Avian Flu in Pet Birds: Should You Be Concerned?

A Look at the Risks

Girl holding bird


Cavan Images / Getty Images

With so many reports of avian influenza in the news, it can be hard not to wonder if your pet bird could be at risk of contracting this serious illness. While the media provides a plethora of important information about this virus, myths and half-truths abound in discussion of the avian flu.

To protect your bird and your family, it is important to have a clear view of what the avian flu really is, how it functions, and how you can prevent it.

Flu Facts

There are numerous strains of the avian flu -- over 25 subtypes have been identified. There is only one, however, that is considered zoonotic, or contagious to humans: the H5N1 virus. This strain of the virus is currently the most serious, and can be fatal to both birds and people.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the H5N1 strain of avian flu has been identified in Europe and Asia, and is shed in the feces of wild, migratory species such as ducks and geese. The most common way that the virus is spread is through fecal to oral transmission, however, it's important to note that H5N1 is able to live on inanimate objects such as bird feeders, baths, and houses.

While H5N1 has been diagnosed in primarily chickens and farm birds, it is possible for any bird to contract the virus.

Avian Flu and Companion Birds

As of now, the risk of contracting avian flu is not particularly high for captive, housebound birds in the U.S. There are, however, two factors which could cause the risk of infection to come into play.

The first would be if a bird is allowed a lot of outdoor activity and contact with wild birds. To minimize the risk, do not allow your pet outside without the safety of his cage. If you place your bird's cage outside, be sure watch your bird closely, and keep animals and wild birds away.

The second risk factor is the ever-increasing sale of wild caught birds into the pet trade. On top of causing the birds severe trauma during their capture, transport, and sale, this practice could play a role in introducing any number of horrendous diseases -- including avian flu -- to people's homes and aviaries.

According to the World Parrot Trust, Europe has already banned the import of wild caught birds for the pet trade. If you are in the market for a new bird, please seek a reputable and experienced breeder to ensure that your new pet is captive bred and healthy.<br/>
If you have recently purchased a bird that you suspect could have been wild caught, it would be best to schedule an appointment with an avian veterinarian as soon as possible. Avian vets are capable of testing for diseases such as avian flu and can offer your bird treatment if necessary. At the very least, knowing will offer you peace of mind!

Keeping Your Bird Flu Free

Truth be told, many times the biggest risk to a pet bird's health is being around its owner. While sometimes even those birds who are cared for very well get sick, it's important to keep in mind that there are many different colds, viruses, and infections that birds can get from people.

Make sure that you always wash your hands before and after handling your bird to protect the health of both you and your pet. If you get sick, ask a friend or family member to come and tend to your bird until you get better. With proper hygiene and common sense, you should be able to prevent many major illnesses from popping up around your household -- including avian flu. Maintaining high standards of health awareness will help you guarantee many long and happy years with your pet.