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Polyfolliculosis in Birds

By Rick Axelson, DVM

Medical Conditions, Pet Services

What is polyfolliculosis?polyfolliculosis-1

As with hair, each feather normally emerges from one follicle. Polyfolliculosis (sometimes called Pruritic Polyfolliculosis or Polyfolliculitis) is a malformation of the follicle in which multiple feathers (2-6) grow within one follicle (12 feathers in one follicle has been reported). The word "pruritic" means "itchy".

What are the symptoms of polyfolliculosis?

The feathers tend to be short and somewhat thickened. They often have retained feather sheaths. Although they can form anywhere, they tend to form around the neck, thigh and tail (both the top and bottom). This condition seems to make the bird itchy and affected birds often become feather pickers with feather damage and balding in the affected areas; bleeding or evidence of self-trauma may be present. The itchiness can be intense and prolonged. Lovebirds (most commonly), budgies and cockatiels are the species most often seen with this condition. Sometimes a tentative diagnosis is made based on the location and intensity of the itching as the bird may have pulled out the evidence and no follicles are seen with multiple feathers in them.

What causes polyfolliculosis?

It is suspected to be caused by a virus but this has not been confirmed. Often only one bird in a collection is affected.

Tests can be performed to exclude other problems such as Chlamydophila, intestinal protozoa, Beak and Feather Disease, Polyomavirus, liver disease, dermatitis and lead poisoning. Blood tests, fecal tests, skin biopsies and DNA screening may be recommended

What is the treatment for polyfolliculosis?

If these tests are negative, then certain drugs may help manage the itchiness or calm the bird with reasonable success. Collars may be applied to manage the self-trauma.

There is NO specific treatment for Polyfolliculosis. All treatments are considered "bandage" solutions, as they are not a cure and do not address the underlying cause.

Consult a veterinarian familiar with birds to discuss this challenging problem.

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