What are Feather Cysts?

Feather cysts can appear anywhere but are more commonly associated with the primary feathers on the wings. Primary feathers are the longest of the flight feathers on the wings.  The primary feathers help the bird to be able to propel through the air. 

There are higher incidences of feather cysts in blue and gold macaws, budgerigars, and Gloster and Norwich canaries. Canaries have an inherited predisposition to develop feather cysts.

The feather will continue to grow under the skin with the buildup of the protein keratin.  The cysts can become very large and may rupture, which may cause a great deal of pain and blood loss.  If your bird has one or multiple feather cysts, he should be seen by an avian veterinarian.

Feather cysts in birds occur when a growing feather within the follicle is unable to push out to the surface.  The feather remains inside the follicle, under the skin.  Feather cysts are somewhat similar to an ingrown hair in humans.

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Symptoms of Feather Cysts in Birds

  • Oval or elongated swelling on the skin
  • Cysts can be singular or multiple
  • Bird may pick at area
  • Recurrent infection

Causes of Feather Cysts in Birds

Feather cysts may be caused by:

  • Bacterial or fungal infections
  • Malnutrition
  • Trauma
  • Bird picks/plucks his feathers
  • Genetics

Diagnosis of Feather Cysts in Birds

The avian veterinarian will want to go over the medical history of the bird. Let the veterinarian know when you first noticed the cyst and whether is has grown in size or changed in consistency. Inform him if your bird has had any recent injuries or has been picking at his feathers. The veterinarian may want to discuss the patient’s diet, feeding routine, environment and housing. If the patient has been seen by another veterinarian, it is recommended that you bring the previous medical records.

The veterinarian will then perform a physical exam.  He may suggest administering a gas anesthesia to the patient, before starting the physical exam.  An anesthetic may help your bird to not be overly stressed.  

The physical exam may include weighing the patient, checking his eyes, beak, oral cavity, and plumage. A palpation of the abdomen, wings and limbs will be done and the patient’s heart, lungs and air sacs may also be checked.

The veterinarian may recommend blood work, such as a complete blood count and a biochemistry serum profile.  A complete blood count will check the bird’s platelets and the red and white blood cells. The complete blood count can also detect if the patient is anemic or has a bacterial infection. The biochemistry serum profile can determine the patient’s organ functions, glucose, proteins, electrolytes and calcium levels.

Treatment of Feather Cysts in Birds

The veterinarian may lance the cyst and express the area of the keratin substance. Usually, the cyst will return and surgery may be recommended. The surgical removal of the cyst is generally a permanent solution.  Bacterial or fungal infections will need to be treated before the patient undergoes surgery. Antibiotics may be administered orally or in the bird’s water. 

Patients diagnosed as under nourished will need to be fed a balanced diet, in order to become healthier and stronger before the surgical removal of the cyst.

Your bird’s cage and bowls should be kept clean and disinfected. Fruits and vegetables given should be replaced daily.  Fresh and clean water should also be available. Good hygiene can help prevent bacterial and fungal infections from reoccurring.

Surgery may be performed by radiosurgery, laser or blade excision. The area will be bandaged and the surgeon may also place a collar on the patient. The collar may help prevent your bird from irritating his incision.  Your bird may need to stay overnight in the avian intensive care unit; he may be given fluids, pain medication and antibiotics to help prevent infections.

Recovery of Feather Cysts in Birds

Once the patient is release from the avian hospital, the surgeon will provide you with post-operative instructions.  The incision area may need to cleaned and flushed out with warm sterile saline several times a day. Your bird should be kept in a stress free atmosphere. Surgeons sometimes use sutures that dissolve on their own, others sutures may need to be removed by the veterinarian.  Birds that have feather cysts removed in the early stages have a very good recovery prognosis.

Some experts recommend amino acids supplements for a successful molt with no feather cysts.  Foods such as oranges, broccoli, corn, peas and spinach are rich in amino acids. Lecithin (unsaturated fatty acid), B vitamins, folic acid and biotin may also be suggested to help prevent feather cysts. 

Pet birds should be seen twice a year by an avian veterinarian.  Medical conditions have a better prognosis when diagnosed and treated in the early stages. Routine wellness check-ups can help ensure your bird lives a long and healthy life.