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11:46 PM   April 21, 2015
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Spray ‘N’ Wash

Misters, feather-plucking treatments and natural products are big sellers in the avian-feather-care market.
By Nikki Moustaki

Feathers provide birds with protection from the elements, regulate body temperature, and of course, allow for flight. They are also part of the reason that people want to keep birds as pets—they’re what make birds “pretty.” Since feathers are so important, providing birds with feather care products is paramount.

Bird misting products can reduce feather dust and feather plucking, though the pressure of the spray affects how well a bird tolerates it. Credit: Cioli & Hunnicutt/BowTie Studio
“Feather care products are a category that many customers ignore until there’s a problem, and then it becomes a priority,” said Donna Garrou, owner of BirdStuff in Orange, Calif. “Consumers are beginning to realize that feather condition is an indicator of overall health, and that a bird with ratty, discolored or missing feathers is not in optimum condition.”

Bird Bathing Supplies

Many bird experts agree that companion birds should be encouraged to bathe on their own—enter the simple birdbath. Both Garrou and Debra Morgan, owner of The Nature Chest Bird Shop in Decatur, Ala., said they like the birdbath made by Napa, Calif.-based Lixit Corp.

“It’s an attractive clear acrylic material, easy for the customer to use, and large enough for the smaller birds to enjoy a good bath,” Morgan said.
The bird mister is also a popular way to bathe even the most skittish bird. Paul O’Brien, owner of Conceptual Creations Pet Products in Phoenix, said feather care products that wet the bird are an important segment for proper bird care.

“All birds need moisture applied to the feathers and skin,” O’Brien said. “Misting a bird keeps feather dust at a minimum and helps reduce feather plucking.”

Ted Lafeber, DVM, owner of The Lafeber Company in Cornell, Ill., said South American birds like misting every day because of the daily rains that occur in the jungles.

“In general, these birds enjoy misting from above, like the rain,” Dr. Lafeber said. “African greys, which often bathe in streams and rivers, tend to prefer misting from below because it mimics the splashing of the water.”

Nail Care for Birds

“There are some great products on the market to help keep nails safely trimmed,” said Debra Morgan, owner of The Nature Chest Bird Shop in Decatur, Ala. “The green bamboo sanded perches by Sweet Feet & Beak provide a rough textured side to wear down nails and a smooth area for the bottom of the bird’s feet. They are lighter and easier to fit any size cage than the old-fashioned, heavy concrete perches.”

Nail clippers are another trimming option for bird owners.

“Guillotine-style dog nail clippers work very well for larger parrots,” said Donna Garrou, owner of BirdStuff in Orange, Calif. “Millers Forge makes a stainless steel Bird Claw Scissors that is blister-packaged with a small container of styptic powder that works ideally for these birds.”

Dr. Greg Burkett, board-certified avian veterinarian, and owner of Diamond Avian Distributors Inc. in Hurdle Mills, N.C., and The Birdie Boutique in Durham, N.C., recommended a product called Super Clot, manufactured by Synergy Labs.

“It’s a fast-acting gel that is more effective than the styptic powders,” he said. “It comes in an easy-to-dispense syringe, so there’s no waste.

Everyone who does their bird’s nails should have this product on hand.”  —NM

The pressure of the spray also affects birds’ tolerance of misting.

Kathie Hahn, co-owner of Bird Paradise in Burlington, N.J., said she prefers misters that provide fine, continuous sprays because they seem less likely to scare birds.

“The pressurized Misty Mate gently mists the bird without the offensive noise associated with squeezing a plant-mister bottle,” Hahn noted. “An innovative mister by Zoo Med [Laboratories Inc.], the Moto Mister, is an automatic spray bottle that works with batteries. It holds 48 ounces of water or bathing solution, which goes a long way.”

Bath sprays for birds have been around nearly as long as bird ownership has been popular in this country, but the ingredients are changing dramatically.

“Gone are the days of sticky sprays that were supposed to ‘liven’ up the feathers,” Morgan said. “We are seeing more natural and organic products being introduced into the market that do help maintain healthy feathers.”

The best feather conditioners are made from safe, natural ingredients, said Garnet Gold, brand communications manager for Kaytee Products Inc., a division of Central Avian & Small Animal in Chilton, Wis.

“Since birds use their beaks to clean their feathers, they’re going to ingest some of anything sprayed on them,” Gold said. “If the feather care product is not completely safe for a pet to ingest, it could have harmful effects.”

Natural sprays are just part of the trend in bird cleaning. Feather shampoos have also hit the marketplace.

“Mango [Pet Products Inc.’s] Cockatoo Shampoo is fabulous for removing stains from the white feathers of a cockatoo,” Hahn said. “Mango has a line of species-specific products. AVIx (manufactured by Harrisions’ Pet Products) also carries a full line of sprays that are used to revitalize dry, dull skin and feathers, and the AVIx Soother, which can help in the beginning stages of plucking or overpreening.”

The most intuitive of products for bathing birds—the shower perch—is used while the bird owner bathes, and it can be suctioned onto windows and mirrors.

“My best-seller is the Sandy Perch brand of shower perches, since it provides a more secure footing, especially for birds that are initially nervous about showers,” Garrou said.

Products for Feather Issues

Specific “Feather Care” Expenses for Birds Owned
(in dollars)

2004 2006 2008
Grooming aids/tools 18 17 38
Medicated shampoo/spray/mist  13 12 9
Non-medicated shampoo/spray/mist  15 15 17
Vitamins/nutritional supplements 21 20 26
Source: 2009-2010 APPA National Pet Owners Survey
Feather plucking is a big problem for a lot of parrot owners, and until recently, not many remedies worked to alleviate it.

“The most common reason consumers buy feather products is because their bird has started feather damaging behaviors,” said Dr. Greg Burkett, board certified avian veterinarian and owner of Diamond Avian Distributors Inc. in Hurdle Mills, N.C., and The Birdie Boutique in Durham, N.C. “Another reason many consumers use these products is because their birds have dry skin, another common problem I see in my avian practice. King’s [Cages International LLC’s] Pluck No More is a terrific product. I find that it helps about 30 percent of my patients to reduce or stop plucking behaviors.”

Hahn said a popular spray at her store is Avian Solution RX by Earth's Balance, a brand of Millenium Lawns Inc.

“This 100-percent natural spray can be used to help with feather plucking, as well as to help stop bleeding and naturally heal lacerations,” Hahn said. “I used it when my eclectus plucked—within four weeks, he was fully feathered again.”

Feather Supplements and Enhancers

Bathing does have something to do with feather quality, but a bird’s diet is integral to building and maintaining healthy feathers.

“We recommend a supplement called AVIx Sunshine Factor, an omega fatty acid nutritional supplement that makes the skin healthy and feathers bright and shiny,” Dr. Burkett said. “Supplementing can make a noticeable difference in only a few weeks.

“Another overlooked feather enhancer is the full-spectrum light,” Burkett continued. “The UV light converts precursors in the preen oil to vitamin D3, which is the only natural D3 source for birds.”

Color supplements, such as those for red factor canaries, are still popular. Rachel Gonzalez, manager at Omar's Exotic Birds in Placentia, Calif., said Nekton-R for red factor canaries sells well in her store.

Marketing and Display

Many feather care products are on the market, but retailers should consider marketing and display strategies to move them off their shelves.

“Providing literature along with the products is effective,” Hahn said. “Literature relating to Harrisons’ AVIx line is displayed with the product. We also provide a large table with as much literature as possible on various products we carry.”

Gonzalez suggested that shower perches be displayed on store windows, and that feather-care products can be displayed in the same areas as avian vitamins. Using these products on store birds can also help sales.

Feather care products may not be foremost on the consumer’s mind, but the moment there’s a feather issue, these items become first on the shopping list. <HOME>

Nikki Moustaki, MA, MFA, animal trainer, writer and pet industry expert, has published more than 38 books of nonfiction, primarily about pets and their training and care.

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