If you are reading this it probably means you have a pet bird or are thinking of getting one. There is a very important issue to know about when owning a pet bird that, for many reasons, gets overlooked all too often. This ever-important issue is quarantine. As a rescue organization, we take in many, many sick birds. Therefore, we know how heartbreaking and terrifying it can be to deal with a disease outbreak in a flock of pet birds. We understand that for individual pet bird owners quarantine can seem like an unpleasant and irritating constraint. However, it is a constraint that has the potential of saving many lives.
Why Birds Hide Illness
Birds are prey animals. Therefore, they have developed an ability to appear "normal" looking even when they are ill. For this reason, birds can be carrying and/or shedding disease regardless of their appearance. Any experienced avian vet
will tell you that even they will be unable to assure that any given bird is "healthy" and safe to be exposed to other birds just by looking at them. Having an avian vet examine a new pet bird and perform lab work on him/her is an excellent way to determine the overall health of the new bird. However, quarantine should still be practiced since not all bird diseases can be determined through lab work.
We knew of a family who had a flock of beautiful, sweet rare parrots. Their birds were their family. One day, they went out and purchased a sweet little Rosella at a local bird show. They immediately took her to a board certified avian vet for a thorough check up. The avian vet performed tests for psittacosis, bacterial and viral infections, and ran a full blood panel to check her organ function, etc. The owners were very happy to hear a few days later that all of the tests were normal. They ignored the doctor's recommendations to proceed with the 6 week quarantine regardless of the normal results. Three days later the rosella died suddenly with no previous symptoms. The family was devastated and brought her remains to the vet for an autopsy. The results of the autopsy showed the bird died of a disease called psittacosis. The test that had been done during the initial exam had apparently shown a false negative result — while it's always best to do routine lab work according to your vet's advice, some tests aren't perfect and diseases can "slip by"! Because they had exposed all of their birds to her, all of their birds were now at risk of developing this disease. Luckily, there is treatment available for psittacosis, so they treated their whole flock. This was stressful to the birds and the people of this household that could have been entirely avoided had they heeded their vet's advice and kept the new bird in quarantine for the full 6 weeks.
Whether you are considering getting a pet bird of your own, fostering or adopting from Mickaboo, we recommend quarantining any new bird that comes into your household for the first 6 weeks. This will allow a reasonable amount of time to check for any signs of illness from the new bird (diarrhea, sneezing, nasal discharge etc.). If any signs of illness are seen, the bird can be treated before any other birds are exposed to the bird. Since birds are prone to "airborne" diseases, we recommend that during quarantine the new bird be kept in a separate room from any other birds in the house with a shut door.
It is a good idea to daily feed, clean and care for the established birds first, then the new bird, and wash your hands in between handling the new and established birds. We recommend having a smock or robe (something to put on to cover your clothing) when you go into the room where the new bird is being kept. This will help to keep transmission of disease through feather dander to a minimum. All of the quarantined birds feeding dishes and toys should also be kept separate from the others and should be disinfected prior to using them for other birds.
If you are keeping the quarantined bird as your own, he/she should also be brought to a (preferably board certified) avian vet for a thorough check up and monitored for any signs of illness prior to putting him/her in with the others. If you are fostering a bird, it is best to keep the bird in quarantine for the duration of the foster process. Why expose your pet birds to another bird of unknown health status if you are not keeping him/her for the long run? We do a lot to ensure that birds in our care are healthy, but, again, it is impossible to guarantee that any bird is disease free. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Our goal is that every bird that comes through our organization has a shot at a long, happy and healthy life. Quarantine is a huge part of meeting that goal.