Signs of Illness

Dealing with Illness


Our Tragic Experience

How to Do a Fecal Smear





Our new pair of blue caps in their quarantine cage (September 2002). Quarantine is not fun, but it is really important for ensuring the safety of your existing birds.

One of the most difficult things for me to do is to acquire a new bird or birds and lock them up by themselves in quarantine cages. However, this is an absolute necessity if you don't want to endanger the lives of your existing birds. Being an aviary enthusiast like I am, I get depressed seeing a little bird who was meant to fly and be free, be confined within the walls of a quarantine cage. But my existing birds are my number one priority, and some care must be taken to ensure the new bird is not carrying an illness that hasn't expressed itself yet.

There are lots of different views regarding quarantine, particularly with regard to length of time quarantined and preventative treatment provided. At minimum, I quarantine new birds for a month. Many people, especially those with large flocks, quarantine for up to 3 months. (Vote in the Finch Owner's Survey and tell us how long you quarantine for). If I have any doubts whatsoever, I do not introduce the bird to my flock.

The source of the bird should be taken into account when determining the length of quarantine. One must be most cautious when acquiring birds from a pet store, particularly from large chain pet stores that don't specialize in birds. The pet store frequently cannot tell you anything about the source of the bird. They take in birds from many sources and if any of those sources had been in contact with illness, all the birds at the store in the same environment are at risk. Therefore, I recommend a longer quarantine for pet shop birds to be on the safe side. Please do not try to skimp on the quarantine when obtaining birds in this way - I've heard way too many sad stories result from this. Sometimes, when illness is introduced in this way, it takes a beginner a while to realize that a newly acquired bird was the cause, as it can take more than a month for symptoms to start appearing, making cases of illness and deaths appear unrelated because they are staggered apart.

At this time, I do not treat my birds preventatively without the advice of a veterinarian because I am not too keen on indiscriminately treating birds for things they most likely do not have. This may be a mistake on my part, but since I don't have a large flock and I don't introduce new birds very often (I don't breed and therefore only need new birds to add to my flock and not for genetic diversity), I may not have learned this lesson yet. If you are interested in using preventative treatment during quarantine, Carol Heesen from Birds2Grow has written the article Quarantine Procedures, which includes links to the products which can be purchased from her site. She also sells a quarantine kit, which bundles her recommended treatments in a package at a discount. I don't mean to endorse this product, since I have never tried it, I only mean to inform others of its existence. If you would like to know more, some participants of Finchworld's Finch Forum claim to use these products. Posting a question there will probably elicit some useful information from others who actually have experience with them.

***UPDATE 5/30/2005***
See my article How to Do Your Own Fecal Smears for some valuable information on how to screen for illness from your own home. This technique is especially useful if you prefer not to exercise a preventative treatment quarantine program. By doing fecal smears on newly acquired birds from your own home, you may be able to detect some of the things people treat preventatively for, include worms and protozoa. You can also detect things that people do not usually treat preventatively for, such as Candida and Avian Gastric Yeast (Megabacteria). Since learning to do fecal smears from home, I have kept a running tab of illness found in newly acquired birds. So far, of eight new birds - all visibily healthy, two had Avian Gastric Yeast infections, and one of the two had a slight protozoal infection (only one organism found in the fecal sample). All problems were easily eradicated during quarantine because of early detection.

In the absence of a standard preventative treatment program, one could take the new bird to an avian veterinarian for a health check. Also, many places offer a guarantee on the health of a new bird provided it is taken to a veterinarian within a given period of time.

On the flipside, I also wouldn't introduce a new bird to the aviary if I have doubts about the health of an existing bird. I would first have a vet check out the suspicious bird to make sure it isn't carrying anything contagious (and obviously to treat him if he is indeed ill). If the bird is sick, I will wait to introduce the new bird until the sick bird has a clean bill of health and enough time has passed to ensure me that no other bird has picked up the illness.

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