Feathered pets like parrots can be fascinating additions to the family. Recent estimates say that over 5 million households in the United States have pet birds. Bird owners should be aware that although their pets might be highly intelligent and fun companions, they can sometimes carry germs that can make people sick.
Although rare, germs from birds can cause a variety of illnesses in people, ranging from minor skin infections to serious illnesses. One of the best ways you can protect yourself from getting sick is to thoroughly wash your hands with running water and soap after you touch birds, their droppings, or items in their cages.
How to stay healthy around pet birds
Before buying or adopting a pet bird, make sure a bird is the right type of pet for your family. Know that many pet birds have a very long life span. Some parrots can live for 20 years or longer. Birds require special care and can sometimes carry germs that can make people sick. Because of this, certain types of birds might not be suitable for young children or people with weakened immune systems living in the household.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water
- After handling birds, their toys, food and water dishes, or other equipment
- After cleaning bird cages, habitats, or perches
- Before you eat, drink, or smoke
- Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
- Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available. Be sure to have hand sanitizer readily available near the bird’s enclosure to encourage guests and children to use hand sanitizer after handling birds.
- When cleaning cages, do not pick up droppings with your bare hands. Always wash your hands thoroughly right after cleaning up or handling your bird.
- Don’t clean any equipment or materials in the kitchen sink. This includes cages and food and water containers. Bacteria and other germs can cross-contaminate your food preparation areas.
- Wash your hands right after handling your bird or any of its supplies.
Pet birds do not have teeth, but their beaks can still cause a lot of damage if they bite or attempt to bite you. Birds can also have very sharp nails and talons. Germs can spread from bird bites and scratches, even when the wound does not seem deep or serious. Always closely supervise children around birds. If a bird scratches or bites you, you should:
- Wash the wounds with soap and water immediately.
- Seek medical attention if:
- The bird appears sick,
- The wound is serious (uncontrolled bleeding, loss of function, extreme pain, muscle or bone exposure) or you think you need stitches,
- The wound becomes red, painful, warm, or swollen, or
- It has been more than 5 years since you got your last tetanus shot.
If you seek medical attention, make sure to tell your doctor a bird bit or scratched you.
Before choosing a pet bird
- Check your state, local, and property laws before adopting or purchasing a pet bird. Many governments have ordinances against certain pets because of noise, size, or public health risk.
- Identify a local veterinarian who has experience with pet birds (an avian veterinarian) to help you keep your bird healthy.
- Learn about the different types of birds and their personalities and attention needs before you bring one home. Birds are very intelligent and social animals that require a lot of attention. Also, learn about the life span for the type of bird you are interested in as many birds can live for 20 years or more.
- Research how to properly care for your bird before purchase. Ask your veterinarian about the proper food, care, and enclosure or environment that is best for the bird you are selecting.
- Select a location for your bird’s cage, perch, or enclosure. Pet birds need to be housed in a warm, draft-free location that has adequate lighting and is close to the activity in the household.
How to choose a pet bird
When choosing a pet bird, you should:
- Match a bird’s attitude, temperament, size, activity level, and life span with your family, your home, and the amount of time you have to spend with your pet.
- Pick birds that are bright, alert, and active. Birds should have smooth, sleek, and soft feathers that are free of debris or droppings. Birds who seem depressed, aren’t moving around very much, or look dirty may be ill.
- Learn the signs of illness in a bird, which can include appearing sluggish or depressed, having ruffled feathers or areas of feather loss, abnormal breathing, and fluid running from its eyes or nose.
- When bringing new birds to a household that already has pet birds, be sure to keep the new birds separated for at least 30 days before introducing them to your existing birds. This will help prevent the new birds from passing the disease to your existing animals. During this period of separation:
- Wash your hands with soap and water before working with each group of birds.
- Keep water and food dishes, toys, and other cage/perch equipment separate and clean.
- Within a few days after you buy or adopt your bird, take it to a veterinarian who has experience with pet birds (avian veterinarians) for a health visit and get advice on caring for your new pet. Return to the veterinarian for checkups and beak, nail, or wing trimmings, as recommended.
Importing pet birds into the United States
USDA regulates the importation of pet birds. Because of the risk of avian influenza (bird flu), USDA restricts the importation of pet birds from certain countries and enforces a 30-day quarantine for all imported birds except those that come from Canada.
How to house pet birds
- Provide a safe, sturdy enclosure or cage for your bird. Keep pet birds from interacting with all wild animals and insects such as mosquitoes. These animals and insects can carry diseases that can be spread to your pet birds.
- Do not allow your birds to fly or roam around the house without supervision. They could get accidentally trapped or hurt.
- Avoid housing pet birds in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens or dining rooms.
- Closely supervise any interaction of your birds with children or other pets to reduce the chance of injuries.
Clean and disinfect pet bird cages and equipment
- Keep bird cages, enclosures, and perches clean to prevent the build-up of droppings.
- Keep birds and their equipment out of kitchens and other areas where food is prepared, served, served, or consumed. Never use food preparation areas to clean habitats and supplies. Clean these items outside of the home when possible.
- If you clean habitats and supplies indoors, use a laundry sink or bathtub, and thoroughly clean and disinfect the area right afterward.
Monitor your pet bird’s health
- Visit a veterinarian who has experience with pet birds (avian veterinarian) for routine check-ups to keep your bird healthy and prevent infectious diseases.
- Sick birds may become thin, depressed or sluggish, have diarrhea, have fluid running from their eyes, or lose feathers. But birds can also carry germs that might make people sick without appearing sick at all.
- If your bird becomes sick or dies within a month after purchase or adoption:
- Contact your veterinarian.
- Inform the store, breeder, or adoption organization about the bird’s illness or death.
- Consider waiting before you purchase or adopt another pet to give yourself time to clean any germs out of the cage or perch and to clean bird equipment.
- Do not reuse the cage, enclosure, perch, or equipment until it has been properly cleaned and disinfected.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov