Avian Flu H5N1 A threat to Pet Birds ?

Note for Pet Owners:
This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

Zoonosis Risk. This virus has the potential to infect people, especially those living in close proximity with birds. In humans it can cause a fatal respiratory disease. Early recognition of clinical signs in infected birds is important, and prevention of contact with wild birds is an important biosecurity measure which can prevent infection occurring.

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Avian flu H5N1 is a highly contagious, highly pathogenic Type A influenza virus that can affect many species of birds, including pet birds. It may affect the respiratory, digestive and/or nervous systems.

Transmission to birds can be by a variety of routes, including :

  • Direct contact with secretions from infected birds, especially faeces
  • Contaminated feed, water, equipment and clothing


The cause is a Type A avian influenza virus

Breed Occurrence

This virus affects most, and probably all, species of birds

Birds should be examined regularly to make sure they are not showing any signs of illness, and breeding birds that fail to lay eggs should be examined by a veterinarian. Typically the disease presents suddenly with affected birds showing

The main problem is that apparently normal birds may carry the disease


Any bird that dies unexpectedly should be examined for evidence of H5N1 avian flu virus. Signs at post-mortem may include :


There is no satisfactory treatment for this disease, and infected birds should be culled and disposed of using effective biosecurity measures to prevent cross-contamination or transmission to other birds, or human handlers.

There is a vaccine available against the H5 avian flu strain, (Nobilis Influenza - Intervet), which also provides protection against H7 and H9 strains,  but use of the vaccine is strictly controlled by Government Regulatory Authorities.


The prognosis is poor for infected birds with clinical signs

Long term problems

The possibility of a carrier state presents problems for other birds that may come into contact with an infected individual, and this may also result in spread of the disease across Continents through migratory wild birds.

Influenza viruses frequently undergo genetic modification and one of the main concerns is that this highly pathogenic avian virus might mutate so that it can be transmitted readily between humans, and so result in a human pandemic. 

Pet bird owners should be given the following advice :

  • Do not allow pet birds to come into contact with wild birds or poultry being kept under farm conditions. This will be a legal requirement for all bird owners within 3km if there is an outbreak of the disease
  • During outbreaks of the disease aviary birds should be moved indoors if possible, if not a temporary covering should be constructed to prevent contact with wild birds, or their droppings
  • If necessary use bird deterrents to scare off wild birds
  • Store all food in a secure place so that it cannot be contaminated by other birds. Avoid purchasing loose food kept in an environment in which it could be exposed to other birds.
  • Ensure all water supplies could not have been contaminated by other birds
  • The virus can be spread to birds in droppings. Droppings should be removed from pet bird cages regularly, and owners should both wear protective clothing (eg gloves) AND wash hands after handling such material.
  • Birds can carry the flu virus without showing any external clinical signs


Updated January 2016