As the weather starts to warm, many of us who work with raptors will use spray bottles filled with water to help keep our birds hydrated. The plastic bottles we use are lightweight and convenient to store and carry with us. Unfortunately, if not disinfected on a regular basis they are a cesspool of potential bacteria especially pseudomonas.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA) is a gram-negative bacillus that can survive in a wide variety of conditions. PA is one of the more common bacteria plaguing the healthcare system and may account for 10-20% of hospital-associated infections. PA is predominately an environmental organism and thrives in a water or moist environment. PA can colonize water piping systems, faucets, sinks, drains, toilets, showerheads, hoses and yes plastics such as water spray bottles. PA can even be found in your dishwasher. It has the ability to proliferate especially in warm or hot water systems and spa pools. Although PA is considered an opportunistic bacterium, it has the ability to form a biofilm that makes it particularly resistant to the host’s immune defenses and antibiotic therapy. A biofilm is a community of microbes that are encased in an extracellular matrix and have the ability to inhabit on different surfaces. The biofilm attaches to a surface and will act as an anchor for more bacteria to attach; creating a multicellular bacterial community, which once established, is difficult to get rid of. The matrix is usually made up of polysaccharides, proteins, lipids and extracellular DNA. This matrix surrounds and protects the pseudomonas cells. This is what makes infections with PA so dangerous and difficult to treat.
Research has shown that PA has the ability to grow substantially in plastic water bottles, especially as they become warm. As we use our water spray bottles to help hydrate our raptors, if we are not careful, we could be showering them with pseudomonas. Infections with PA are varied, but can cause skin lesions, sinus infections, tracheal, lung or airsac disease. It is also possible for these bacteria to produce enterotoxins and cause infections of the gastrointestinal tract. These infections can become chronic due to the difficulty in eradicating the biofilm produced by the pseudomonas bacteria.
The solution to protecting your bird from water spray bottle disasters is not difficult. I would recommend that you have 3-6 spray bottles handy. They should be disinfected on a regular basis. There are two great choices to disinfect the bottles.
Sodium hypochlorite, also know as bleach, when used at 1 Tablespoon per gallon of water will kill pseudomonas. Fill the spray bottle along with the plastic sprayer and squirt several rounds into the sink. Let everything sit for 10-15 minutes. Rinse well and clean sprayer and bottle until no odor is left. Let air-dry completely. Store dry.
Hydrogen peroxide is also an excellent choice. Using straight 3% hydrogen peroxide will work as well as the new accelerated hydrogen peroxide disinfectants (AHP). The same principle stands on filling the bottle and sprayer components and let stand for 3-5 minutes. Rinse well and let air-dry.
Always rinse the sprayer portion of your bottle, so residue of the bleach or hydrogen peroxide will not be sprayed in the face of your bird. Drying the bottles and sprayer in the sun is an added benefit. Store unused bottles without water. If using your spray bottle in the hot weather and it sits outside for the day, I would recommend changing bottles every other day. If no exposure to heat or sun, then weekly disinfecting may be adequate.