I have a 10-month-old Moluccan cockatoo and just found out that I'm pregnant. Is it true that you shouldn't handle birds while pregnant? He has had all of his bloodwork done and he is okay, but I just wanted to make sure if it can affect pregnancy. Thank you for your help.


I don't think that you should have anything to worry about regarding your pregnancy. However, once your new baby is born, you are going to have two babies, one Moluccan and one human. But that's another story.

As for your pregnancy, if your bird is healthy, everything should be fine. I would recommend that your bird have a complete check-up, including bloodwork, just to make sure that it is healthy prior to the new baby arriving. I suggest this for several reasons. With all of the activity and sleep deprivation that comes with the birth of a new baby, your bird may not receive the normal amount of attention for a while. This, along with the stress of having a strange new family member disrupting the normal schedule, might cause a bird with any subclinical illness to become clinically sick. So by ensuring that it is in excellent shape, you won't need to be worrying about stress-related illness.

Also, a complete battery of tests for chlamydiosis should be performed, including an EBA titer, IFA titer, a DNA PCR of the blood and a DNA PCR of a pooled choanal/cloacal swab. While it is impossible to 100% ascertain that a live bird is negative for this bacterial disease, this panel of tests, in addition to a CBC, chemistry panel, protein electrophoresis, Gram's stain, radiographs and a thorough physical examination, will give you and your vet the best information about the health status of your bird. Chlamydia is considered a zoonotic disease, that is, one that is contagious between birds and humans.

There are some protozoal infections of birds that could possibly be contagious to humans. Special stains of preserved droppings are your vet's best way to determine if a bird has any protozoal infections in the gastro-intestinal tract. Some veterinary labs can perform these special stains to look for these one-celled organisms. Even if the fecal exams were negative (and often fecal exams will test negative for worm eggs, yet a bird may harbor roundworms, for example) it would be best if you avoid contact with droppings. What a good reason to not clean the cage, eh? Also, if you handle your bird, be sure to wash your hands afterward (and this is good advice for anyone).

Cockatoos are notoriously dusty birds. To minimize the inhalation of the dust and dander, purchase a box fan that you can attach an air conditioner filter to the back of. When you run the fan, it will collect large particles in the filter. Also purchase a HEPA filter that will remove smaller particles from the air. If you just run a HEPA filter, it will be quickly overwhelmed by all of the large dust and dander. This is good advice for all humans, pregnant or not, and also for South American birds that might have respiratory problems from chronic exposure to cockatoos that they live with.

Birds may suffer from bacterial infections. While these infections are caused by bacteria that could potentially be contagious to humans, cross-over infection to a human from a bird are not likely.

As I was researching the answer to your question, it occurred to me that the best reassurance that I can give you comes by example. I have four close female friends who are avian veterinarians who work either exclusively with birds or the majority of their practice is avian medicine. They all worked throughout their pregnancies and had beautiful, healthy babies. Of course, avian vets often have an assortment of one-eyed, limping pet birds, and my friends are no exception. So, in addition to working all day with avian patients (many of which were ill), they went home at night to spend time with their pet birds, as well. I hope that makes you feel better about having a pet bird around during your pregnancy.

Of course, you should discuss any specific concerns about your pregnancy with your obstetrician. But remember that many human physicians do not have as thorough an understanding about zoonotic diseases as well-educated veterinarians do. My own OB/GYN has a pet yellow naped Amazon parrot named Morgan that travels to work with him every day, and resides in his office while he is seeing patients. Finding an OB/GYN who loves birds may be your best bet when it comes to getting accurate information regarding your condition.

Concerns for Birds and Babies

Having a new baby means that families will have lots of baby equipment and supplies. Curious birds must be kept away from talcum powder, baby lotion, safety pins, formula, bottles and other baby items. A bird may want to sample formula being fed to a baby. Unfortunately, birds do not have the enzyme, lactase, which digests lactose, or milk sugar. So, ingestion of milk will usually result in diarrhea in birds, if they ingest enough.

Be careful to not allow birds in the area when any baby powder, sprays or other aerosols are being used. Birds have a sensitive respiratory system and may be affected by these items.

Birds should never be allowed to come in contact with dirty diapers. While the bacteria present in used diapers should not be a danger to humans (well, except those changing diapers), those organisms could potentially cause problems in pet birds.

When the new baby arrives, it is very important to closely watch the behavior of your bird. Your bird should never be allowed to be out unsupervised around the new infant. While most pet birds will be curious and interested in the new arrival, rarely a bird will show aggression instead. It may take time for the bird to adjust to sharing its flock with the newest member. If there is even a hint of aggression, I recommend that you seek the assistance of your avian veterinarian and a reputable bird behaviorist immediately, in order to nip any problems in the bud.

Copyright 2006 Margaret A. Wissman, D.V.M., D.A.B.V.P.
All Rights Reserved

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