Quarantine and Preventive Medicine in Exotic Birds
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2005
Linda Timossi, DVM; Lorenzo Crosta, DVM


The basic concept of quarantine (keeping infectious disease away from an stable environment), was first understood in the Middle Ages, when in Venice human immigrants were kept separate from the local population for 40 days, in order to limit the danger of spreading bubonic pest.

The term quarantine-from the old Italian language "quarantena", and its meaning "forty days", is not based on science, but on the number of days spent by Jesus Christ in the desert as narrated in the Bible.

Today, the reason to establish a quarantine protocol is based on the scientific knowledge of transmissible diseases, and the quarantine duration depends on the species, and the common diseases affecting a given animal group.


A good management program for maintenance of animals and exotic birds in captivity must include a quarantine protocol. Good quarantine is the main component of a preventative medicine program in any collection of exotic animals. This is particularly true when dealing with birds, since they have the innate ability of hiding disease symptoms.

All new animals entering an already established animal collection must be quarantined under veterinarian supervision, and isolation must continue for no less than 6 weeks. If during this period of time new birds enter the quarantine area, quarantine procedures and time must be re-started from scratch.

During quarantine, prophylactic procedures/examinations must be performed. Simple physical examination of all new animals is recommended, waiting for a few days before more complex tests are carried out, once animals are comfortable in their new environment. Depending on the avian species, the following tests are suggested:

 Physical exam

 Ectoparasite evaluation

 Complete blood analysis

 Direct fecal examination, flotation, at least twice

 Cloacal swabs for culturing potentially dangerous bacteria/molds

 Chlamidophyla antigen/antibody analysis

 Viral diagnostic tests (Newcastle disease, Avian influenza, psittacine Circovirus, Avian polyoma virus, Specific Herpesvirus, if pertinent)

During this time period, animals can be treated as needed. In addition, if at all possible, blood samples must be stored frozen at -70 or -20°C for further retrospective disease evaluation.

Full medical records of the birds must be kept during the quarantine period. Additionally, all animals dying during the quarantine period must be necropsied, and all tissues must be sampled for histopathology.


The ideal quarantine site should be an area completely isolated from the main bird collection in order to prevent any physical contact, transmission of infectious agents, and air born/drainage contamination.

In addition, if during the quarantine period new birds enter the isolation room, the procedure must be started again from scratch, so that having more than one quarantine room is recommended.

If this is not possible, the introduction of new animals must be prevented until the end of the quarantine period, and the quarantine room/area must be thoroughly disinfected prior to introducing new animals.

If at all possible, one dedicated person should take care of quarantine animals. Otherwise, these animals must be taken care of at the end of the daily routine, after all activities with animals in the collection are completed.

Very importantly, the person in charge of the quarantine area must wear dedicated garments, covered shoes or rubber boots, specific for the quarantine area. A foot bath with the appropriate disinfectant must be placed in front of the door of each isolation room, and the disinfectant solution must be replaced daily. Dedicated cleaning/feeding tools must be only used in the quarantine area/facilities.

As a rule of thumb, 2 or 3 disinfectants should be rotated in both the foot bath and the routine cleaning activities.

Minimum dust cleaning should be in place, since birds are highly susceptible to dust-associated respiratory inflammation.

During the quarantine period, and in order to prevent more stress from occurring, it is very important to provide the animals with an environment as comfortable as possible, offering adequate, proper size perching materials. Appropriate temperature/humidity/lighting conditions must be provided.


Water quality control is a key component of any quarantine area. high quality water must be available for waterfowl, shorebirds, flamingos, storks, Picochura, and general marine birds.


An adequate, well designed feeding program must be in place for the different species in the quarantine area.


Health routine programs must be ongoing. Adequate medical controls must be implemented for all bird groups.

If bird collection is nearby, it will not be necessary to check every flock in detail, unless disease symptoms appear. Endemic collection's endemic problems must be particularly considered during the observation.

Evidently, quarantine is a must when animal exchange is practiced with other bird/animal collections.

Medical record keeping on a per-animal basis is of great assistance to organize a preventive program including:

 Bird ID (microchips or wing band number)


 Genus, stating if established surgically or by DNA test


 Parental ID, particularly if hatched within collection

 Previous medical history (including previous examinations, weight, feather medical problems, diagnostic test results, treatments, records of anesthesia.)

 Reproductive conditions

Pest control is very important in the management of bird collections. Rodents and insects are carriers of potentially dangerous agents for birds. In addition, rats can alter breeding couples by entering the nest and killing the offspring or smaller bird species.

While building the aviary, the inclusion of special devises can keep rodents away from bird cages. Insecticides as the sole insect control method are not totally effective, and can be dangerous for birds.

Keeping cages clean can help to maintain rodents and wild birds (doves, turtledoves, etc) away.

Storing feed in dry, fresh rooms helps in controlling insect/rodent contamination. All open bags should be stored inside re-sealable bags.

Indispensable for any good health management program are: nest control measures, setter/hatcher/hatchery hygiene, hatching chick controls, control of poor breeding couples during non reproductive seasons, and embryo diagnosis of all non-hatched eggs.

Other risk factors must be included: wild birds that can potentially carry pathogens.

Caretakers having their own birds at home can also be potential pathogen carriers, so that ideally they should have dedicated clothing/shoes to be used only at work.

In Loro Parque (lit. "Parrot Park"), a yearly medical checkup (bird inventory control) is performed in the entire bird collection, including approximately 4,000 birds corresponding to 350 different taxons.

A basic physical exam (weight, feathers, musculoskeletal evaluation, and ectoparasite checkup) is performed to each bird.

A routine microbiological vent analysis is performed to each animal.

More complex laboratory assays (complete blood counts [CBC], blood chemistry) are performed in order to evaluate the true health status of the animal, only when symptoms are observed during previous steps.

Additional tests are performed to all birds with high level of direct contact with the public (Chlamidophyla antigen/antibody tests, fecal Gram staining).

All birds dieing in the collection are posted, and histopathological examination of all representative organs is performed by specialized laboratories.

Speaker Information
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Linda Timossi, DVM

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