Top 10 Bird Dangers Lurking in Your Home
Do you own a bird? If you do, you may not be aware that there could be hazards lurking in your home that could harm your favorite avian friend. Consider these top 10 household dangers for pet birds:
Birds’ respiratory tracts are much more sensitive than mammals’ to airborne toxins. Teflon or any other nonstick coatings on pots, pans and kitchen appliances (such as stoves and toaster ovens) can be a cause of death in pet birds. When these coatings are heated to very high temperatures (particularly if burned), they release microscopic vapors that birds breathe in, causing fluid to collect in their lungs. Birds can die almost instantly. Other aerosols, such as cooking fumes, spray cleaners and perfumes, can irritate their respiratory passages and should always be avoided around birds. Candles also should be avoided, as some have petroleum in their wax or lead in their wicks. These toxic substances can be aerosolized and inhaled by birds.
2. Flight Danger
While birds are meant to fly, they are not meant to fly around many of the obstacles and hidden dangers in our homes. Pet birds can fly out open windows and doors or into mirrors and ceiling fans. If they land on top of doors without their owner’s knowledge, when the door is slammed, they can be crushed. They can fly into hot foods and liquids (like coffee, tea and soup) and into the open flames of candles and fireplaces. They can also land on the floor, where they can be inadvertently stepped on, or in open toilet bowls, where they can drown. Flighted birds should be constantly supervised when they are out of their cages.
3. Secondhand Smoke
Birds are extremely sensitive to cigarette and cigar smoke. They can get sick not only if they breathe it in, but also if they perch on a hand or clothing that is covered with nicotine or preen the substance off their feathers. Nicotine can get on birds’ feet, causing irritation. Birds who get nicotine on their feet may chew on them until they are raw and bloody. Even smokers who smoke far away from their pet birds have smoke particles on their clothing and hands that can be transferred to their birds. As a result of these potential exposures, in general, birds should live in smoke-free households.
Parrots, with their sharp, strong beaks, have the natural need to chew and explore with their mouths. Wild parrots use their large pointy beaks to tear and crush food and to build nests. In our homes, however, their natural oral curiosity can get them into trouble. Birds chew electric cords, painted baseboards and window sills (which can contain lead paint or other toxins), soldered or stained glass items, galvanized wire, batteries, and other objects that contain toxic metals like lead, zinc and copper. Whenever pet birds are out of their cages, they must be watched at all times, and all potentially toxic items must be kept out of their reach.
5. Toxic Foods
Chocolate, caffeine and alcohol are known to be toxic to birds and should never be offered to them. Other toxic foods include avocado, garlic, onion and highly salty snacks. Avocado contains a substance that can cause fluid to pool in birds’ hearts and lungs, and garlic and onions can lead to a fatal anemia. Ingestion of large amounts of salty treats, like chips and pretzels, can disturb a bird’s fluid balance and potentially lead to cardiac problems. These foods should never be given to pet birds.
6. Human Medications
Ingestion of prescription and over-the-counter drugs for humans is the leading cause of pet poisonings, according to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That problem is no less significant for birds than it is for cats, dogs and other pets. Birds love to pick up small round objects, like pills, in their mouths and can swallow them whole. Many of these medications have serious side effects in birds when they consume them at doses meant for people, and birds’ rapid metabolism leaves little time to treat them. Bird owners must take extra care not to leave any medication out where a curious bird could get to it.
7. Other Pets
Cats and dogs are natural predators, and birds generally are prey. Dogs and cats instinctually want to run after and catch a flying or moving bird, and often, these pets go after birds with their mouths and claws. Teeth and nails can easily puncture a bird’s skin, and the force of jaws grasping a bird is often enough to injure or kill a bird. Furthermore, the bacteria and other germs inside a cat's or dog’s mouth are foreign to a bird and, if introduced through a wound, can lead to serious and often fatal infections. Even a well-intentioned cat or dog who merely wants to pick up the bird and play with it can cause serious injury. Consequently, dogs, cats and birds should never be allowed to play together unsupervised and should never be trusted together, no matter how docile they seem.
Many people unknowingly bring plants into their homes that are toxic to birds. While cats and dogs often will leave plants alone, birds like to chew on plant material and will get into trouble when they decide to “taste” a household plant. Birds eat plants in the wild, so why should it be any different in a house? Some plants are merely irritating to birds when ingested, while others can cause fatal intoxication. Before bringing a plant into your home, make sure it is not potentially poisonous to pets.
9. Pest Control
Rodent traps, sticky paper and fly strips designed to catch rodents and insects are all hazardous to birds. Birds can get stuck in them or, if they eat poison bait from these traps, they can die. Even if they simply get stuck in the trap’s glue, it is sometimes nearly impossible to extract them without tearing their fragile skin or ripping out their feathers. Birds should be kept far away from any baited or sticky pest traps and should be brought to a veterinarian immediately if they get entangled in one.
10. Human Germs
Birds feed other birds by chewing up food and regurgitating it to family members. This practice is safe bird-to-bird because avian family members share similar types of bacteria in their mouths and crops (the dilated pouch in their throat where they store food and start to digest it). Humans, however, have numerous bacteria, yeast and other organisms in their mouths that are very different from those of birds. In fact, many of the bacteria in humans’ mouths can cause serious, potentially life-threatening infections in birds. Consequently, bird owners should never share food from their mouths with their pet birds and should be careful about using utensils that have been in their mouths to cut food for their birds.
Birds are great pets in the right circumstances. Many species can live dozens of years and are passed down from generation to generation within families. If you love your bird and want to keep him healthy and happy, don’t forget to pet-proof your home so that you also keep him safe!