DISINFECTANTS


David McCluggage, D.V.M., C.V.A.

Routine use of disinfectants to clean your bird's cage, cups and toys is both unnecessary and potentially harmful for your companion, yourself, and the environment. It is best to simply keep the environment clean, change water bowls two or three times daily, and keep the cages clean with just a little soap and water.

Why? First, it is impossible to really disinfect the environment. Toys can't be disinfected, as the disinfectants won't work on porous material (chew toys, wood toys, ropes).

There are numerous scientific studies that have shown that soap and water will remove the vast majority of potential problems, and disinfecting will only help a little, at best.

In hospitals, for example, it has been shown that simply cleaning a countertop will remove roughly 95% of the bacteria, viruses and fungi; adding a disinfectant will only remove an additional 2-3%. The same studies have shown that the countertop will return to the previous level of bacterial contamination within as little as four hours after disaffection. The same is true if cleaned with soap and water: the surface will soon return to the same level of microbial content (note we say content, not contamination, since all surfaces have microbes).

In other words, it is not only impossible to sterilize your bird's environment, but you would have to apply the disinfectants several times daily to have any significant effect at all! Second, the bacteria in your bird's cage and environment have mostly been seen by your bird already. They came from your bird's feet and mouth, the food they are eating, and from your hands. Your avian friend is already resistant to infection from these bacteria and viruses. The few new germs that he is exposed to will, in almost all cases, be a healthy stimulant to his immune system, providing immunity for future germs.

Disinfectants are poisons. Read the label. It will tell you that it is harmful if taken internally. Well, your bird does not wear shoes, so if you apply a disinfectant to the cage, the perches, the food bowls, and the toys, your bird will ingest small amounts of the disinfectant all the time. Your bird will absorb these toxins through its feet when walking around, through its tongue and mouth , and by inhaling them into his lungs. This can lead to lots of diseases over time. It is also harmful for you because you are being constantly exposed (through your skin and by breathing the vapors) to these poisons.

The same is true for aviary birds. Perhaps even more so, we over-use disinfectants in place of fresh air, cleaning, vacuuming out the aviary rooms, and cleaning toys, food cups, and water cups routinely.

Finally, recent studies are showing that routine use of disinfectants are creating "super-bacteria" that are more deadly than ever, just like overuse of antibiotics has created bacteria that are resistant to all known antibiotics.

To sum it up, routine use of disinfectants won't remove much more of the germs than simple cleaning. They are toxic to various organs in the body and are known carcinogens. And, finally, although they almost never prevent infections, they are likely to assure that the infection your bird gets is more deadly than a bird that is not exposed to disinfectants.

Disinfectants are so overused that even the conservative American Medical Association recently came out with a recommendation against the routine use of disinfectant soaps.

Make it nice and simple for you and your bird: Routine cleaning is great. Keep the cages and perches clean. Even more importantly, keep the water cups and feeding bowls cleaned up twice daily.