Diseases that can be passed from animals to humans and vice versa are called zoonotic diseases. Those interested in becoming bird owners often wonder if there are any diseases they could catch from their potential feathered friends. The answer is that there are, although it is relevant to point out that owning any type of pet can put you at risk of contracting a zoonotic illness.

Read on to learn about zoonotic illnesses that affect birds and their owners. While the odds of infection are lowered with proper hygiene standards, it is important to be familiar with common symptoms and methods of transmission.

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Allergic Alveolitus

While not truly zoonotic disease in the sense that it does not affect birds, bird owners can contract Allergic Alveolitus by inhaling particles of bird dander in the air. Allergic Alveolitus is also known as Pigeon Lung Disease and Parakeet Dander Pneumoconiosis.

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Avian Influenza

The H5N1 Avian Influenza virus is a well-known and deadly zoonotic disease. It is transmitted through coming into contact with the fecal matter of infected birds. While H5N1 isn’t seen as a particularly common threat to captive pet birds, it is possible for any bird to become infected and transmit the virus to other birds and people.

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Avian Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is another familiar name in the world of diseases. Avian Tuberculosis is caused by inhaling microscopic airborne organisms that are shed in infected birds’ feces. This disease can be hard to treat in both birds and humans and can be fatal for some.

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Campylobacteriosis is a bacterial infection that causes gastrointestinal problems. It is usually transmitted through fecal contamination of food and water. While diarrhea, weight loss, and lethargy are common, Campylobacteriosis can also be present in birds that show no symptoms of illness.

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Also known as Psittacosis and Parrot Fever, Chlamydiosis normally produces symptoms such as eye infections, diarrhea, and respiratory problems. Highly contagious, Chlamydiosis requires swift and vigorous antibiotic treatment as well as placing birds under quarantine to prevent the spread of infection.

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Cryptosporidiosis is caused by a microscopic parasite called Cryptosporidium that takes up residence in the intestines of its hosts. The parasite is transmitted through the consumption of food and water that has been contaminated by the feces of an infected animal. About 80% of those who come in contact with it come down with symptoms of illness. It takes about a week before any symptoms appear. Outbreaks have even occurred in daycare centers. 

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Giardia is another intestinal parasite that is transmitted through the ingestion of contaminated food. Symptoms of Giardia infection include severe diarrhea, weight loss, greasy stools, stomach cramps, and dehydration. Dogs and cats can also contract Giardia as it is found in soil and water as well as food. It can be passed around in areas where people drink untreated water and it can be found in childcare centers. One of the best preventions of Giardia is frequent hand washing. 

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New Castle Disease

Although New Castle Disease is more commonly seen in wild birds as well as chickens, it can affect parrots and other species that are commonly kept as pets. New Castle Disease is a virus that causes neurological dysfunction, seizures, and respiratory problems. It is transmitted through oral and fecal fluids. Another one of the symptoms in chickens is the decrease in egg laying. Although it is not a common disease among pet birds, outbreaks have occurred when spread through vehicles, equipment, water as well as feed and it can be spread from transporting equipment. 

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The Salmonella bacteria is usually contracted through the intake of contaminated food and water as well as food.  Antibiotic treatment usually brings the illness under control promptly. Symptoms of Salmonellosis include nausea, diarrhea, fever, a headache, severe abdominal cramps, and the chills that go along with the fever. Vomiting may also be a symptom.

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A parasitic infection, Sarcocystis can cause severe respiratory distress in birds. Symptoms of Sarcocystis include yellowish droppings, tail bobbing, breathing difficulty, and lethargy. Sarcocystis infections are often fatal in birds who don’t receive prompt veterinary attention.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet’s health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.