Avian Expert Articles

COVID-19 And Pet Birds

Is COVID-19 a concern for our parrots? suju/Pixabay

UPDATE, March 19, 2020: Since this article first published, the Pomeranian dog mentioned in it has died of unknown causes, although it is not likely coronavirus. See Forbes for more information.

It’s all over the news. The COVID-19 pandemic is spreading and affecting lives everywhere. However, it’s not only causing illness, it’s causing confusion and fear. It is an emerging disease, so there is still a lot we don’t know or understand. This uncertainty can be perplexing. It even has pet owners questioning how this could affect their companions. Although there is still a lot to discover about how this virus will act, that doesn’t mean we should be fearful for our pets. Rather, there are things people can do to keep their pets safe and healthy.

Knowledge Is Power

The first place to start is by focusing on what we do know about the disease. COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus. Viruses are microscopic agents that contain genetic material. They get inside the cells of other organisms and essentially hijack the cells’ operating system in order to replicate more of themselves. The new little viruses then leave the cell and move on to another one to repeat the cycle. Viruses infect all sorts of life, including animals, plants, and even bacteria. Some viruses are very benign to the host cell they take over. Others viruses can cause severe damage and death to the cell and the larger host organism.

Coronaviruses are a group of well-known viruses that have been studied for years. They consist of many different types and have been identified in humans, cats, dogs, pigs, and birds. Bird species found to have coronavirus include pigeons, pheasants, chickens, and turkeys. Typically, coronaviruses are problematic in young animals but mild or asymptomatic in adults. The virus mostly is found in respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, causing problems in these organ systems. Coronaviruses are generally species-specific and infect only one group of animals. For example, coronavirus that infects chickens usually won’t cause problems for humans.

How COVID-19 Likely Developed

COVID-19 is new though, so how did it develop? One of the interesting things about viruses is that they mutate. This means that their genetic material can change accidentally as the virus replicates in a host cell. These changes can make it so the virus can now infect a new host. Or it can make it so that the virus is now more virulent — stronger and able to cause more damage. Research is showing that COVID-19 is likely to have jumped from bats to humans in a live animal and seafood market in China. It then spread from human to human, likely through respiratory secretions like saliva and mucous when people cough and sneeze.

Is COVID-19 A Danger To Pets?

The question pet owners have on their minds is if the virus could pass from people to their companion animals. The risk of this occurring seemed to be low. However, at the end of February, a Pomeranian owned by a person who was sick with COVID-19 was found to test weakly positive for the virus. The dog was rechecked and continued to test positive for the RNA of the virus. The dog remains free of symptoms though and is negative for antibodies to the virus. This means that its immune system, as of yet, has not recognized or reacted to the virus. The dog is still under quarantine and being monitored.*

Testing by one of the large veterinary laboratories has, so far, found no positive dogs or cats in samples they have analyzed. Testing is still ongoing, so things could change regarding what we know about how COVID-19 affects pets. At this time, COVID-19 appears to be a low risk of disease transmission to pets.

Are Pet Birds At Risk?

When it comes to pet birds, at this time, there is no evidence to support that it could transfer to them. Given that birds and mammals are two largely different groups and the virus is not even transferring well between mammal species at this time, it is unlikely to be a problem for birds. As previously mentioned, coronaviruses are usually species-specific. This makes it more likely that the virus cannot spread from humans to pet birds.

Recommendations From The AVMA

Although the likelihood of transmission is low it never hurts to be cautious, and times like these remind us about the importance of biosecurity. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that people infected with COVID-19 have limited contact with their pets and allow others to care for them until we better understand the virus. The AVMA also recommends against kissing, hugging, and sharing food with pets. This prevents respiratory secretions of infected people being spread to animals.

What Should Pet Bird Owners Do?

Previous viral outbreaks in birds have taught people how to practice good biosecurity. The following are ways pet owners can implement biosecurity in their homes.

Quarantine: Any sick humans in the home should have limited contact with their pet birds until they are healthy again. Likewise, any sick birds should be isolated from healthy individuals. Any new birds coming into a home should have a 30-day minimum period where they are not around other birds in the house. This recommendation is not specific to COVID-19 and is a good rule to live by to minimize the risk of all infectious diseases.

Hand Washing: Make sure to wash your hands before and after handling and interacting with your bird and their accessories, such as their cage items or food. We can easily spread bacteria, viruses, and other infectious agents on our hands without knowing it. Simply washing your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds can go a long way to preventing problems.

Monitor for illness and seek professional care when necessary: If you notice your bird is not feeling well, have him or her checked out by a veterinarian skilled in avian care. Even the smallest of changes in their behavior can sometimes be an indication something is wrong. Don’t wait until they are really acting ill. If you yourself are ill with COVID-19, ask a friend to bring your bird to the vet for you.

“It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” – CDC
Rudy and Peter Skitterians/Pixabay

Cleaning and Disinfecting: Make sure to clean surfaces, cages, and items that have been soiled or have come in contact with biologic items (i.e., feces, respiratory secretions). Many common disinfectants have been shown to be effective against coronaviruses. The CDC lists numerous disinfectants that are useful, including bleach, hydrogen peroxide, and quaternary ammoniums. Read product labels and instructions in order to use them correctly. Bleach and hydrogen peroxide are safe for use around birds, but note that all animals must be kept away from the fumes of products while in use.

Be Prepared

During times of uncertainty, whether it’s a natural disaster, an economic crisis, or a disease outbreak, it’s good for pet owners to be prepared for both their needs and their birds’ needs. Have stocks of emergency supplies on hand, and at least a two week’s supply of food for all pets. For birds on medications, have at least two week’s medication available, if not more. Have an emergency pet first-aid kit available that includes items like antiseptic cleansing agent, bandaging material, styptic powder, and copies of health records.

In conclusion, COVID-19 may be a pandemic but that doesn’t mean pet owners should panic. Take more control of the situation by understanding how the virus is likely to behave and taking the appropriate measures to be prepared with supplies at home. Also, learn how infected people should interact with their pets. Implementing appropriate biosecurity measures, as is recommended with birds anyway, can help to reduce the chances of serious illness entering our flocks.

 


*Addendum March 19, 2020:  The 17-year old Pomeranian dog died 2 days after being released from quarantine. The cause of death is unknown and the owner declined a necropsy, but sources close to the case told the South China Morning Post “It is very unlikely the virus had any contribution to the death of the dog”.  Hong Kong veterinarians speculated that the dog’s death could have been related to stress and anxiety in this geriatric animal with underlying health problems.  Visit Forbes.com for additional information.

 

Be Informed

Want to know more? Check out these links:

CDC info on COVID-19 and animals

American Veterinary Medical Association

American Veterinary Medical Association COVID-19 FAQ

Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council COVID-19 info

USDA COVID-19 FAQ (scroll down to Pet Safety section)

World Health Organization COVID-19 info

41 thoughts on “COVID-19 And Pet Birds

  1. This is an excellent article that urges an abundance of caution and teaches biosecurity, while also explaining that it is not realistic to expect pet birds to get sick or people to sicken pet birds. The internet is blowing up right now and a carefully worded, evidence-based article is a powerful tool! Thank you Dr. lamb and Lafeber Co. for helping bring information to worried bird lovers.

  2. Firstly, from the AVMA “Out of an abundance of caution, it is recommended that those ill with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus” from https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19

    You state “Given that birds and mammals are two largely different groups and the virus is not even transferring well between mammal species at this time, it is unlikely to be a problem for birds”

    So what you are saying that in spite of there being about 11,000 species of birds against 1 species of human there is not one species of bird that can be infected by corvid-19?

    We know that different species of birds react differently avian influenza A

    The following statement comes from the CDC “Wild aquatic birds can be infected with avian influenza A viruses in their intestines and respiratory tract, but usually do not get sick.

    However, avian influenza A viruses are very contagious among birds and some of these viruses can sicken and even kill certain domesticated bird species including chickens, ducks, and turkeys.”

    Read more: https://www.windycityparrot.com/blog/2020/03/15/can-i-give-my-bird-the-coronavirus-part-2/

    What do you know that the AVMA doesn’t?

    Where would I find the data?

    The name of the disease is a bird species for gosh sakes.

    Bleach – really?

    1. Thank you for your comments. This is an evolving and concerning topic. The article includes the recommendation from the AVMA for those with COVID-19 to limit contact with their pets.

      We contacted Dr. Lamb for further information regarding birds, influenza, and coronaviruses. She states: “Coronavirus and influenza are in two different families of viruses and behave differently. Influenza viruses mutate frequently, and that is why yearly the flu vaccine changes. As the article mentions, coronaviruses are found in birds, but they are different than COVID-19 [coronavirus]. We also know that coronaviruses tend to be species-specific, making the jump between humans to birds a low likelihood. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but a low chance.”

      She also added more information regarding disinfectants. “As for disinfectants, coronaviruses are enveloped viruses and, therefore, are less stable than non-enveloped viruses and are susceptible to common disinfectants, including bleach. This is supported by the CDC.”

      The World Health Organization gives names to emerging diseases, and the name COVID-19 came from WHO, as the link explains. Although COVID is similar to Corvid, a family of passerine birds, the name COVID has nothing to do with birds. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance/naming-the-coronavirus-disease-(covid-2019)-and-the-virus-that-causes-it

      1. What about wild birds how do.you tell if they have corona virus and tats in the wild no body is saying anything about them

        1. Hello James,
          Thank you very much for the question. Several people had questions regarding wild birds and COVID-19. We checked in with Dr. Lamb. Her reply follows: “Although there are no studies to say the virus doesn’t infect wild birds, there are studies showing chickens and ducks do not get the virus. Therefore, at this time the prediction is it doesn’t affect wild birds either.

          There are various other factors that lead to changes in wild populations of birds, including different viruses (examples: Avian influenza, West Nile virus, etc.), bacteria, and parasitic disorders. Environmental factors such as changes in weather patterns, food sources, and alterations in rainfall can all affect population numbers of wild birds. Humans can also lead to changes in bird populations through things like letting domestic cats roam outside, window and car strikes, and changing natural landscapes to have less nesting and foraging sites for wildlife. All these different factors can play into changes in birds’ numbers and need to be looked at critically to know how we can best help our wild birds to do well.”

    2. Sorry, I just have to make three points here.
      1) influenza and corona viruses are biologically not the same virus
      2) COVID-19 not corvid-19. Name comes from corona meaning crown.
      3) don’t panic but do consider this thoughtful article based on reputable sources.
      Cheers!
      Your friendly parrot owning public health professional

    3. The disease is being called COVID-19, meaning coronavirus (from crown. The round aura shape that the virus cell takes). So coronavirus disease virus-19 (the year that this particular virus in the coronavirus family was discovered in humans. COVID-19. I believe the bird species you are thinking of is corvid- in the crow family. Confused because it’s only 1 different letter, but in no way related to COVID-19, or any of the coronavirus strains.

    4. been seeing dead song birds on the side of the street. they do not seem to have been injured by a car and not showing signs of a predator. covid19???

      1. Hello Hannah,
        Thank you very much for the question. Several people had questions regarding wild birds and COVID-19. We checked in with Dr. Lamb. Her reply follows: “Although there are no studies to say the virus doesn’t infect wild birds, there are studies showing chickens and ducks do not get the virus. Therefore, at this time the prediction is it doesn’t affect wild birds either.

        There are various other factors that lead to changes in wild populations of birds, including different viruses (examples: Avian influenza, West Nile virus, etc.), bacteria, and parasitic disorders. Environmental factors such as changes in weather patterns, food sources, and alterations in rainfall can all affect population numbers of wild birds. Humans can also lead to changes in bird populations through things like letting domestic cats roam outside, window and car strikes, and changing natural landscapes to have less nesting and foraging sites for wildlife. All these different factors can play into changes in birds’ numbers and need to be looked at critically to know how we can best help our wild birds to do well.”

  3. Can you email me a shareable link as a lot of piece i know need to read this the misconceptions are bad out there now . Dr Lisa Ross ( people Dr)

    1. Thank you for asking. On desktop computers, social media icons at the right side of the article allow you to easily share to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and email. On cellphones, a copy/paste of the URL can be shared. UPDATE 3/18/20: Cellphones now also display the social media icons. These show at the bottom of the page.

  4. Migratory birds are known to carry influenza though. I’m wondering if canada geese are likely to get coronavirus, because they will return from the us soon and first nations hunt them for meat and often go to bush camps for “goose break” where there are no health services (and no running water).

  5. Wonderful article – thanks for the info.
    As always – I take plenty of precautions to keep my parrot safe – but always great to get more info!

    1. Thank you for your question. We contacted Dr. Lamb. Here is her reply. “The short answer is no, and here’s why. According to information provided by the World Health Organization, SARS coronavirus generally is killed at temperatures above 56 C. This is equivalent to 132.8 F. COVID-19 is new so we don’t know if this exact temperature applies, but it’s likely to be close. Birds should never be exposed to temperatures that high. Providing heat support to our birds can be helpful if they are feeling ill and is one of the things that many veterinarians recommend as part of general supportive care, but 95-98 F is the range recommended for many ill birds. Therefore, although providing heat support may be helpful for general supportive care, it is not recommended to have birds exposed to heat at the level that is known to kill coronavirus.”

  6. Someone posted something about influenza, migratory birds and Canada geese. PLEASE DO NOT SPREAD MORE FALSE MISINFORMATION AND IRRATIONAL FEARS about Canada geese. These birds get enough unwarranted persecution about diseases they DO NOT SPREAD simply because governments make billions from killing them. They terrorize communities to spread these fears to get them onboard with the killing.
    The influenza that spread to migratory waterfowl came from the poor conditions in factory farming. Studies in the Great Lakes area proved that E.coli can form without a human OR animal host and is unlikely to come from geese. Many water conditions attributed to geese actually comes from industrial run-off, raw sewage and especially, poor maintenance of septic tanks. DNA water testing can determine the real cause of any problem.
    The sooner people figure out that keeping animals in unhealthy situations creates all sorts of problems, the healthier everything on this planet will be.

    1. This is the best information thank you so much for sharing. I also bought a Pet Supplies with the help of the Barkbox Promo Code and this is the best way to buy a pet with a discount. Well, I hope this article has helped you and I hope it has shed some light on the challenge of saving money on your pet supplies regardless of whether you use a pet supply store or an online store. And your information is best to Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Hello Jay,
      Thank you for your comment. We noticed that the CDC has addressed this question, at least for the United States. Below is a quote and this link takes you to the website for more info about COVID-19 and animals:
      “Animals are only being tested in very rare circumstances. Routine testing of animals is not recommended at this time, and any tests done on animals are done on a case by case basis. For example, if the pet of a COVID-19 patient has a new, concerning illness with symptoms similar to those of COVID-19, the animal’s veterinarian might consult with public health and animal health officials to determine if testing is needed.”

  7. I’ve had my budgies for only a few weeks. I am in the age target range. I live alone but am introducing a friend to my bird people so that were I to go down, he could fill in. Key, food, treat etc.

  8. I am really confused by the statement that bleach is safe to use around birds *while in use*. You note that the fumes are harmful, but should birds not be isolated from whatever room you are cleaning until long after the fumes are gone from human nose detection? How long should that separation be? I know these are exceptional times, but I had always been told to avoid bleach use in a house with birds whenever possible. Thanks in advance for any clarification.

    1. Thank you very much for your question, Amy. Birds should never be nearby when bleach is used. The article does not recommend that bleach be used while birds are in the same room. You raised a good point about time between use of bleach and allowing birds back in a room. We contacted Dr. Lamb for this information. Here is her reply: “With bleach, as long as the product is used according to the manufacturer instructions, then usually the bird can go back into the room within 2 hours. For example, if I use regular bleach from the grocery store and I dilute it according to the recommended instructions of 1 tbsp of bleach in 1 gallon of water and use this to clean a surface and let it air dry, then after 2 hours I should be able to put the bird back into the room. If it is not dry for any reason, the area should be rinsed with water, wiped with a towel, and then air dried for 2 hours, after which the bird can go back in.”

    2. So one of our chickens passed away this morning. She never presented symptoms of being sick at all. Her sisters look fine and are still alive, but a few days ago we found a dead dove in our backyard. No injuries or anything. We have been in self quarantine because there is a high likelihood we have been exposed to the virus. I am seriously concerned that we may have exposed our chickens to the virus. Should we report these findings to the agricultural department or are these just coincidence, since supposedly the virus “doesn’t ” jump species?

      1. Hello Virginia,
        Thank you for your question. We forwarded it to Dr. Lamb, and she sent the following reply: “First, let me say I am sorry to hear your chicken passed away. They are such wonderful individuals. The good news is research has shown that chickens cannot get the virus. When chickens were experimentally given a volume of the virus they showed no signs, did not produce antibodies to the virus, and no viral genetic material could be re-isolated from them. Sadly, there are many things that can cause our chicken friends to pass, and it’s important to know what happened since you have a flock. Having a veterinarian perform a necropsy to determine the cause of death can be very helpful.”

  9. Thank you for keeping us all updated with the latest news regarding keeping our pets safe. We appreciate it!

    1. Hello Bronwyn,
      Thank you for your excellent question. We asked Dr. Lamb for her thoughts on this.
      “At this time only ducks and chickens have had studies performed to say that they cannot get the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Therefore, given this information and what we know about other coronaviruses and how the virus attaches to a specific receptor in the body in order to lead to infection, it is highly unlikely that your budgie could get the virus.”

  10. This article is another expression of generalized speculation and guessing. We must assume the possibility that transmission can occur between pets and humans. Use common sense precautions.

  11. I ordered 5 Java Sparrows on Feb 27th from The Finch Farm (Corporate address is in Vancouver in Clark County Washington State) They are a pre-order and they have stated it can take 10+ weeks to receive them. Covid – 19 has since been reported as having affected many people in Clark County along with 4 confirmed deaths that I know of as of a week or two ago. Does the receipt of my purchased birds pose a potential health threat to me?

    1. Hello Sid,
      Thank you for your question. We asked Dr. Lamb for her thoughts, which we hope can help you in your decision.
      “Wiping down carriers with a disinfecting wipe can help to kill viral particles on the surface of the carrier that could be on there from people who have be shedding the virus. The birds themselves likely do not pose a threat to you as studies in chickens and ducks have shown it does infect them. However, if you are at all concerned it may be best to not receive the birds for now and have them stay at The Finch Farm until things are under better control.”

    1. Hello Drew,
      You ask an excellent question. Thank you. We contacted Dr. Lamb, and she sent this reply:
      “Yes, it is OK to take him outside, as long as he is safely secured in his carrier.”

  12. We have a young parakeet that just unexpectedly died last night. It was just so sudden and of course the first thought was the virus.

  13. Hi everyone,
    I just wanted to be in the loop of current info coming out as i have 4 parrots myself.
    Thank you very much for all your useful information! Regards J. Stubbs

  14. I’ve fed our wild birds for several years. the population has been stable. About 2 weeks ago, the bird population plunged. I’ve read that city birds have been dying. Are there studies confirming this virus leaves wild birds alone? My affected species are mountain blue jays and smaller birds, sparrows and others of like size. My location is Reno, Nevada.

    1. Hello Sandra,
      Thank you very much for the question. Several people had questions regarding wild birds and COVID-19. We checked in with Dr. Lamb. Her reply follows: “Although there are no studies to say the virus doesn’t infect wild birds, there are studies showing chickens and ducks do not get the virus. Therefore, at this time the prediction is it doesn’t affect wild birds either.

      There are various other factors that lead to changes in wild populations of birds, including different viruses (examples: Avian influenza, West Nile virus, etc.), bacteria, and parasitic disorders. Environmental factors such as changes in weather patterns, food sources, and alterations in rainfall can all affect population numbers of wild birds. Humans can also lead to changes in bird populations through things like letting domestic cats roam outside, window and car strikes, and changing natural landscapes to have less nesting and foraging sites for wildlife. All these different factors can play into changes in birds’ numbers and need to be looked at critically to know how we can best help our wild birds to do well.”

  15. My cousin was forced to self-isolate at home after showing symptoms of COVID-19. She is a nurse. She isolated from the rest of her family but took the family’s pet budgie into her room with her for company and would speak with the budgie every day. The budgie started to develop symptoms of COVID-19 and has now died. The budgie was not tested for the virus but my cousin said the budgie showed symptoms. Is it possible the budgie contracted the virus and if so, is this not a cause for concern.

    1. Hello Anna,
      Thank you for your comment and question. We checked in with Dr. Lamb for her thoughts on this.
      “I am very sorry to hear your cousin was sick and her budgie was as well. I am also equally sorry to hear that her poor little budgie passed away. At this time, with the information we have currently, it is highly unlikely that the budgie had COVID-19. It does not seem to be able to infect birds. However, signs of COVID-19 are respiratory signs, and there are various respiratory disorders that we can see in birds. It is more likely her signs were associated with one of the other infectious diseases we can see in budgies that can cause respiratory signs, such as bacterial, other viral, or fungal infections. Cardiac disease can also lead to respiratory signs and symptoms. A veterinarian could perform a necropsy on a bird that has passed away to help determine the cause of death. It may be too late to do that for your cousin’s budgie, but for now I would suspect that it was not COVID-19 that was the cause for her passing.”

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