Friday, September 23, 2011
Should People Sleep in the Same Room with Their Birds?
Which room where people keep their pet birds is a pretty important decision. Obviously, the kitchen is a bad choice because, although it is an area with a lot of activity, birds are very sensitive to fumes, smoke and other airborne toxins present there. Their small size coupled with a very efficient respiratory tract makes that environment dangerous for them. Another room that would be a bad choice would be in the bedroom.
I know people like to have their birds sleep in the same room with them as it is comforting for both, however, there is a potential problem. I hate to be a spoilsport but a strong consideration is the risk of “Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis,” also known as “EAA” (extrinsic allergic alveolitis) or more popularly as “Bird Keeper’s Lung.”
I have spoken to the bird clubs, aviculture groups and veterinary meetings about this in the past in reference to zoonotic diseases (diseases you can get from animals). This condition develops in people who have a sensitivity to the protein in aerosolized bird fecal matter. There are various forms including acute (sudden onset), subacute (more low grade symptoms) and chronic, which is the type to fear. The chronic form develops slowly over time and can be caused by an exposure to even just one bird if you are hypersensitive. The danger is that due to the exposure to the fecal protein material the lung tissue in allergic individuals begins to undergo fibrosis (scarring) which is irreversible. Over time, lung capacity decreases and people suffering from this condition show respiratory problems including coughing, exercise intolerance, lethargy, chest pains and becoming easily winded. (One of our clients who had the condition said he felt like he was having a heart attack). Testing can be conducted to verify the diagnosis and treatment can be undertaken to prevent the disease from progressing, but the scarring is permanent and will never go away. Scary, huh?
Right now some of you are saying…..”I don’t have any allergies so I should be OK.” But this sneaks up on you. The people who are at risk are people who have birds in multiple rooms in their homes and they do not really get away from the birds. Why should the bedroom be an issue? Just think about it. How many hours do you spend in there and when you are sleeping you are sucking stuff into your lungs. If a bird is in there you are inhaling fecal protein (as gross as that seems).
A real life example….We had a client who was at the hospital for an appointment with her parakeet and her daughter was accompanying her. I noticed she was coughing a great deal. I asked her what was wrong and she said she had been having respiratory problems and no one knew why. My advantage as a veterinarian is that I do know about zoonoses so I questioned her about where she kept the bird…..IN HER BEDROOM. The room where she studied, slept and spent a great deal of time. I recommended that she move the bird out of the room and have her doctor check for EAA. It was verified and she improved. So this is not a theoretical problem, it is real.
I hope I have your attention now. All of you with birds should follow these guidelines. 1) Have an area where you can get away from your birds or keep them in one room. DO NOT keep them in a bedroom with you sleeping with you. 2) Purchase a quality air cleaner. 3) Clean the cage papers/cage frequently to prevent the drying out of the feces and great risk of aerosolizing the material. 4) If you have allergies wear a mask when cleaning cages or have someone else do it for you. This disease can sneak up on you, I know several people who have had it and some of you probably are slowly developing it now unless you take precautions.
The best spot for the cage is a family room where there is activity to keep the bird stimulated but away from any potential airborne toxins or fumes. An area with adequate space and good ventilation would be ideal.