Should you be worried about pet birds amid the bird flu news?
As Covid-19 continues and Omicron cases surge, the last thing we wanted to see was news that bird flu was back.
Alas, it’s true – the Environment Secretary has warned that the UK is experiencing its ‘largest ever’ outbreak of bird flu, and this week news broke of the first British person to be infected.
While farmers and owners of a full flock will likely be prepped on what to do in this situation, anyone with a pet bird might now be in a state of panic.
Do you need to worry about bird flu if you only have a couple of ducks? What about a budgie, or a parrot?
How can we keep ourselves and our pet birds safe?
Can bird flu affect pet birds?
First things first: yes, all birds are at risk of contracting bird flu. ‘Sadly, bird flu can affect all types of birds and it is important that it is taken seriously by everyone,’ say the RSPCA.
Is bird flu a risk for humans?
The risk to the general public is low, so don’t unneccessarily panic that you may have bird flu (especially if you haven’t been in contact with any birds). The reason bird flu is taken so seriously is not because it’s likely to become a pandemic like coronavirus, but because it spreads so fast among birds – and this can be devastating to our wildlife, pets, and poultry.
What should pet owners and bird lovers do to stay safe?
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) tells Metro.co.uk that due to the heightened risk of avian influenza infection in wild birds, they’re advising against ‘feeding any wild birds’.
‘Public health advice is that you should not go near sick or dead birds,’ they add. ‘Keep away from bird droppings if possible and wash your hands thoroughly if you accidentally touch any.’
So birdwatchers, look, don’t touch.
For bird owners, whether you have a large flock or a solo parakeet, there are additional precautions you must take.
Make sure all your birds are in a secure area where they cannot come into contact with wild birds or other animals – this is to help prevent further spread of the virus.
Bring birds indoors. ‘To help mitigate the spread of disease, the Government introduced new housing measures last month which means that if you keep chickens, ducks, geese or any other birds you are now legally required to keep them indoors and to follow strict biosecurity measures,’ Defra explain. ‘If you do not do this, the disease could kill your birds and you could be fined.’
Keep a close eye on your birds. ‘Whether you have pet birds, commercial flocks, or just a few birds in a backyard flock, all bird keepers must keep a close watch on them for signs of disease,’ Defra tells us.
Make sure that if you have poultry, they are registered. This is a legal requirement if you have 50 or more birds, but it’s still recommended if you just have a few – this means you’ll be contacted with information you need to know during an outbreak like this one.
You must also ensure that excellent standards of cleaning and protection are maintained. If you handle wild birds, the RSPCA recommends wearing PPE, while those with pet birds must make sure they regularly clean and disinfect anything that comes into contact with the birds’ environment.
UK Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss said: ‘Many poultry keepers have excellent biosecurity standards but the number of cases we are seeing suggests that not enough is being done to keep bird flu out.
‘Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands you must take action now to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.
‘Implementing scrupulous biosecurity has never been more critical. You must regularly clean and disinfect your footwear and clothes before entering enclosures, stop your birds mixing with any wild birds and only allow visitors that are strictly necessary. It is your actions that will help keep your birds safe.’
What should you do if you’re worried your bird could have bird flu?
In light of the increase in cases of bird flu, some animal shelters have reported a sudden increase in pet birds being dumped at their doors.
We understand being concerned – but please don’t let that panic make you abandon an animal.
The RSPCA say: As pet owners, we are responsible for the health and welfare of those animals for their whole lives. Abandoning animals is irresponsible and can put huge pressure on animal welfare charities like the RSPCA.’
If you’re worried about your birds’ risk of catching avian influenza, ensure you’re taking the precautions outlined above and on the Defra website.
If you think your bird may have already contracted bird flu, seek prompt advice from your vet – don’t put it off.
‘Anyone who is concerned about the health of their birds should seek advice from their vet without delay,’ the RSPCA advise. ‘If they suspect that their birds have avian influenza, they should also report it to their local Animal Health via the Council and Plant Health Agency (APHA) office immediately – details of which can be found on the APHA website.’
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