Can Cats and Birds Live Safely Together?

Parakeet in a cage
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Q. We have two cats. My husband really wants to get a parrot, but it seems to me that birds and cats are a bad combination. Can they coexist, or are we just asking for trouble?

A. The lion may lie down with the lamb from time to time, but that’s not how the smart money bets on the interaction. Any time you put predators and prey in proximity, you should not be surprised to have one or both pets end up at the veterinarian’s. Or worse.

As a veterinarian who has patched up my share of pets, I prefer to come down on the side of safety. The only way to be absolutely sure that your cats won't hurt a bird is to not get one. On the other hand, I do know that lots of families have many kinds of pets. They don't do so successfully without being very, very careful to manage all interactions, though.

Safety in Separation

If you decide to get a bird, the safest way to keep your pets together is to keep them apart. That’s fairly easy to do with small pet birds such as finches and canaries, who typically don't care to be handled and who spend their lives inside their cages.

Parrots are not like that; they tend to be happiest when they live with people who interact with them and allow them ample time outside their cages to explore and play. Depending on the size and layout of your house, that may make it almost impossible to keep your cats and your parrot apart.

You still might be OK if your cats are fairly laid-back and not the busybody type. Some cats would rather nap than hunt, and if yours are like that, a squirt or two from a spray bottle may be more than enough to extinguish any interest your cats have in your new pet bird. Until patterns of behavior have settled in place, though, your bird is best kept caged. And even after you're fairly sure your cats will steer clear, you're better off keeping the parrot in his cage or in a room that is off-limits to your cats when you're not around to observe.

Take Action in Case of Bites

You’d think a parrot — at least the larger kinds, such as macaws — would be more than capable of fending for themselves, but even a minor bite or a scratch from a cat can lead to a deadly infection. If all your precautions fail to prevent a scrap, however, be sure to take your bird to your veterinarian immediately.

Even if the wounds seem minor, your bird could die from an infection without you noticing he's ill. In the wild, birds who appear to be sick are soon singled out by predators looking for lunch. By the time a bird is sick enough to let his guard down, he may be too sick to save. Give your bird a fighting chance. Your veterinarian will be able to assess the damage and get your bird on an antibiotic to fight infection.

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