Quarantine: An important practice among aviculturists and pet owners
By Debi Hahn, Certified Avian Specialist - Paradise Exotics
Quarantine is commonly practiced by reputable aviculturists/breeders and recommended by veterinarians. Locations can vary greatly from a fully self contained facility located in a separate building to a spare room in a home. The duration can vary from 1-3 months depending on your location and diseases in your area. Typically 45 days will sufficiently cover the incubation period for most diseases, but it is advisable to check with your local avian veterinarian for their recommendation.
Although your new bird may look healthy at the time of purchase, he may be incubating a disease, have been exposed to a disease or may simply be concealing an illness until he is so sick that he can no longer hide it. More often than not, a disease is passed to other birds before the infected bird shows any signs of illness. In some instances, a bird may be a carrier, which means he may never show signs of the illness or become infected himself, but has the ability to shed the virus and pass it along to other birds.
Contagious diseases are either airborne or spread by direct or indirect contact with an infected bird. Some diseases can be safely and easily treated while others have no cure and usually kill the infected bird or require they be euthanized (put to sleep). Some diseases can only survive the elements for a short period of time while others can survive the elements for weeks. A disease has one purpose; to seek and destroy everything in its path and to find a way to continue to survive. An infected bird can shed thousands of infected microscopic cells at a time with each cell eagerly looking for its next host to continue the cycle.
Quarantine if done correctly, is a very effective way to control the spread of contagious diseases. It is not a punishment to you or your bird. Yes, it will create a little more work for you but there’s nothing worse or more heartbreaking than to introduce a newly purchased bird to your existing birds only to find out a few days or weeks later that it has a contagious disease. By then, it’s too late. The damage has been done. Now instead of having one infected bird, you have two or more depending on how many birds were exposed. Even if you have birds that had no direct contact with the infected bird, diseases are spread through the air or passed along unintentially by loving hands.
Before I get started, I want to make sure we are all on the same page about the definition of quarantine:
Definition of quarantine: 1- any isolation imposed to keep diseases from spreading.
Definition of isolation: to set apart from others; place alone
PREPARING FOR YOUR NEW BIRD
First and foremost, you should schedule an examination with your local avian veterinarian. At a minimum an examination will be performed. Blood work, cultures and other testing will be discussed or recommended. This should be done regardless of any guarantee you may have been given by the person you purchased your bird from. Keep in mind that even the most reputable store or breeder may have no knowledge of potential exposure to a disease, congenital defect or other health ailment.
A good disinfectant is a must. Bleach is a commonly used, inexpensive disinfectant that is effective against most known diseases. Typically a mixture of ¾ cup bleach to 1 gallon of water is sufficient. Please note: bleach is corrosive and may cause some metals to rust. Whenever you use any disinfectant, be sure the room has adequate ventilation and remove your bird from the immediate area being disinfected (i.e. cage) and not allow him to return until safe. The area being disinfected should be allowed to soak in the bleach solution for at least 10 minutes, rinse completely and dry. There are several commercial disinfectants on the market however not all of them are safe for birds or effective against all avian diseases. If using a commercial product consult the label or a veterinarian before using the product and follow the manufacture directions for use.
I recommend investing in some disposable sponges and/or paper towels. You use them once and toss them leaving less chance for contamination. If you elect to use cloth towels to clean the area, be sure to use bleach in the washer and launder them separately. I also recommend purchasing disposable latex gloves. I use gloves in our quarantine location, changing gloves between birds (I even use them in our nursery as well, changing gloves between clutch of babies any time they are handled or fed). This will significantly reduce the possibility of contamination. If you do not use gloves, your hands should be washed between each and every bird in quarantine.
The room or building you choose to quarantine your new bird in should be free of other birds and in a location that you do not have to pass through in other to get to your other birds. This room should be free of drafts or extreme temperature changes and have adequate lighting and ventilation.
Prepare a cage of proper size for your new bird. Whether you are using a new or used cage, be sure to disinfect it first. Just because it is a new cage, does not mean someone has not touched in with their contaminated hands before you bought it. If you have purchased toys or are using toys you already have, be sure to disinfect any toys you can. Usually this is limited to plastic or metal toys. Wood or rawhide toys cannot be disinfected. You should always disinfect newly acquired toys or cages before you allow your bird access to them. This should be done regardless if they are new or used toys/cages.
If you plan to purchase multiple birds from the same breeder or pet store, these birds can be housed in the same room together but in separate cages unless they were previously being housed together. In general, if you have birds that were housed together, it is assumed that if one bird has been exposed to a disease, the other bird(s) have as well. If you purchase birds from multiple breeders or stores at the same time, separate quarantine locations (rooms) are recommended.
Have a container of food and a food scoop in the room that will only be used for the quarantine bird(s). You should also have a supply of food bowls, substrate, cleaning materials, disinfectant, etc in the quarantine room to use for these birds only.
During the quarantine period, it is highly recommended the door to that room be closed to control any airborne diseases and to keep traffic to a minimum. You should have one designated person to go into quarantine and take care of the bird(s) in that room. Multiple family members should not be allowed to come and go through the day.
DURING QUARANTINE, YOU SHOULD:
Take a long, close look at your bird around the same time each day. You should spend several minutes doing this with each bird. You should only enter the quarantine area after you have taken care of the needs of your other birds. Observe the birds overall appearance. Ask yourself: Does this bird look ill? Does it have ruffled feathers? Is the bird quiet and non responsive? Do you see any signs of sneezing or discharge from the eyes or nose? Are droppings present and normal? Does anything look abnormal about this bird even if you can’t put your finger on it? Is the activity level normal for this bird? If the answer is yes to any of these questions or you suspect a problem, you should consult with your veterinarian immediately.
Check to see the bird is eating and drinking. It is preferable to observe the bird eating and drinking, however some birds won’t eat with you present. If this is the case, look for clearly consumed food- seed hulls, etc. Monitor the water level but keep in mind some birds will bathe in their water making this almost impossible to monitor unless you see them drinking.
Take this time to feed and clean the cage if necessary. Use a food scoop or separate cup to fill each food dish. Never use a birds food dish to scoop the fresh food out of the container! This is one of the most common ways diseases are spread.
Wash and disinfect any food dishes, utensils or soiled toys daily. Be sure you do this separately from any other dishes or toys from your other birds.
If this is a pet bird, this is a good time to handle the bird and spend time with it. If you handle the bird, this should only be done in the quarantine room. If there are multiple birds in quarantine, be sure to wash your hands well between each and every bird.
After you have completed feeding, monitoring or handling any new birds, you should change your clothes and shower as soon as you exit the room. Infected cells can stick to your clothing and be passed on to other objects or birds. This is very common way diseases are spread.
WHAT TO DO IF A BIRD BECOMES ILL:
Contact your veterinarian immediately!
If you have multiple birds in quarantine together, consult with your veterinarian about the need for further isolation from the other birds in quarantine.
The following examples are only a small sampling of the many mistakes that are made during quarantine. Remember, the quarantine birds and anything the quarantine birds use or touch should have absolutely no direct or indirect contact with your existing birds or anything your existing birds use or touch. I know how exciting a new bird can be, but it is crucial to adhere to quarantine guidelines. Some people may say “A quick peek or visit won’t hurt.” Bottom line is it can hurt. The question is, is it worth the risk?
DO NOT allow the new bird to visit with your existing bird(s) even for short periods of time. Remember, it only takes seconds to infect your existing birds. In most cases an infected bird can pass on an illness before showing signs that it’s sick.
DO NOT allow the new bird(s) to be quarantined in the same room as your existing bird(s). Airborne viruses can spread easily.
DO NOT clean, feed or handle the quarantine birds before handling and caring for your existing birds.
DO NOT allow your new birds to play with the same toys, on the same play gym or eat from the same bowls as your existing birds even if you other birds are not present. Infected cells are shed and left behind by the infected bird for your other bird to pick up and possibly pass along. Microscopic cells are shed by the thousands and are eagerly looking for a way to survive. .
DO NOT allow visitors to handle the new bird or allow a visitors bird to “visit” the new bird. Visitors and foot traffic should be kept to a minimum. Once quarantine is over, then feel free to allow visitors to see the new bird.
Though it is impossible for me to cover every possible situation, the above guidelines will get you off to a good start. While you may be tempted to break the quarantine cycle or to skip it all together thinking it is not necessary, it is important to remember that you cannot see the devastation a contagious disease will cause until it is too late. Even the most experienced aviculturist or veterinarian cannot detect some contagious diseases until signs and symptoms have begun to develop. Remember, it only takes one short moment to spread a contagious disease; a disease that has been quietly waiting for its next victim. Whether it is spread by you or your new bird, that one moment can make the difference between life and death for your other birds.