Pet Birds Require Special Care And Handling

Sunday, April 22nd 2007, 2:03 pm

By: News On 6

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) _ Keeping birds, whether they're parakeets or farm animals, as pets can make kids sick.

Each year around spring, chicks, ducklings and other baby birds are given as pets.

Orscheln Farm and Home reports that they sell baby birds almost daily.

Last year between March and May, the Oklahoma State Department of Health identified an outbreak of salmonella associated with handling baby birds. Fourteen cases were identified; victims ranged in age from 4 months to 73 years, and seven required hospitalization.

Travis Akehurst, 13, hasn't had any problems, but he's been handling poultry for five years in 4-H. He and his brother, Keith, have been winning prizes in livestock shows.

``The bantam Cochin needs a clean habitat,'' he said. ``We use an upper cage so no predators can get to it.''

Since Akehurst's birds are for show and not pets, the cages are in a barn or similar structure, not in the house.

``We use metal wire cages,'' he said. ``The width of the wire should be narrow enough that their feet don't fall through.''

Like most birds, Cochins have a natural instinct to keep themselves clean. Akehurst said it's up to their owners to make sure the animal's living space is designed to keep feces away from the animal.

``It falls through the wire to the ground and we just shovel it up and put it in the garden,'' he said.

Owning birds and taking care of them is fun, Akehurst said. Each one has a unique personality and behavior, and he said he enjoys watching and handling them.

But chicks, ducklings, and other baby birds popular at this time of year are usually kept inside as pets, so safe handling is different than show birds. The OSDH says that these popular springtime pets often carry salmonella, a bacterium that causes a diarrheal illness.

People can be exposed to salmonella by simply holding, cuddling or having direct contact with contaminated surfaces and objects. Children are specifically at risk of illness because they are less likely to wash their hands and have more frequent hand-to-mouth contact after handling baby birds.

In addition to last year's outbreak, cases of salmonellosis in young children in Oklahoma and in other states have been related to handling or playing with baby birds outside of the home in settings such as childcare centers, schools and farm supply stores.

Even though they're indoor birds, parakeets, parrots, cockatiels or other birds acquired in pet stores should be tended to properly to keep their owners from getting sick.

Susan Turnham, owner of A Feathered Affair pet store on Azalea Park Drive, said an indoor pet bird cannot be allowed to roam the house.

``The bird needs to be housed in a cage,'' she said. ``It should have a poop grate down below. The tray that catches the waste should be changed every day. The cage should be washed once a week.''

Turnham doesn't recommend soap when washing a cage because it may leave residue, but a small amount of bleach mixed with water will kill germs.

``If the bird is in a cage where they've been walking in their own poop, then the kid can get germs when they handle the bird,'' she said. ``I take a spray water bottle and mist the newspaper lining the tray in the bottom of the cage. That way when I take out the tray, the dust doesn't fly around and cause problems.''

Symptoms of salmonella include fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Symptoms usually last four to seven days. In persons in poor health or with weakened immune systems, salmonella can invade the bloodstream and cause life-threatening infections.

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