Birdkeeper’s are caught in a dilemma – if you disinfect aviaries and cages you put your birds at risk from chemical poisoning, or if you don’t thoroughly disinfect you put your birds at risk from disease. The problem is serious. Avian veterinarians tell us that at least 75% of all bird deaths are premature and unnecessary. Seventy five percent is a huge number.
In light of soaring bird costs, growing CITES restrictions and pressure from animal rights groups that want to eliminate aviculture, any unnecessary bird loss is tragic. Diet is a part of the problem, but the biggest single contributor to poor bird health is improper cleaning and insufficient disinfection.
The best answer to date has been to haul birds out of their enclosures, scrub the habitat clean and then blast the enclosure with one of a number of nasty (and often expensive) chemicals. It is then necessary to wash everything down, and hope that there is no dangerous contamination lingering from either the pathogens or the disinfectant. The problem is that disinfectants are toxic. That is why they work. The good disinfectants are not safe to use around birds, period. (For a more comprehensive overview of the various disinfectants see the Article: “Biosafety in the Aviary“.
Bleach, for example, is cheap and a good disinfectant, but it gives off chlorine and chloroform gases that will trash a bird’s sensitive respiratory system, especially after repeated exposures. Bleach is also extremely corrosive to metal cages. Vanodine is OK for occasional use, but it’s not terribly effective and avian vets caution that exposure over time can be toxifying. The jury is still out on Nolvasan, but the manufacturer insists that it should not be used around animals. Plus, it’s expensive to use. Every other disinfectant available to us has been shown to be either outright toxic or carcinogenic. These are good disinfectants, but you should not use them around birds. Disinfectants that don’t threaten bird’s aren’t likely do much against dangerous pathogens either, and thus the dilemma.
Commercial poultry operations have struggled with this problem for years and are now turning to a new answer. The new approach involves the use of a chemical called Stabilized Chlorine Dioxide. Chlorine dioxide is a truly remarkable substance. It is one of the fastest acting broad spectrum disinfectants, proven to destroy many bacteria and viruses that are difficult to get with other products, and yet is safe to use around sensitive creatures. It is extremely powerful, killing bacteria, viruses and fungi. It creates no harmful odors, in fact it is an excellent deodorizer.
In the industrial world, companies that for years have been forced to use bleach or other dangerous chemicals are turning to chlorine dioxide as an extremely effective and safe alternative. ClO2 is widely used in Europe in water purification systems because it doesn’t have the carcinogenic properties of chlorine, which is so frequently used in the U.S. in water treatment programs and in public swimming pools. Because of this, water treatment systems in America are increasingly switching to ClO2 as a better and safer alternative.
Although chlorine dioxide has chlorine in its name, its chemistry is radically different from that of chlorine itself. Technically speaking, both chlorine and chlorine dioxide are oxidizing agents. But, because of their fundamentally different chemistries they react in distinct ways with organic compounds, and as a result generate very different by-products. Without going into a technical explanation, chlorine tends to react with organic matter by attacking cell walls and creating by-products, some of which are toxic and carcinogenic; where chlorine dioxide does not affect cell walls (which is why it is safe to use around living things). Chlorine dioxide disassembles the ring bonds of organic compounds rendering them harmless. It’s this difference that explains the superior performance of chlorine dioxide.
Traditionally, in poultry processing plants, chlorine bleach has been used to control infectious agents. Recently chlorine dioxide, which produces fewer chemical byproducts, was approved by the FDA as an alternative disinfectant. When compared to chlorine, chlorine dioxide consistently provided superior control over E. coli and coliforms, Campylobacter jejuni, and Salmonella typhimurium. In the March 3, 1995 issue of the Federal Register, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it was amending the food additive regulations to provide for the safe use of chlorine dioxide to control the microbial population in poultry process water.
In research conducted by the Psittacine Disease Research Group at the University of Georgia (sponsored by the International Avian Research Foundation), chlorine dioxide was shown to be the disinfectant of choice in eradicating avian Polyomavirus over the 7 leading disinfectants available to aviculturists. Avian Polyomavirus is a good benchmark pathogen to indicate chlorine dioxide’s general effectiveness. Results of the study were published in the Journal of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (1993).
The only source of stabilized chlorine dioxide available to aviculturist’s today is through Oxyfresh . Oxyfresh has taken chlorine dioxide to create “Oxygene” which is a stabilized form of the chemical. Oxyfresh originally made products for the dental industry as an alternative to conventional harsh and harmful disinfectants. Dent-A-Gene, Oxyfresh’s disinfectant, is an EPA registered antimicrobial. (MSDA and Testing Summary is available from the company.) The antimicrobial efficacy of chlorine dioxide against bacteria, fungi, viruses and protozoa has been well demonstrated and documented. This disinfectant kills polyoma virus in 1 minute contact time at a 200 parts per million dilution. It is very safe, has an extremely low toxicity, and is not harsh to use. The use procedure is simple. The aviary or cage must be scrubbed (no disinfectant works well in the presence of organic matter or detergent). Then a prepared solution is either sprayed, mopped or wiped on – and left. That’s it! No need to move birds out, no complicated preventive measures, no metal corrosion, no toxic residues. It is becoming the disinfectant of choice amongst aviculturists.
Oxyfresh makes a cleaner called Cleansing Gele’ that contains chlorine dioxide. It is the easiest cleaner I have ever worked with. Spray it on, wait 5 minutes and wipe or rinse it off. The Gele’ was also found to be effective as a disinfectant (5 minute contact time) by The University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine. I do not have much experience with parrots, but I keep grass parakeets, and their poop is like cement! The Gele’ softens the “cement” like nothing I have ever worked with.
Along with its disinfecting properties, chlorine dioxide is also a natural anti-inflamatory, making it very useful for wound treatment. Veterinarians are using a chlorine dioxide gel mixed with aloe vera to treat incisions and wounds. It’s also very good as a spray for feather pickers. Stabilized chlorine dioxide mouthrinse is very good to use on neonate mouths after hand feeding to prevent leftover food from incubating gram negative bacteria and Candida.