AaaChooo! Respiratory Cautions for our Companion Birds.
by Jami Galindo
As we are coming into the changing of the seasons, a common post has started to pop up ... Sneezing. Today I will touch on a few tips and hints to for the respiratory help of our birds.
Consider the tropics and sub tropics where the majority of parrot species evolved. The average relative humidity is 50% or higher, year round, often with extended periods in the 90s. So it is not surprising that periods of lower humidity can cause problems such as itchy dry skin, increased dust from the species which produce it, and irritation of the respiratory system. This can also aggravate those who already have related health problems, such as birds who pluck and in some cases can even cause plucking to start.
In our homes we can unknowingly add to the problem by using central heating which dries the air even further. I would encourage all parrot owners to pick up a cheap hygrometer and check the RH (relative humidity) in their house, paying particular attention to the bird area. I think most owners would be surprised to see the reading.
Once you know where you're starting from you can take steps to increase the RH to a more suitable number, and you should note the differences in your bird's condition from before and after the changes in RH (a couple of weeks should be given for changes to happen of course, nothing is instant).
Fortunately the solution is simple -- add a humidifier. Humidifiers can be purchased for a reasonable amount in most home stores. Models range from simple ones with a small tank and an on/off button to larger ones with washable filters, large water tanks and humidistat to turn the machine on and off automatically to keep the RH at a set level. For those who heat their home through radiators a cheap and easy method is to use the wall radiators to dry wet clothes. As the clothes dry the water that evaporates will raise the humidity in the house.
The next topic I want to touch on is a husbandry issue. Most of us use some sort climate control in our homes. This leaves us open to mold and allergens. Indoor mold growth can occur in air ducts but can be controlled with a few preventive measures. Are sneezing or watery-eye episodes increasing in your home? The culprit might not be seasonal allergies. It might be lurking deep inside your home. Mold can grow inside air ducts if moisture is allowed to settle into place. If you have mold or spores in your ducts, the blast of air from the heating or cooling system can set it into motion.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests cleaning your air ducts if the surface of your ducts, or any other components on your heating and cooling system, have visible mold. However, many areas of your heating and cooling system can be contaminated by mold and may not be immediately visible. Your HVAC systems can also serve as an amplified breeding ground for mold. Air intakes are a potential source of contamination because of standing water and organic debris. The inside components of your air conditioner can also breed mold because of the refrigerant coils and the condensate drain pan.
What is mold and why is it troublesome?
Mold is a living organism that breaks down dead materials and returns nutrients to the environment. Mold grows by digesting plant and animal matter. It spreads by releasing lightweight spores that travel through the air. Mold is harmless outdoors, but when it begins to grow indoors it can be a problem. Most people are exposed to some mold every day without suffering any side effects, but people with mold allergies can have a reaction if they're exposed to too much mold. Some of the symptoms of mold allergies include wheezing, stuffy or runny nose, rashes or hives, and itchy, watery eyes. Potential health problems and symptoms often associated with exposure to mold include allergic reactions, asthma, and other respiratory complaints. These molds can also affect our companion birds as well due to their highly sensitive respiratory systems.
If someone in the household has an allergy, a qualified expert needs to clean mold in ductwork or in the HVAC system. After mold is cleaned from their ducts, inspecting the system at least once a year for mold growth and any other contaminants can not only save you money on your heating and cooling cost, it can help you put a stop to any contamination inside your ducts. There is no way to eliminate all mold and spores from your home, but you can control the growth of mold by eliminating the moisture and cleaning mold and your ducts. Check the humidity levels in your home and make sure they are consistently above 50 percent.
You should take ALL respiratory issues very seriously, so please consult a board certified avian vet immediately if you have concerns about sneezing and/or breathing issues with your companion bird. In the meantime the first aid for breathing issues is steaming. Take your bird to the shower and put the water on full hot, but do NOT get the bird wet. You want to replicate a steam room. Do this for at least 20 minutes, 3 times a day until you can vet.
Some may recommend administering over the counter medications such as children's Zyrtec mixed to a specific portion. If your Avian Vet prescribes this and the dose then absolutely follow that recommendation but PLEASE do not use social media recommendations to medicate your bird.
You must vet as soon as possible and pay attention to the climate control system in your environment and know your bird. Know which sounds and sneezes are normal and the ones that are not.