“Quarantine” comes directly from the Latin word quadraginta meaning forty. It is an act that helps prevent the spread of contagious disease by keeping it separated and contained from the main populous. Quarantine is intended for those who either are, or are suspected of being infectious. The word quarantine was meant to indicate the period of time (40 days) during which it was believed that the symptoms of disease would either present themselves or run their course.
This is an important precaution in good animal husbandry, and it is particularly important for we owners when we bring a new bird into the flock. Most of us are probably aware that birds, being prey animals, will hide disease for as long as they are physically able to keep them from being singled out as the weak link by a watching predator. Given this fact, it would be easy for us to unwittingly bring home a sick bird that would then infect our existing flock.
Quarantining means more that simply isolating the new bird from your own. When you are bringing a new bird into the house it is preferable to keep them in a space that is on a separate air system from the one your birds are on. Many bacterial, viral and fungal infections are airborne, and disease can be carried through the air vents in your house. Unless you’ve put an addition on your house that is separated from the main heating and cooling system, this can be a problem.
There are a couple of procedures you can use that have worked well for friends:
- One friend is a “foster parront” who often takes in birds that are not doing well in a rescue setting, have special physical needs or who need more intense one-on-one interaction and rehabilitation than their situation can provide. While she doesn’t take on many birds, she always has at least a few in her home at all times. She has a small room upstairs that she uses as a quarantine room. The air vents are closed and sealed off with plastic and she has a sheet of plastic that is hung from ceiling to floor inside the doorway. And because it is cut off from the rest of the house, the room is heated or cooled with small portable units. She keeps a small fan just outside the room blowing toward the door at all times to keep the airflow from the room heading away from the rest of the house. This is do-able in any home.
- Another friend who runs a small rescue had her husband modify her garage (which is never used for cars). All of the interior walls of the garage are lined with tarp. Inside is a plastic “tent” that falls from the ceiling. This is for the purpose of holding in a comfortable temperature that is provided by a space heater or an air conditioner when it is necessary depending on the season. Thermometers are used and checked constantly.
Many infectious avian diseases are spread through bodily excretions (such as fecal matter) and dander. For this reason, you should always feed, handle and tend to the belongings of your new bird LAST. And after contact with the new bird you should wash your hands with disinfectant (keep a bottle of Purell on hand) and change your clothes before handling the members of your own flock. Remember that disease can be transmitted through dish sponges and towels. Think smart and don’t take chances.
I personally believe that an effective quarantine period is two months, but it should NEVER be less than one month. During this time, an appointment with your avian vet should be made. Some viruses have an incubation period of weeks, sometimes months, and a blood panel will help screen for disease. Quarantine should continue following testing.
You should make the practice of quarantining a rule from which you never deviate. Even when caring for the bird of close friends, whom you know to be meticulous in the care of their birds, you are taking a risk without implementing quarantine. They could be completely unaware of any illness in their flock. A disease could enter someone’s environment on a new bird toy that had been handled by the owner of sick birds. You just never know. If you value your flock, you will not make exceptions.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.