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Does Bird Flu Affect Parrots?

Can My Parrot Catch Bird Flu? (Avian Influenza)

Last Updated on March 9, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

As a veterinarian, I’m often asked if pet parrots (Psittaciformes) can catch bird flu (avian influenza.) I also encounter concerns over whether bird flu can be passed on to humans.

Pet parrots can get bird flu, which is zoonotic. Birds with low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) show few signs of infection. Avian Flu (H5N1) lab testing can confirm types A and B.

Avian influenza is uncommon among pet birds. According to NADIS, there’s no cure for bird flu.

Be vigilant about the risk of avian influenza to keep our parrots safe. Always quarantine new parrots for at least 40 days and avoid exposure to wild birds, including their feces and nasal excretions.

How Bird Flu Infects Parrots

All bird species, including wild and domestic parrots, can catch avian flu.

Household pets are at less risk of contracting bird flu than wild and free-range farmed birds as they less frequently come into contact with the disease. Unfortunately, infections can and do occur.

The cause of bird flu is strains of Avian Influenza Type A viruses. Some strains have more potential to cause disease than others, but all are highly contagious among birds.

Signs of Bird Flu in Parrots

Severity of Bird Flu

Several strains of bird flu exist. Some strains affect specific birds, meaning these species will experience more severe symptoms when infected.

Other species might only be mildly affected or asymptomatic (showing no symptoms). 

Bird flu strains can be categorized as having either low or high pathogenicity. “Pathogenicity” refers to the ability of the virus to produce disease symptoms in the affected individual.

A low-pathogenicity viral strain will likely cause mild signs of illness in an infected bird. In contrast, a high-pathogenicity strain is more likely to cause severe illness or death. 

Birds with low pathogenicity bird flu can be sick for days or weeks but usually recover with treatment. Unfortunately, high pathogenic strains frequently result in death within 24-48 hours of symptoms.

In some cases, the disease can be fatal so quickly that there is no time for clinical signs to develop.

Warning Signs of Bird Flu

Signs a parrot has contracted a low pathogenicity strain of bird flu are: 

  • Reduced interest in (and intake of) food and water.
  • Abnormal respiratory sounds, such as wheezing or clicking.
  • Discharge from the nares (nose holes above the beak).
  • Swollen eyelids.
  • A decrease in egg production, thin-shelled or misshapen eggs.

Low pathogenicity bird flu may be asymptomatic, meaning your parrot may show no signs of disease despite being infected and able to infect other birds. 

High pathogenicity strains of bird flu may produce any of the following signs:

  • Difficulty breathing due to mucus in the airways.
  • Reduced food intake or stop eating entirely.
  • Watery diarrhea.
  • Wobbliness, weakness, or poor muscle control.
  • Torticollis (twisted neck posture).
  • Sudden death.
  • In laying birds: sudden absence of egg production.

Keeping Parrots Safe from Bird Flu

Keeping parrots inside and preventing contact with wild birds is crucial. Bird flu is most often spread from bird to bird through direct contact with infected saliva, nasal secretions, or droppings. 

A parrot can also catch bird flu from objects or surfaces (including an owner’s clothes or hands) that have come into contact with any of the above.

Keep your distance from wild birds, wash your hands, and change your clothes if you encounter, feed, or handle wild species. Avoid storing cages, perches, or other objects belonging to your pet outside.

Never touch sick or dead birds without wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) or, at the very least, disposable protective gloves.

Can I Catch Bird Flu from My Parrot?

Humans Catching Bird Flu 

The risk of contracting bird flu from an infected pet parrot is low, although possible.

If you believe your parrot is showing signs of bird flu, wear gloves when handling them and cleaning their cage, particularly when disposing of droppings. 

Seek medical care should you develop a fever, signs of respiratory infection, or gastrointestinal symptoms (such as abdominal cramping or diarrhea).

While bird flu seldom infects us, human cases have occurred. It’s well-recognized within the scientific community that the avian influenza virus can rapidly mutate.

This is problematic as viruses with a high mutation rate can adapt to novel hosts. For example, it’s known that bird flu strains can infect pigs, as can human flu strains.

A key concern is that if a pig becomes infected with bird flu and human flu at the same time, the two viruses may “mix” (through reassortment).

This may result in a new bird flu strain with a high potential to infect humans. Diagnosis is confirmed in humans through lab tests on nose and throat swabs from the upper respiratory tract.

Avian influenza (AI) cases must be reported to the USDA by calling 866-536-7593.