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Preventative Medicine in Exhibition Budgerigars

By Kevin Eatwell, BVSc (hons) DZooMed MRCVS
RCVS Diplomate in Zoological Medicine.

Birch Heath Veterinary Clinic, Birch Heath Road, Tarporley, Cheshire, CW6 9UU, ENGLAND. Tel: 0044 1829 733777

Preventative Medicine

Preventative medicine is of vital importance to the Budgerigar fancy. Recently outbreaks of viral disease have lead to increased disease precautions being undertaken at exhibitions.

When controlling disease it is important to understand how infectious agents may be spread. This can be by direct contact between birds, feather dust, air droplets or via contaminated surfaces (such as show cages). Mixing of birds is probably the most significant factor for disease transmission.

Mixing of birds occurs all the time when new birds are bought, birds on loan, birds travelling to and from exhibitions and at the shows themselves. If the birds were mixing with disease free individuals that would be fine but we cannot and must not trust anyone to have disease free stock. Thus any birds that have been recently mixed (for whatever reason) should be considered as potentially infected. It may not be that the supplier is knowingly lying, but they themselves are unable to guarantee the disease status of their own birds.

Disease Control

Disease control of the fancy as a whole is not possible and so disease prevention should be your concern on your doorstep. This is the only way to know your birds are protected.  Economics does play a role and this may limit extensive testing for disease. However one thing that can be done is quarantine. All birds may be carrying diseases and you may not know what diseases your birds have. There is little point trying to exclude a disease you already have, but you certainly want to keep novel infections out! So what should our quarantine facility be like?

What Should Quarantine Facility Be Like?

Firstly an all in all out policy should be rigidly kept to. Quarantine should be for at least 42 days. Individual housing will enable food and water intake and dropping consistency to be critically appraised. The cage should be easy to disinfect between birds. A metal cage with a newspaper substrate is the easiest to maintain. Any sick birds should be either euthanased and a post mortem examination or a clinical diagnosis with appropriate treatment. It is important to delay the entry of all birds in the group until you are satisfied of their disease status.

Birds should be quarantined after every mixing event. This includes upon their return from a show, prior to a show (to reduce the risk to other birds at the exhibition). Ensuring the exhibitors’ birds have a certain level of disease free status and enforcement of a quarantine period before and after an exhibition would control infections far more effectively than any current measures in place. Sadly this means we would have to rely on individual fanciers and trust their judgement. Would you trust all the exhibitors at your local show? Quarantine of birds in this situation has another limitation, as it would reduce the number of shows you could attend. Admittedly many of the diseases we are worried about could be limited by a 14 day period (influenza, reovirus) but still this would limit the number of exhibitions a fancier could attend. Disinfection should be with a DEFRA approved disinfectant on clean surfaces, at the required dilution for the required contact time. This is certainly a major stumbling block for the exhibitions as many shows were using inappropriate disinfectants for too short a time period. Also there is resistance from some foolish, more senior members and judges based on my experiences over the last few years. The only disinfectant that I would recommend is F10SCŪ as this is effective but also safer than many others, bearing in mind both our birds and we ourselves are exposed to the disinfectant.

Diseases of clinical significance

Macrorhabus ornithogaster
The lay mans term for this is Megabacteria, it causes a chronic wasting disease and is caused by a type of yeast. This is endemic within our fancy now. Clinically it presents as going light and regurgitation. Passing whole seeds can be a feature. Occasionally a bird will regurgitate blood and die due to stomach damage. The only effective treatment is amphotericin B. This is available as a water-soluble formulation or as a lozenge. The difficulty with Budgerigars is getting them to drink sufficient to control the infection. Reportedly conversion to a more digestible diet will lead to fewer clinical cases.

This can pass onto humans. It can cause conjunctivitis, sinusitis, green droppings, fluffed up birds and sudden deaths. This is endemic within the fancy but only occasionally leads to significant outbreaks, usually associated with high stress levels on the birds or due to poor husbandry. Testing can be problematic and the best test is to test the bird faeces collected over three days. It is important not to treat with any antibiotics prior to collecting them. It is impossible to certify a stud free of infection under any circumstances. The treatment of choice here is doxycycline.

Conjunctivitis and sinusitis
These are becoming increasingly common and can be due to a variety of agents including Chlamydophila. Once introduced into a stud it can be difficult to eradicate and I would not wish to acquire any birds form a stud with signs of this condition. Treatment includes many different broad spectrum antibiotics with activity against the Chlamydophila or Mycoplasma. Taking culture samples will help to identify the most appropriate drug to use.

‘French Moult’
This is caused by one or both of two viruses. This has been proved many times. If a fancier tells you otherwise they are talking rubbish. These
two infections are Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) and Polyoma Virus. These cannot be treated and are spread by feather dust. Control is by reducing the environmental viral load by using F10SCŪ and reducing bird density. In severe cases stopping breeding and resting the birds is required to limit the outbreak severity.


This article by Kevin Eatwell is supplied by the World Budgerigar Organisation (www.world-budgerigar.org), as part of their encouraged exchange of research information, and supplied to the WBO with kind permission by the Budgerigar Society and Kevin Eatwell based on his presentation at the Budgerigar Society Convention at Southport in June 2006.


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