would be easy to say that the right thing to do is to keep everything
in your bird room spotlessly clean and sterile. Your birds would
never be exposed to germs and so they would never get ill. Of
course this is Utopia and not practical. This is not necessarily
the best advice either as the immune system needs to be challenged
to work most efficiently.
if your birds are at risk strict hygiene is essential. Baby
birds (especially hand reared ones) do not have well-developed
immune systems so they need extra special care. Ensuring that
feed and water containers are cleaned properly and that cages
are routinely disinfected is simple sound advice. The really
important factor to consider is whether your disinfectant kills
a broad spectrum of germs. Many only kill bacteria and yet,
as pointed out earlier, we have already discovered that viruses
are a major threat. Don't forget the risk from yeasts and fungi
is effective against viruses, yeasts, fungi and bacteria. It
is also an excellent cleaner so is great for removing bird droppings
from cages and perches. It can be used as a washing-up liquid
or sprayed onto cage walls and perches and left to dry. There
is no need to remove birds from the cages.
most attractive features of Enviroclens are its pleasant smell
and economy. Because it stays active in water for up to six
months most people dilute it in a spray bottle and apply it
that way. This uses far less disinfectant than the usual cloth
and bucket technique.
The immune system
is probably the most important weapon we have against viral
and other infections. Sadly it is probably the least recognised
option in aviculture. The immune system is working all the time
to protect you and your bird from invading organisms. To describe
it as a single 'system' is something of an oversimplification.
It actually works at a number of different levels.
birds' first line of defence is its skin and the membranes that
line the surfaces of the gut and respiratory tract (a sort of
internal skin). Apart from being a barrier the cells in these
surfaces produce chemicals that kill many germs. Natural anti-biotics
if you like.
cell membranes to function effectively they need an adequate
supply of vitamin A. Since dry seeds contain virtually no vitamin
A it is not surprising that the immune system of many cage and
aviary birds is not very effective!
vast majority of germs and many toxic chemicals should be cut
off by this first line of defence however some get in through
cuts or simply overwhelm the system.
second line of defence is the white blood cells. There are lots
of different white blood cells and they operate in many different
ways. To simplify the subject I will briefly describe three
the first attack white blood cells literally surround and devour
the invading germs. This is really easy to understand though
the mechanism by which the invader is recognised is very complex.
battle becomes much more difficult when the invading germs have
entered your bird's cells. Viruses use the host's cells to multiply.
At this point the host cells themselves have to be destroyed
by white cells. This is the stage in your common cold when you,
not surprisingly, have a very sore throat. It may hurt but this
sore throat is evidence that your immune system is engaged in
the third level yet other types of white cells produce antibodies.
These are proteins that lock onto the germs and prevent them
from invading the host's cells. These are the equivalent of
the immune system has been invaded by the same germ before,
the design, development and production of antibodies takes time
as each new germ needs a tailor-made solution. Once an antibody
has been produced its design is stored away in yet another type
of white cells. Amazingly the body may only retain three cells
amongst trillions with each magic formulation in it but, when
the same germ strikes again, the production of antibodies is
rapid and effective. This is the principle behind vaccination.
Unfortunately the development and licensing of vaccines is extremely
expensive so only a few bird diseases have been covered. No
cage bird vaccines are licensed in the UK and relatively few
in North America. Any limited supplies of vaccines against bird
flu will first of all go to health workers and vets involved
in dealing with any cases. You and your birds have no chance
of getting any!
key issue about immunity is that the system needs to be challenged
regularly for it to function efficiently. This is why birds
kept in totally sterile environments are very vulnerable to
contact with other birds from less hygienic aviaries. So hygiene
is a balancing act. Too clean is bad. Too dirty is bad!
the immune system
what can we do to enable our birds to mount an effective immune
response when faced with a germ invasion?
first thing is to get the fundamental nutrition right. Birds
that are vitamin and mineral deficient simply cannot respond
effectively. Their cell walls will be poorly formed and they
cannot repel invaders or fight back rapidly. Producing billions
of white cells in a short period of time will be impossible.
through lack of knowledge, most cage and aviary birds around
the world are not fed satisfactory diets. Research in America
suggests that the number of malnourished birds is as high as
98%! Many bird vets will tell you that 90% of the cases they
see have malnutrition as the basis of their illness. This does
not mean that bird keepers don't care, it simply highlights
the lack of good information available.
we can help by minimising stress. Stress reduces the immune
response. This can be caused by poor housing, moulting, breeding,
poor nutrition (again), overcrowding, changes in housing or
companionship, over exposure to germs and a host of other factors.
is commonly reported that many drugs depress the immune response.
So care should always be taken when considering whether drugs
or immune support are the best options. And remember there are
no anti-viral drugs available for your birds!
biggest problem with stress is that it feeds on itself. A stressed
bird gets ill. Illness causes stress. It is not surprising that
some birds die so quickly!
wild animals are capable of treating themselves when they get
ill. Somehow they are able to identify plants and other materials
that help them feel better. Many of these are plants that, if
eaten in large quantities, would be poisonous to the animal.
However in moderation they hurt the germs more than the host.
our captive birds are unlikely to have the freedom of choice
and food selection to respond to sickness in this way. We could
respond to sickness in our birds by using appropriate herbs
but this requires excellent stockmanship (to detect the problem
early) and a detailed knowledge of herbal medicine. However
by carefully selecting safe herbs The Birdcare Company is able
to give natural support to birds as part of their regular diet.
These herbs can prevent some specific diseases, support the
digestive system (prebiotics) and help the immune system. We
incorporate some of these ingredients into our Feast
range of softfoods making them quite unique in the health benefits
they provide. Although Feast is proving more and more popular
with parrot owners many prefer to add the herbal supplement
Flourish to moist foods instead.
and Flourish are part of the firm's more extensive supplement
system and readers are strongly advised to ensure their birds
are also getting Daily
Essentials 3 and CalciBoost
for fully comprehensive supplementation.
have read quite a lot about white blood cells in this article.
For them to have a powerful impact on disease they need to be
produced in their billions in a very short period of time. Each
cell has to be complete so all the raw materials required for
cell production must be available in adequate quantities. Partly
we are back to the basic nutrition story again. More importantly
each new cell needs a complete compliment of genetic material.
This can very quickly get into short supply especially when
the bird is under infectious attack. So, when birds get infectious
diseases, we recommend products with extra quantities of these
key ingredients. We call this our 'white cell support system'
and you will find it in Guardian
The Flu and you
white cell support system is available for you too. The product
FightBack is designed for human use and provides excellent immune
system support. Take it at the first sign of any infection (sore
throat, swollen glands etc) and help your immune system fight
Alan Jones B.Vet.Med, M.R.C.V.S
avian medicine & surgery
the light of recent extensive publicity on Avian Influenza,
the Parrot Society UK has the following comments:
situation is changing from day to day and requires regular monitoring
in the light of latest developments. Since changes are so rapid,
printed reports are quickly outdated. Please use the PSUK
website for the latest details.
monitoring should NOT rely on the alarmist articles in the tabloid
press, which suggest we shall all be dying in the next few weeks
of this disease. Rather rely on balanced scientific evidence
given by PSUK and DEFRA (www.defra.gov.uk). Sensational news
repeat comments made earlier:
over 60 people have died in the last two years of the
H5N1 strain of avian 'flu virus in S E Asia. Over 12,000
people die every winter in the UK alone of ordinary human influenza.
This gives some kind of perspective to the worldwide problem.
Look at the scaremongering about SARS a few years ago, with
people travelling around airports wearing face masks – did that
ever develop into the predicted worldwide mortalities?
reported human cases have occurred almost exclusively in humans
exposed to concentrated levels of avian influenza virus, owing
to the living conditions of poultry in close proximity to humans
in S E Asia.
scare is that the H5N1 strain of avian 'flu will mutate into
a form that will spread from human to human, thus making an
epidemic more likely. This is a big 'if', requiring simultaneous
infection of a human with both avian and human strains of the
virus for such mutation to take place. Whilst health authorities
have to be prepared for such an eventuality, the likelihood
is still very low. Predicted numbers (guestimates?) of 50,000
people dying in the UK are pure alarmist guesswork, and in any
case are not massively above the normal influenza mortality
are made with the 1918 pandemic, in which millions died worldwide.
Times have changed since then: nursing and isolation facilities
have improved no end; antibiotics are available to treat secondary
infection; anti-viral drugs are available to treat the worst
affected; vaccines can be produced quickly once a pathogenic
strain is identified; early warning and detection are both much
improved in the last 100 years.
are available for poultry, BUT ONLY in doses suitable for chicks
of a few days old, and they are given in drinking water to flocks
of several hundreds. This vaccine is NOT effective in other
species nor in adult backyard poultry.
available influenza vaccines given to vulnerable human patients
every winter may offer some cross-protection to avian influenza,
but specific vaccines produced for the particular strain would
be more appropriate. Government contingency plans suggest that
sufficient will be made available in the event to vaccinate
every person in the UK, but initially those in the frontline
of risk – avian rescue centres, wildfowl collections, poultry
workers, avian veterinarians – will be offered protection.
pet parrots should be quite safe. You DO NOT need to have your
much-loved pet budgerigar or parrot put to sleep in case it
gives you avian influenza!! Outdoor aviary birds are theoretically
at more risk, especially if sited close to ponds and lakes with
waterfowl, or poultry farms. Such aviaries should be covered
with Perspex sheeting to prevent contamination with wild bird
droppings. Food and water bowls should be regularly cleaned
and disinfected; food stores should be sealed from possible
contamination by rodents or wild birds. Food, water, and sleeping
areas should be sited where wild birds cannot gain access. Visitors
to the aviary should be monitored, and banned if coming from
a suspect area. In other words – the normal bio-security methods
that we should all be taking on a regular basis anyway, to control
diseases such as Newcastle Disease, Salmonellosis, Psittacosis,
PBFD, PDD, etc…!
vigilant! Look out for sick or dying wild birds in the area.
Check your birds for signs of bad breathing or sore eyes, or
loss of vitality. Even if present, these do not necessarily
mean avian 'flu, many other infections will produce such signs,
but they should be investigated.
for the moment further gatherings of birds at local clubs or
other shows is not a good idea. Apart from the slight potential
risk of spreading infection, it will fuel the anti-bird publicity
that is rife and benefiting from the current situation. Witness
the publicity in the newspapers this weekend, and especially
in the Daily Mail of Saturday 22 November. This prominent article
has obviously been prompted by the anti-birdkeeping lobby, and
they have jumped on the bandwagon of the current avian 'flu
hysteria to attack the P S show at Stafford. Representatives
from DEFRA and the RSPCA were present, as well as several avian
vets, and all were satisfied with the standards at the show.
However, the fact remains that such publicity will go against
the Society and others in the field, and if more shows take
place in the near future (Newark, Kings Lynn) in the face of
the present situation, there is no doubt that further publicity
will do aviculture no good at all. The fact that the Daily Mail
article simply regurgitates old arguments and examples from
protectionists' past campaigns, and that the photograph is of
a cockatoo with PBFD are irrelevant – the damage is done. It
is still a very large picture of a very sick bird, and to Joe
Public it will stick in their minds and looks awful!
the moment, the risk of Avian Influenza being introduced into
the UK remains low. The risk of humans being infected is even
lower. However, we need to remain vigilant and take sensible
precautions as outlined above. Contingency plans have been put
in place by Government, Human Health and Veterinary authorities,
and DEFRA, and regular updates of the situation are posted on
the DEFRA website. Such information should be noted in preference
to the scaremongering of the popular media, and there is no
cause for panic at this stage as far as parrot, parrakeet, and
other cage and aviary bird keeping is concerned.
K Jones 24/10/05 .