A couple weeks ago, PetSmart, one of the largest pet and pet supply retailers suspended sales of all birds in 14 local Orange County stores. In fact, the suspension did expand to 775 stores in 46 states, making it one of the largest bans ever. The main reason is that several birds were diagnosed with psittacosis, a serious bacterial infection which affects mainly birds but can be spread to humans.
Psittacosis affects birds within the parrot family, mainly parakeets, cockatoo’s, and parrots. It is treatable if caught in time but in some cases it is fatal to birds. All PetSmart birds are now quarantined throughout their several hundred stores and they all are being treated. Birds typically appear drowsy, eat poorly, have runny eyes and usually have diarrhea.
PetSmart has tried to contact all bird owners that purchased a bird after October 3, 2007 at any store location. If you think your bird may be infected or worse, think you’ve been infected or injured by this type of bird, seek medical treatment immediately.
Pet owners that change the cage droppings have the biggest chance of contracting Psittacosis. To date, there have been no reported cases of Psittacosis in humans from this outbreak. It typically produces flu-like symptoms in humans; nausea, fatigue, fever and headaches. Symptoms may appear a few days up to a few weeks after initial exposure to the bacteria. It does not respond to normal antibiotic treatments. As in most outbreaks, it is most dangerous to the very young, elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.
PetSmart has traced this contamination back to one its Florida venders that supplies many of its exotic birds. However, PetSmart does have random testing throughout its more than 1000 stores and caught the problem before it became bigger.
Exotic birds have become big business over the last two decades. Twenty years ago, most bird owners had parakeets or finches. Today because of lower prices and commercial breeding, demand for more exotic birds such as African greys, Senegal Parrots, cockatoos and macaws are becoming the norm. It is no wonder that more than 50 cases of Psittacosis have been reported since 1996. Many of course are masked as unusual flu’s and are misdiagnosed.
Petsmart will resume bird sales this spring. Remember, although these birds are beautiful, certain safety measures should be in place to keep you and your pet safe. It is advisable to wear goggles, masks and gloves while cleaning the cages. It’s not only the direct contact to the bacteria, but also problems can be transferred by inhalation. And always wash your hand after petting or touching any bird.
If you have any further questions about the recall or pet safety, please visit www.petsmart.com.
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