point in time do not waste time, get your bird to your vet for a liver enzyme test. Have all of the pertinent blood tests performed to check the kidneys, liver, pancreatic function with “amylase” levels. Once you learn the results remember that parrot diagnostics, even though we have had these available to us for years, are still in their infancy. In other words, no numbers are hard and fast. Get opinions from another vet and your trusted avian nutrition consultant as well as trusted friends in your avian community before you place your bird on any medicine, diet or decide the ultimate fate of your bird.

Blue or Gray Skin

(Some species have naturally bluish-gray skin, be sure you know the natural color of your specie’s skin tone) Blue or gray skin in birds that don’t naturally have blue-gray skin tones most often indicates that your bird is not receiving enough oxygen in its overall system. I see this most often in birds that are under or malnourished and/or have liver disease. I also see this in birds who are struggling with cardiovascular disease. All of this can be reversed if the bird is not too far into liver disease and/or cardiovascular disease.

Most birds have been fed “dead food” in the form of highly processed kibble manufactured with high heat and/or by using the extrusion process. These foods do not contain living, active digestive enzymes, naturally occurring fatty acids (enough Omega 3s), naturally occurring amino acids (natural proteins), and the naturally occurring micro nutrients known as non-synthetic vitamins and minerals. In addition because these foods are highly processed they are more on the acidic side of the pH scale, rather than the alkaline side of the pH scale. This causes our birds’ systems to become more acidic. Properly functioning bodies need to remain on the slightly alkaline side of the pH scale to remain healthy. When their systems become acidic less and less oxygen is available for their entire system. Soon their heart doesn’t function properly and blood doesn’t flow to all of the organs in the manner Nature intended. In addition the brain doesn’t receive the amount of blood or oxygen it needs to properly function.
Furthermore if our birds are consuming highly processed foods, foods that are basically “dead in nutrition”, our birds’ respiratory systems do not receive the large amount of oxygen necessary for flight. Although many of our birds do not fly long distances like they do in the wild, they still need a maximum amount of oxygen flowing through all of their air sacs. Birds do not have moist diaphragms like we do to help filter toxins. Birds will have 7 to 9 air sacs in addition to their lungs. (2) They rely on heavily oxygenated air to filter out the toxins from their respiratory system.

Living foods teeming with original, live and active nutrients are more likely to provide the nutrients necessary required for our birds to produce and synthesize all of the co-factors for a healthy homeostasis.

Certain nutrients are most important in oxygenating the bodily systems. Vitamin B12 and iron are vitally important in synthesizing oxygen within the body. Vitamin B12 and iron in our birds’ diets are often overlooked.

B12 and iron can easily be blocked by feeding foods high in tannins. Some of those foods would be tea leaves or tea brewed from tea leaves, grapes, persimmons, most legumes, squash, pecans, walnuts, strawberries, pomegranates and many more. I suggest you perform an Internet search to find others. B12 is extremely important in our birds’ diet. I recently wrote an article about this important nutrient. Not only is it important for the synthesis of oxygen, but it is vital for the synthesis of nerve endings, energy production and brain function as well.

We are often warned against getting too much iron in our birds’ diets. This comes from commercial bird food manufacturers using heavy metal equipment to produce their commercial bird foods and “inorganic” iron getting into their foods. Inorganic iron cannot be utilized by the body the same way naturally occurring iron can. Inorganic iron gets into the body, finds its way to the liver and sits there causing ISD or IOS (iron storage disease or iron overload syndrome). (This is not to be confused with true frugivorous birds who cannot tolerate large amounts of organic iron in their diets.)
However, too much iron in the body, especially inorganic iron fed along with Vitamin C will cause this type of iron to circulate and recirculate in the system, settling in organs causing or adding to IOS without the body ever really utilizing the inorganic iron for bodily functions. The body becomes toxic with iron that cannot be utilized. You may even see a “bronzing of the feathers” due to iron overload syndrome.

We should not be afraid of our birds receiving organic iron in their diet. This would be from natural sources such as food sources, not ferric or ferrous iron from heavy metal laden equipment. (These terms should not be confused with “heme, organic iron” and “non-heme, inorganic iron” which differentiates between animal and plant iron. I am simply referring to “organic” as a naturally occurring iron in food vs “inorganic” which is a man-made, heavy metal iron.)
Foods with a high ORAC rating (oxygen radical absorbance), in other words overall high anti-oxidant activity will also oxygenate our birds’ systems. Most of us know these foods to be dark in color like berries and tender greens.

Flakey Skin

Finally if your bird has flakey skin you need to consider a yeast infection. It may be that your bird is only dehydrated and I have covered that above, but it may be that your bird has a yeast infection. It is fairly common for our birds to have chronic yeast infections, especially if they have been on a highly processed diet of kibble, fed table foods of high starch foods and have been fed fruits along with those foods *at the same time.* How and when we feed foods, the way we combine foods has much to do with how their digestive tracts will process those foods and how their overall bodily systems will react. When feeding starches along with proteins, sugars along with starches, high Omega 6 diets, we are causing a cascade of battling bacteria within the digestive tract. Some foods break down faster than other foods. When this happens it causes the remaining food to ferment in the digestive tract allowing for unhealthy bacteria to begin to grow. Bad bacteria grow at a faster rate than healthy bacteria and soon yeast will follow.

If you suspect that your bird is developing or has developed a yeast infection I urge you to visit your vet for a fecal float, a crop swab and a good checkup. Once you have your bird on a plan to reverse the yeast infection, using either your vet’s plan of action or your avian nutritional consultant’s plan of action, then you need to rethink your bird’s dietary plan so you know how to combine foods in such a way that yeast doesn’t gain an opportunity to grow inside your bird’s digestive tract. It’s not a simple matter of eliminating a certain food; it’s a matter of knowing what to feed and when.
We’ve covered a lot in Part 2 of “Is My Bird Sick?” I would imagine there is a lot more we could discuss, but this gives all of us some basic starting points to look for regarding our birds’ skin and the overall health of our birds. Don’t forget, we can’t just look at the skin and not everything else about our birds; remember to view the droppings on a daily basis too. If we are practicing a truly “holistic” approach about the health of our birds we will be examining everything mind, body and soul!

Ref: (1); (2)

©10.23.15 Machelle Pacion Passion Tree House LLC All Rights Reserved

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