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Avian Flu

Pet birds may be at risk of avian flu if they come into contact with infected waterfowl or wild birds.

By Margaret Wissman, DVM
Posted October 29, 2012, 2:45 p.m. PST

Canada Geese
Avian flu can come from waterfowl.

The avian flu encompasses various types of viruses, with Influenza A being the only strain of veterinary concern. Influenza A has been recovered from human, mammal and bird hosts as a respiratory disease. The current focus of the H5N1 strain of the avian flu, named based on the hem agglutinin and neuraminidase protein variances, is considered highly pathogenic and is capable of “jumping” from species to species. Waterfowl often play host to avian influenza viruses, spreading it through their droppings, saliva and nasal secretions.


Early signs of avian flu can include decreased food consumption and fewer eggs produced (in domestic poultry). Sneezing, coughing, ruffled feathers, swollen heads, diarrhea and depression are other signs that may develop, although some birds may show no symptoms.


In a February 2006 BIRD TALK article, Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, said, “While it may be necessary to cull infected or exposed poultry, there should be very little threat to the psittacines in areas of outbreaks, unless there has been direct or indirect exposure." You and your birds should avoid contact with the fecal matter or other excretions of wild birds, waterfowl or poultry. Pet bird owners must be steadfast about protecting their birds from exposure to wild birds, poultry and waterfowl. In the event of an outbreak in your area, contact local officials, an avian vet and your physician. Information will be disseminated by the Centers for Disease Control and other organizations in the event of an outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza.

Disclaimer:’s Bird Health Index is intended for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the expertise and experience of a professional veterinarian. Do not use the information presented here to make decisions about your bird’s health if you suspect your pet is sick. If your pet is showing signs of illness or you notice changes in your bird’s behavior, take your pet to the nearest veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic as soon as possible.

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