Avian Tuberculosis

Kevin Eatwell

BVSc (Hons) DipZooMed (Reptilian) DipECZM (Herpetology and Small Mammals). RCVS specialist in zoo and wildlife medicine. ECZM recognised veterinary specialist in Herpetological Medicine.

Avian tuberculosis has been identified as a potential threat to budgerigar studs. This is not a new disease but is uncommon in parrotlike birds. Increasing numbers have been identified via the Budgerigar Society Veterinary Diagnostic Service and we are keen to evaluate the extent of the infection within the fancy.

The disease can be respiratory, or bowel related.

The infection is carried by wild birds and the risk of this infection can be reduced by housing the birds inside, covering the outside aviary and using a concrete floor (which is cleaned regularly and thoroughly) compared to gravel or soil-based aviaries, which are impossible to disinfect.

Exhibiting birds or having other fancier’s visit your shed are low risk. Shoes and clothes should be clean or laundered and newly worn.

With the increased housing of budgerigars inside the main route of transmission is an infected bird being unwittingly moved into another fancier’s shed. This bird then infects other birds. The disease is chronic (slow) and so many birds will be actively shedding the organism without clinical signs. These birds will usually be adult birds.

We are urging BS members who belong to the Veterinary Diagnostic Service to submit both faecal samples and ideally recently dead birds that fit the following clinical signs.

  • Adult birds over one year of age.
  • Thin body condition, without any signs of regurgitation.
  • Wet vent or diarrhoea.

I would urge fanciers not to blanket treat their birds with any medication or over the counter remedy’s without identifying if their birds are at risk. Routine antibiotics are of no use in treating this condition.

This disease is not transmitted from adult birds to youngsters via the egg or sperm. The infection is obtained from the contaminated environment. As we have primarily identified bowel related infection the primary risk is via ingestion. Reducing bird movement between flights or cages and cleaning followed by disinfecting the bird shed can significantly reduce the risk of spreading the disease between your birds.

DEFRA produce a list of suitable disinfectants for environmental control of tuberculosis organisms (http://disinfectants.defra.gov.uk/DisinfectantsExternal/Default.aspx?Module=ApprovalsList_SI). The only approved agent already commonly used by fanciers is Avisafe (The Birdcare Company) at a concentration of two parts water to one-part Avisafe. This should be used only after the birdroom has been cleaned of all visible debris and dirt.

Culling of sick birds will reduce the level of infection but will not eliminate it due to the potential for large numbers of other birds shedding the bacteria.

Avian Tuberculosis is potentially transmitted to people and the main routes are either by inhalation or ingestion. As we have primarily identified bowel related infection the primary risk is via ingestion. Appropriate hand hygiene and refraining from eating and drinking in the bird shed will reduce the risk of you becoming exposed.

I would like to re iterate this is in complete confidence and no information regarding those fanciers who have submitted positive samples will be released, we are simply trying to track and identify those fanciers at risk to provide them with appropriate veterinary advice and to identify the scale of the problem in the fancy.


Avisafe is available from The Birdcare Company and this can be ordered direct via the BS website (www.budgerigarsociety.com). Click on the Birdcare advert at the top of the page, then under “Bird Supplements” click “Cage & Aviary bird products” and then click on “Hygiene & Parasite Control”. Avisafe is available in different options including concentrate or ready to use spray and costs from £5.40.

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