Updated November 12, 2020
Regardless of the species you provide care for, implementing protocols that protect them from disease will be an important part of keeping everyone healthy. While there are many practices and procedures that go into keeping residents healthy, establishing and following quarantine and isolation protocols are two very important practices that can help protect residents from disease spread.
Quarantine vs. Isolation
The goal of quarantine and isolation are the same- to protect residents from disease spread- and sometimes people use these two words interchangeably. However, they are not entirely the same. Quarantine is the practice of keeping individuals who may be carrying disease separated from healthy individuals to prevent possible disease spread. Individuals may be quarantined because of confirmed or suspected exposure to a certain disease or, as in the case of new residents, because they have an unknown health history. Isolation, on the other hand, is the practice of separating individuals who have a contagious health condition from others who could potentially be affected by the condition. The big difference between isolation and quarantine is that, in the case of isolation, the resident is either clinically ill or confirmed to have a certain disease, whereas quarantine is a preventative measure in the event that a resident may have a contagious health issue.
At a parrot sanctuary, quarantine is often associated with new residents, but there may also be times when it is necessary to quarantine existing residents.
Quarantine For New Residents
Quarantine is critical for all new residents of any species, even if you know exactly where the resident came from! Quarantine protects everyone from possible infectious diseases that may not be producing visible symptoms in a healthy-looking arrival; an entire flock could be easily infected, and possibly killed by certain diseases. Even if the incoming resident was previously healthy, a new environment can produce stress that might cause an illness flare-up. The tricky thing with quarantine for new residents is that you are basically preparing for anything. Unlike an existing resident (or group of residents) who may have been exposed to a certain infectious disease, quarantine for new residents is important because they may have any number of issues that could be spread to your other residents. Therefore, quarantine for new residents may look different than quarantine for existing residents.
Because the purpose of quarantine for new residents is to protect other residents from potential disease spread, assessing a new individual’s health and addressing any health issues is imperative during the quarantine period. It’s a good idea to have a conversation with an experienced veterinarian about their recommendations for quarantine procedures for each species you care for based on the specifics of your sanctuary and your region. We recommend quarantining new residents for a minimum of 30 days, but your veterinarian may recommend a longer quarantine period for certain species. The quarantine period should not end until the individual is deemed healthy based on a thorough examination, ongoing observation, diagnostic testing (fecal testing is a must for all new residents!), and in some cases, a veterinarian’s assessment. All internal and external parasites should be addressed, and you will need to take the parasite’s life cycle into account when determining that they are “parasite free.” If new residents required treatment for any contagious issues, you must work with your veterinarian to ensure they are safe to introduce to others before discontinuing quarantine procedures. For more information about assessing a new resident’s health and other intake protocols, check out our species-specific arrival guides.
Setting Up A Quarantine Area For New Residents
Some sanctuaries have designated quarantine spaces (or perhaps multiple designated quarantine spaces designed to safely house particular species), while others may opt to rearrange living areas when they know new residents are arriving in order to create a safe quarantine space. As long as the space meets the needs of the individuals who will be living there and offers enough separation to keep others safe, either scenario is acceptable, though without a designated quarantine area, you may find yourself scrambling if a new resident arrives unexpectedly. Some things to keep in mind when designating a quarantine area:
The Quarantine Area Must Prevent Physical Contact With Other Residents
In order to prevent disease spread, the quarantine area must prevent new residents from coming into contact with other residents (this includes beak-to-beak contact through screen!). Ideally, new residents of any species should be kept away from all other residents, regardless of species. You will need to make a well-informed decision about which residents are most at risk of disease spread. New residents should not have any contact with other sanctuary residents of the same species, but there may be other residents who they should not have contact with as well. If you care for other avian species at your sanctuary, they may be affected by many of the same diseases. Therefore, keeping new parrots away from dove residents, will be just as important as keeping them away from members of their own species. If you are unsure of the potential diseases that can be spread between the species you care for, have a conversation with your veterinarian so you can create protocols that keep everyone safe.
Direct Physical Contact Is Not The Only Way Diseases Spread
Preventing disease spread goes beyond simply preventing physical contact between new and existing residents. Because quarantine for new residents means being prepared for any disease that might pop up, it’s best if quarantine areas are away from other resident living spaces entirely. The more separation you can create between quarantine areas and other living spaces, the lower the chance of disease spread will be (assuming other precautions listed below are followed as well). Creating a quarantine area within a structure that houses other residents who can be affected by the same diseases could lead to trouble. Keep in mind that some diseases are airborne, some can be spread by flies, mites, or other external parasites, and some can spread via shared equipment, clothing, or other fomites.
The Quarantine Area Must Meet The Needs Of The Species Who Will Live There
While quarantine areas must be set-up so that they prevent contact with other residents and protect against the spread of disease, they also must meet the needs of the residents they will house. For example, because avian residents require specific predator-proofing to keep them safe, any quarantine area used for birds must also provide this protection. If you care for multiple species, this may mean you need to have multiple quarantine areas that can meet the needs of specific species (such as one that can be used for birds and one that can be used for mammals if you happen to take in mammals as well). The space must also be able to provide appropriate heating or cooling along with proper ventilation. Also consider what other features are necessary such as additional water sources for baths or areas for privacy for certain birds.
The Quarantine Area Should Be Easy To Disinfect
All quarantine areas will need to be cleaned regularly, just like other living areas, and when residents leave quarantine and move to another area, the space will need to undergo a deep clean to get it ready for other residents. Beyond regular cleaning, you may need to thoroughly disinfect a quarantine area, so when creating these spaces, be sure to consider how easily this can be done. You really don’t know what diseases you may find yourself dealing with, and in the event that a new resident has a serious contagious disease, you will need to make sure the space is safe to be used again in the future. Non-porous walls and flooring are easiest to disinfect, but may not be appropriate for all of your residents. Keep in mind that it is more than just the walls and floors that may need to be disinfected. You may need to disinfect all elements in the space, including the water unit, food bowls, nest boxes, and so on. Whenever possible, opt for materials and supplies that are easy to disinfect.
Depending on the issue, outdoor spaces may need to be addressed as well. Some diseases can live in the soil for over a year. Because of this, there may be certain symptoms that you look for or tests you complete before allowing new residents out in quarantine outdoor areas, but mostly you just need to be aware that you could find yourself in a situation where a quarantine area cannot be used for certain species until enough time elapses where contagion is no longer an issue.
Other Quarantine Protocols
Preventing disease spread goes beyond the specifics of the quarantine area. Some diseases can be spread through indirect contact via shoes, clothing, tools, or other fomites. Many external parasites can also hitch a ride on staff or volunteers and can then be carried into other resident spaces. The following protocols can help prevent indirect disease spread:
Protective Gear Should Be Used In All Quarantined Areas
Anyone entering the quarantine area should wear gloves and full body covering, and should also either wear boot covers or use foot baths. This practice will not only reduce the possibility of transferring disease to residents in other areas, it will also help protect staff from zoonotic disease (especially the gloves, if used properly!). These protective coverings should not be used outside of this quarantine space, or you will defeat the purpose of wearing them in the first place!
Protective gear is important regardless of if the new resident appears ill or not. Some contagious issues may not show outward symptoms. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you discover that a new resident has a contagious disease that has likely already spread to other residents because proper precautions were not taken.
Ideally, you should have designated tools used only to clean the quarantine area that are not used in other living areas (including other quarantine areas). If this is not possible, all tools and cleaning supplies must be thoroughly disinfected before being used in other areas.
In general, it’s a good idea to limit the number of people coming and going from quarantined areas whenever possible, because you really do not know what types contagious health issues new residents may be carrying. In order to protect visitors, especially children or other vulnerable guests, from potentially dangerous zoonotic issues, tours likely should not include these areas.
Protocols only work if people follow them, and they can’t follow them if they don’t know about them! Quarantined areas should have prominent signage that alerts people to the fact that a particular area is quarantined and also explains the requirements of entering the space (such as who can enter and what protective gear is required).
Quarantine For Existing Residents
If there is a concern that existing residents have been exposed to a contagious disease, quarantine may be recommended to prevent possible spread to other sanctuary residents, and in some cases quarantine may actually be required by local officials. Depending on the specifics, an entire sanctuary may be put under quarantine to prevent possible disease spread beyond sanctuary grounds.
The key difference with quarantine in this situation is that you typically know what disease you are protecting residents against. This type of quarantine is almost always enacted in response to a confirmed or potential exposure to a specific disease. Unlike with quarantine for new residents where you are protecting residents from any number of contagious issues, and therefore need broad quarantine measures that will protect against multiple issues, in the case of quarantine for a specific concern, you can enact quarantine measures based on the specifics of the disease. Because you will know which pathogen is of concern, as well as how it spreads, who can be affected, and how long the pathogen can live in the environment, you can enact targeted quarantine protocols. This will include what biosecurity measures are necessary, such as the most effective disinfectants, necessary protective gear, how to dispose of waste, and how restrictive the area should be in terms of staff or volunteer access. Knowing what issue is a concern will also help determine how long the quarantine period must last. In some cases, you may be waiting on specific test results, but in others you may be waiting to see if quarantined individuals develop signs of illness, and your veterinarian should be able to give you an idea of how much time must pass with no symptoms for quarantine to be lifted.
In most cases, when existing residents are quarantined, they can remain where they are because their exposure occurred where they are currently living (as opposed to a new resident who could have been exposed to any number of contagious issues before arriving at your sanctuary). Every situation will be different, so be sure to consult with your veterinarian about what practices are best given the specifics of the situation. If quarantine requires residents to be separated, you can follow the suggestions above regarding how to set-up a quarantine space. Make sure all quarantine areas have prominent signage.
If a resident tests positive for a contagious disease or is showing highly suspicious signs of contagious disease, your veterinarian may recommend enacting isolation practices to prevent spread to other residents. Just as when using quarantine to protect against a specific disease, in this case you know what disease (or in some cases, diseases) you are dealing with, and can make informed decisions about what practices are necessary to keep everyone safe. In some cases, you may find that you need to isolate a resident away from others and quarantine their flockmates to prevent spreading the disease to other sanctuary living spaces. We recommend you work closely with your veterinarian, and make sure you understand the specifics of the disease and the risk it poses to other residents when considering isolation. Removing a resident from their companions is not something to be taken lightly. Ask many questions to make sure you have a good understanding of the situation, and if your sanctuary has a caregiving team, have a group conversation about all of the options. You can find more information about questions to ask and things to consider when deciding whether or not isolation is the right choice here. Remember that, at a sanctuary, you must consider the overall well-being of individuals when making decisions about their care, whereas your veterinarian may primarily be focused on best practices to prevent disease spread. Full isolation may be the most effective way to prevent disease spread, but by asking questions about the likelihood of the disease spreading (including how likely it is that the individual’s companions have already been exposed), the prognosis of the disease, and other preventative measures that can help keep others safe, you may find that total isolation is not necessary.
When creating isolation procedures, be sure to take the specifics of the pathogen into account. Different diseases will warrant different biosecurity measures. If you aren’t sure what is necessary, your veterinarian can help you determine what measures are necessary to help keep everyone safe. And just as with quarantine areas, make sure isolation areas have prominent signage that explains the requirements of entering the space.
Record keeping is an important aspect of parrot care. If a resident (or group of residents) requires quarantine or isolation, be sure to keep good notes for your files. The specifics of the situation will dictate what information is necessary to record- think about what type of information you may need in the future and make sure your record keeping system accommodates that.
Remember that, depending on the specifics of your situation, there may be additional or more targeted measures that you should implement to keep your residents safe. We strongly recommend working closely with a trusted veterinarian in your region to develop a robust quarantine policy for incoming residents. When faced with a specific concern that might warrant quarantine or isolation of existing residents, be sure to gather as much information as you can so that you can make an informed decision. All policies should be created based on the unique circumstances of your sanctuary and region, but implementing quarantine and isolation procedures when necessary should be considered critical aspects of responsible parrot care. When done properly, these protocols can save lives!