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I have an affectionate, devoted, fifteen-pound tuxedo cat named Milo who loves nothing better than chewing on feathers. He is so good to us I want to indulge him, if I can do that in a healthy way.

Our vet explained that as "complete predators" cats are best nourished by eating their entire prey - fur, feathers, bird feet, skulls, etc. So I believe eating feathers is not inherently bad for him, perhaps even the opposite.

But feathers are full of fungus, mites, viruses, bacteria, and goodness knows what else. Presumably the digestive system can handle this, but we'd like to clean the feathers if possible. Google "sanitize feathers" and you get responses from crafters who aren't going to eat their feathers, so they're not shy about using bleach, soap, borax, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, etc.

I could buy feathers, but who knows what they use to clean them.

Most feathers are illegal to collect, of course, but there are non-migratory turkeys around here that drop huge feathers that are great for chewing. At the moment we just freeze them for a couple weeks, but I'm not perfectly satisfied with that.

Milo is a neutered male, 100% indoor cat. Boy, does he love eating feathers.

Any advice?

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The only two thoughts I had (boiling or baking, both which will heat the inside of the shaft as well as the outside) are both confirmed by this page, which states (edited for formatting):

Dry Heat

  1. Turn oven to 230 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place feathers 4 inches apart on a cookie sheet. This allows hot air to circulate freely around each feather.
  3. Bake for two and a half hours.
  4. Remove from oven to cool.

Boiling

  1. Place feathers in a saucepan.
  2. Add water to cover the feathers and be 1 inch above them.
  3. Heat the water on high heat until it bubbles.
  4. Boil for 20 minutes. Some fungus spores may survive this treatment.
  5. Reshape the feathers gently with your fingers. Their fibers will compress from the boiling action.

Boiling step 5 is obviously only really relevant to crafting. In any case, heat sterilization doesn't involve chemicals and should treat the inside as well.

Heat sterilization is a common technique. Note that dry heat sterilization, according to the CDC:

The most common time-temperature relationships for sterilization with hot air sterilizers are 170C (340F) for 60 minutes, 160C (320F) for 120 minutes, and 150C (300F) for 150 minutes.

So if you want to go by the CDC you might try baking at 300F or higher, but monitor carefully as I do not know at what temperature feathers would begin to melt or burn. I believe dry heat sterilization is generally done by blowing hot air, so if you do not have a convection oven you may want to increase the baking time and/or temperature slightly.

The 230F baking / 212F boiling temperatures from that site are a bit low, although I am not familiar enough to give you any real solid info on what those temperatures kill and what survives.

That said, some obligatory disclaimers:

  • I have no scientific information backing the end results of feather sterilization through these processes. Even the WHO mentions: "Since the achievement of the absolute state of sterility cannot be demonstrated, the sterility of a pharmaceutical preparation can be defined only in terms of probability."
  • I have no idea if feathers release anything toxic when heated, although my gut says no, I am not sure.
  • I have no idea if instrument / pharmaceutical sterilization techniques are appropriate for feathers.
  • I'd still be worried about feathers as a choking hazard, regardless of how clean they are.

Really I'd just get your cat a nice fluffy toy.

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My cats love to eat feathers as well. However, when I asked my vet about it, she said that I should not collect feathers outside and give them to my indoor cats for playing (and possible eating). She said that the hollow shaft can contain harmful bacteria/diseases which are especially dangerous for indoor cats. (I cleaned the feathers I collected by pouring boiling water over them but it seems that is not enough. I also think it's important to consider that outdoor cats usually get vaccinated more extensively and/or their immune system is different.)

Now I sometimes buy peacock feathers from a small webpage that spends earnings to treat cat diseases, so I feel somewhat safe about them and my cats like those for playing as well. I don't think that it is important for them to actually eat feathers.

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    This doesn't answer the question. The person is clearly asking if it's possible to make feathers cat-safe. – Ajali Dec 21 '16 at 15:39
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    So far there is no answer indicating a way that it is possible. My vet couldn't tell me a secure way. This does not mean it is not possible at all, of course,, but an advise against trying from my vet whom I trust. Also from the description I thought that Andrew could be interested in an alternative to picking up feathers by himself. – Meera Dec 28 '16 at 21:59
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If feathers are from a toy, you mustn't let your cats eat them, because they are full of chemicals (and maybe avoid to buy them, and make a diy one)

Yes, ingesting feathers is a normal diet and instinct for predator like cats, they ingest everything, fur and feather, especially the soft feathers.

Ingesting feather can be dangerous when the feathers are not soft, but big and spiky, it can make some trouble to the stomach. If a cat has a weak digestive system, it's a thing to monitor. Some cats may caugh, but usually when the feather can't be digested, is eliminated by caughing.

In the nature, feathers are not boiled or clean or bacteria-free. Except if the feather comes from a particularly dirty bird, like a diseased one, it shouldn't be a problem, and rather reinforce its immune system. Things don't have to be too clean.
The danger is rather the chemicals in feather toys, and you can't wash that kind of things.

You talk about " bleach, soap, borax, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, etc."

That's really more dangerous and hurtful than natural microbiote on feathers!

To have natural feathers, don't buy them, collect them. If someone you know has birds or chickens, just take the natural feathers (not too spiky or attach them very strongly), and clean them with only water, but anyway, you must choose clean feathers, found in a clean place (not in the poo by example).

Boiling feathers is the only thing you can do if you are very paranoid about the natural microbiote. Remember, cats are natural animals, a too dirty environment and a too clean environment are both nocive. And just remember that chemicals that can be released when you boil or heat a feather that has been dyed or chemically treated, is more nocive than the virus and bacteria found on normally healthy animals.

There's no 100% riskless way to decontaminate feathers, feathers can't be sterile or stay sterile for a long time.

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