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.

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“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

Pexels/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

18 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

    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. 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.

  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.”

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

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