As soon as you start thinking of making the move from owning one pet bird to owning two or more, an important factor enters the equation. When you introduce one or more living things from another environment to the living space shared by you and your pet (or pets), there is the possibility of also introducing insects or pests, bacteria, spores, infections, or even viruses to your environment. Your safety net is to quarantine your new pet bird before introducing it to the rest of your flock.
Unfortunately, many bird keepers regard quarantine as a required procedure only for the bigger breeders or those who import or export birds. Some consider quarantine a nuisance, and others shortcut the procedure to hurry things along. However, quarantine restrictions are in place to protect both the bird owner and their pet birds. Quarantining can literally mean the difference between life and death for your flock.
Often, standard quarantine procedures are not only followed when acquiring new parrots, but are also applied when bringing home birds that have been in a show, to a bird mart, to visit a vet or anywhere else where they may have been exposed to other birds.
Ideally, the bird(s) being quarantined is completely isolated from existing pets; keeping the new bird at a neighbor’s or friend’s house is ideal if they are open to that. If this is not possible, the pet bird should be placed as far away as possible from any other pet birds, preferably in a room with a separate airspace to prevent the possibility of airborne contamination.
If your home has forced-air heating, shut off the air circulation to and from the quarantine room, and arrange to draw air into the quarantine room from outside the house. This assists in preventing airborne contamination and also minimizes the risk of any bacteria, pests, fungi or molds that may be present from getting into the vents and spreading to the rest of the house.
Even if you live in a small apartment, you can establish a limited quarantine by placing a newly acquired bird as far away as possible from your existing birds until you’ve had its general health and well-being cleared by a veterinarian. An essential part of keeping your current pets safe is to always insist on getting a health-check by a qualified avian veterinarian before ever considering buying a bird and bringing it into your home.
The next step to consider is the length of the quarantine period. The goal is to keep a bird in quarantine long enough so that any underlying disease it might be carrying finishes its incubation period and becomes active and visible in the bird before the quarantine period is over. Given the rather long incubation period of some of the diseases that our avian friends can carry, a six-week quarantine period is preferable.
Quarantine At Home
No matter where you acquired your bird — a shelter, a breeder or a retail store — there is still good reason to apply your own home quarantine to any new bird coming into your home. Sometimes entire flocks can carry pests or diseases that don’t bother them but that can spell trouble to a bird of a different species or from a different environment. Additionally, the quarantine period also allows the new bird to become more accustomed to you and your care system. This can help ease the stress normally experienced by any bird undergoing the transition to a new home and a new system of care.
One of the most difficult parts of observing a home-quarantine protocol is to keep possible exposure between the quarantined birds and your own birds to a minimum. This is easiest to do if the quarantined bird is attended to last.
1) Always feed, clean and maintain your established pet birds before approaching a quarantined bird for care and interaction.
2) Keep a clean smock or some other article of clothing at the entrance to the room the quarantined bird is kept in, along with a pair of slip-on shoes and some clean, empty garbage bags. Change out of your everyday clothes into these before approaching the quarantined bird. This makes it easier to be sure you don’t accidentally pick up anything contagious and carry it out of the quarantine room on your clothes or shoes.
3) Create a foot bath by filling a plastic container with a disinfectant solution safe for your shoes, and step into this on your way into and out of the room. Once you have finished attending to your new bird’s needs, walk through the foot bath, remove your slip-on shoes, and toss the smock/designated clothes into one of your garbage bags for transport to the laundry.
4) Take a shower before carrying on with your day, and change back into your regular clothes.
This type of routine can complicate your day of course, but, depending on the circumstances, this quarantine protocol can save your birds’ lives, along with a sometimes fairly hefty investment of time, effort or money.
Depending on where your new bird came from, your avian veterinarian might recommend administering some medication during your home quarantine. For example, if your new pet had access to an outdoor aviary, and that included exposure to soil or standing water, your avian vet may recommend treating your bird for possible soil- or water-borne pathogens, such as intestinal worms, Giardia or coccidia
Introducing New Pet Birds
Once the quarantine period is over, bring the new bird into the same room as your established birds. Supervise all interaction between your new bird and established bird(s) to ensure that one bird isn’t aggressive toward another. (Never assume that two birds will get along.)
If you have several birds, once the quarantine is up, rather than bringing the new bird into the birdroom, bring one or two of your birds out to live near your new bird for a couple of weeks or so. This allows you to discern if your new bird is carrying something to which it is immune, but that your other birds could catch. It’s easier to deal with one sick bird than a whole flock of sick birds.
This type of situation is admittedly not too common, but can and has happened. This extra step is not unreasonable, at least for those who have a birdroom with more than one or two inhabitants.
The USDA Veterinary Services Organization has published an excellent website on backyard bio-security, with guidelines for preventing the spread of disease in your home and flock. To see its recommendations and to learn more about why and how such procedures should be implemented and when, see their website.
Careful quarantine and monitored introduction of new birds into an existing flock or birdroom can seem like a lot of trouble to some of us, and others might pooh-pooh the whole idea as being overly cautious. But when you consider the potential disasters that the use of quarantine procedures can help you to avoid, it seems only common sense to make use of them in your home when you find yourself wanting to add another bird to your life.