Birds and Biting

Ask any bird owner and they will probably tell you that the most serious bird behavior problem is biting.  This is especially true with the larger birds whose strong jaw and hooked bills can inflict considerable damage and pain.  Most biting behaviors can be classified as fear, aggression, territorial, conditioned or mate related.

Fear Biters:

When most birds were wild caught, fear biting was a bigger problem.  Today, most birds are raised in captivity.  However, birds that have been raised with little human interaction in captivity will still have fear problems.  Finally, even birds that are hand reared and more acclimated to human beings can still develop fear related behaviors.  Some, such as African Greys, seem to be naturally more cautious and fearful around humans.

Fear biters can be recognized by their attachment to the cage.  They are unwilling to leave that safe environment and when approached, may run away from or scoot past your hand.  They get very stressed when handled and may squawk, fight, and even pant.  Excessive wing trims and the inevitable clumsiness and falls that accompany them are a good way to create a fear biter.  Careful trims and lots of treats and patient handling can sometimes help a fear biter become more social.

Conditioned Biters:

Birds are highly intelligent and will learn to manipulate their owner quickly.  An owner who withdraws their hand the first time a bird offers to bite will condition the animal to bite to get their way.  Not surprisingly, the bigger the bird, the more common the problem seems to be. As with many other species of animals, if you don’t appear to be in control, birds will be more than happy to take over.

Conditioned biters need to have their wings trimmed both figuratively and literally. In addition, they should never be allowed to ride on the owners shoulder.  One way to prevent this behavior is to place a towel on the shoulder and use that to safely remove the bird if needed.  If you are too afraid to offer a hand, than gloves or a perch should be used to practice step up without biting.  Do not hit the bird on the beak.  Instead, redirect biting behavior by giving another command which can be rewarded when obeyed.  If the owner is unable to establish control, the bird may have to be rehomed.

Territorial Biters:

These are the birds that defend their cage by biting.  Territorial aggression should occur only when the bird is in or on the cage.  Consistent training and handling are an important step in curing this type of biting.  More time spent with the owner and less time in the cage will help as well.  Use of a separate cage for night time sleeping and daytime play can also be helpful.

Bonded Biters:

Many birds bond closely with one person in the family.  They may consider this person to be their mate and behave aggressively if they feel other family members are competing for “their” person.  Again, training and consistent handling by all family members will help to decrease bond related biting.  Unpleasant jobs should be done by the favorite and treats doled out by others. Again, these birds should be kept off the shoulder. Play is good but too much cuddling can be misinterpreted.

Grumpy Biters:

Just like us, birds need to get a good night’s rest.  A bird kept up late watching television, could turn into a tired, grumpy biter.  Birds need to have at least 10 hours a day in a dark, quiet room. Owners need to keep that in mind when deciding where to place their bird’s cage.

Remember, if the biting is extreme, use gloves, perches or towels. Also, changing established negative behaviors requires plenty of time, patience, confidence and consistency on the part of the handler.  In the worst cases, where the owner is unable to establish a safe relationship, a new home may be the best choice for everyone.

 

Hypothyroidism

The thyroid is the largest of the endocrine glands.   It is shield shaped and located in the neck near the larynx or voice box.  The thyroid’s job is to secrete the hormones which regulate growth and metabolism.  It also acts as a storehouse for iodine.  So when there is a problem with the thyroid gland we will often see significant changes throughout the body systems.

Hypothyroidism is caused by a decrease in the hormones produced by the thyroid gland.  Hypothyroidism is seen in middle aged dogs, generally 7 years of age or older. It is very rare in cats.  It is occurs most often in larger breeds but we see hypothyroid problems in all sizes and breeds of dogs. Thyroid dysfunction in dogs is generally caused by damage or atrophy of the gland itself. It is rare to see hypothyroidism caused by cancer.

Signs:

Our typical thyroid patient is overweight, with thinning hair, dark pigmented, dry skin and a brittle hair coat. Hair loss on the trunk of the pet’s body is frequently seen.   Owner’s may mention that their pet has become less active  and lost muscle tone There may also be an increase in ear infections or the sudden onset of seizures.

Diagnosis and Tests:

Hypothyroidism is trickier to diagnose because other problems can look very similar.  Cushing’s disease, Diabetes and other endocrine related dysfunction can present with many similar symptoms. That is why laboratory tests are crucial when diagnosing and treating thyroid dysfunction.  Complete blood count and serum chemistries help us to rule out other causes and point us in the right direction if the thyroid is involved. Specific tests, such as Free T4 and TSH stimulation tests, target the thyroid hormone levels and provide a definitive diagnosis.  Periodic monitoring of blood thyroid levels will be needed over the lifetime of the pet to make certain therapeutic levels are maintained.

Treatment:

Once it occurs, Hypothyroidism requires lifelong supplementation to keep hormone levels normal.  The good news is that supplementation is easy, relatively inexpensive and quite successful in managing the disease.  Most of signs will lessen or disappear over time once treatment begins. Some medications such as steroids, sulfonamides and Phenobarbital can interfere with thyroid levels so it is important to always make certain that everyone involved with the treatment of your pet knows what medications they are taking.

We hope this will help you recognize the signs of thyroid dysfunction in your dog. At Animal Family, we try to help by including a screen for Thyroid disease in our Senior Wellness Blood test.  It is our hope that through early detection and treatment we can help to improve the quality of life for your pet.