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Controlling Gram-Negative Bacteria

Enterobacteriaceae is a family of gram-negative bacteria transmitted to birds orally by nibbling them in the cage, from feces or feather dust carried through the air, and in at least one case, intestinally.   The are enteric organisms that produce sickness.  In the family are some you recognize:

E. Coli Klebsiella sp. Enterobactor sp.
Proteus sp. Salmonella sp. Citrobacter sp.
Serratia marcescens

Not common in caged birds, but most often the cause of disease in caged birds.  You can take swabs from the back of the beak or from the cloaca, or right from the feces.  You can discover what bacteria it is yourself by using a Micro-Bio screening kit.

The Signs of Enteric Illness:

ball.gif (1653 bytes)Change in appearance of the bird

ball.gif (1653 bytes)Decreased activity

ball.gif (1653 bytes)Changes in eating or drinking

ball.gif (1653 bytes)Growths or ulcers

ball.gif (1653 bytes)Respiratory problems.  Heavy breathing, wheezing

Where the bacteria are & Prevention:

Cage Connections

       These bacteria form in feces, spoiling waste fruits, vegetables,or  other food, hence the importance of unreachable bottoms separated by wire through which the drop.  A walk-by to check and remove waste items is thought to be useful.

        Splashed and feces also collect on wires.  There should be a program for scrubbing soiled wires, and a program to replace bottom wires at least annually for the larger birds which do not frequent the cage bottoms regularly.  Even more important for finches which spend much time directly on paper bottoms.  Some say scrub wires at least once a month.   Some say change cage bottom papers daily.  If there is waste material (apple, etc.) bacteria may develop even faster.

Water Connections

        Public water has negative bacteria, chlorination being helpful in killing organisms, but water runs through and sits in pipes.  Run water, some say, 3 minutes before getting water for the birds.  Sometimes, public water is polluted and then you get the word.  If you have many birds, it's a good idea to buy a water distiller.   Draw the water you need for the day (and drink it yourself as well).  With few birds, buy distilled water from the store.  Make sure it is distilled.  A test for content can be done by your local Extension Agent, or college.  Public water may not affect humans or some animals,, but tiny birds may not be able to assimilate it (?) like we do.

        Use glass or plastic bottles rather than dishes of water.  If dishes are used, clean with hot water and disinfect well.  Get into the corners where bacteria harbor.  Use the size of bottle that can be refilled in a few days.  When refilling, use a bottle brush in hot, hot water to get any slime (bacteria) or algae out before refilling or disinfecting.  Some birds drink their water so fast that it only needs a light brushing in hot water.

Air Connections

        Even small collections of finches produce dust and the dried feces and bacteria riding the dust are spread in the air.  A look at shelves, sills, and furniture attest to that.  The secret is to get the infected dust our of the air to reduce its potential as an inhalant.  A room exhaust fan to the outside is a good idea, perhaps with a fan at the other end pushing the air.

        Air cleaners are good--gets feathers, dust, but redistributes air after passing through filters, needs soaking or washing.  An ionizer drops the dust by combining and making it heavier.

        Changing papers often, or daily, also collects the dust and waste so that flapping of wings won't make it airborne.  Sweep floor debris, dust, in small piles OK.  Vacuuming is better except in breeding season.  If hung cages, wash spray must be low to the ground so as not to aerosolize bacteria.

Other Connections

        Human:  Thru saliva, kissing, handling wet foods before washing hands, tracking bacteria laden materials from chicken coops into aviary on shoes, clothes, etc.,  Egg:  bacteria can be transmitted thru eggs to chicks which pass in droppings.  Very serious, takes aviary monitoring of breeding stock.  Persons need to be wary of new stock the acquire from whatever sources.  Eyeball your sources, run some tests.  QUARANTINE!!

(This Avi-Reference Page is a creation of Bird Clubs of America, P.O. Box 2005, Yorktown, VA 23692, Dick Ivy, educ.dir.-editor March 1998 Comments welcome e-mail: