As caregivers of our pet birds, we want to keep them as safe as possible. While it can be difficult to provide a 100% risk-free environment, it is still vital to know how to bird-proof your home for your feathered friends. Knowing about common household hazards for pet birds can help to minimize the risks to the birds in your home. Here are some household dangers to be aware of.
Teflon and birds
When heated above 400 degrees Fahrenheit, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coating (brand name Teflon) on cookware can instantly kill birds, and it is also a carcinogen. Avoid nonstick pans, air fryers, slow cookers, pressure cookers, cooking bags, self-cleaning ovens (or at least don’t use the self-cleaning cycle), and electrical appliances like hair dryers and space heaters that have Teflon as a component. Instead, use Teflon-free appliances and cookware made from materials such as stainless steel, ceramic, cast iron, stoneware, and Pyrex.
Aerosol sprays and cleaning products
All aerosol sprays and chemical cleaning products are dangerous to birds, and the propellants used are toxic. Never use Lysol wipes, window cleaner, bleach-based cleaners, detergent-based cleaners, polishes, aerosol cleaner products, hardwood floor cleaner, carpet cleaner, hairspray, or spray deodorant in the same room where your bird is located. Spray room fresheners are especially toxic to birds because the scents used can fatally damage a parrot’s delicate respiratory system.
Smoke from candles, incense burners, cigarettes, cigars, and vaping
Both scented and unscented candles and incense burners can be dangerous for pet birds in the home. Candle wicks contain heavy metals that can be toxic to birds, and the perfumes in scented candles can cause respiratory inflammation. Cigarette, cigar, and vape smoke is extremely dangerous, and those products should never be smoked in the home. Also, the hands of a smoker should be thoroughly washed before handling a parrot because residue can rub off on the bird’s feathers.
Foods toxic to birds
There are several foods that a pet bird should not eat. Toxic foods include alcohol, avocado, cassava (tapioca), dairy products, meat, chocolate and cocoa, peanuts, and fruit seeds and pits. Also, any foods that are high in salt, fat, and sugars and that contain dyes or preservatives should be avoided. Some studies suggest that adding animal fat to birds’ diet can significantly reduce their lifespan.
Electrical outlets, cords, and fans
Birds are notorious chewers, so allowing them access to electrical cords or outlets can be a fatal mistake. Ceiling fans also are a major danger to flying birds because a bird might not see the fan blades in time to avoid them and can suffer critical injuries, including a concussion, broken neck, or wing injuries. For that reason, all ceiling fans need to be turned off when birds are free in the home.
Home improvement products
Many products used for home improvement (e.g., paint, paint remover, paint thinner) emit chemical fumes for many days after being used or installed. Before doing any home improvement projects, remove your birds from your home and don’t bring them back until the products are no longer off-gassing. The general rule of thumb is this: If you can smell it, it can harm your bird.
Carbon monoxide leaks in a home can be fatal to birds at much lower levels than for humans, so a carbon monoxide detector is a good idea. In addition, be sure to keep your bird’s living area well-ventilated.
Metal parts and pieces
Any metal that is small and soft enough to be swallowed can cause life-threatening toxicity to a bird. To prevent zinc, nickel, or lead flakes from being ingested by your birds, use medical-grade stainless steel hardware as much as possible in their cages and play areas. Also, carefully check each toy before introducing it to your birds to make sure there are no parts that they might be able to ingest.
In your birds’ air space, don’t use pesticides in any form (sprays, fly strips, foggers, powders, mothballs, flea collars, flea shampoos, and miticide discs). Avoid anything containing pesticides that your bird could ingest, inhale, or get stuck on.
Plywood and particleboard
Plywood and particleboard wood products are toxic to birds. Use only raw, untreated wood to make perches, toys, play stands, and other items for your bird.
Houseplants toxic to birds
Many common houseplants and landscaping plants are toxic to birds, so you’ll want to ensure that your birds come in contact only with bird-safe plants. Please do provide bird-safe plants in and around their cages for them to chew and shred because it’s a source of enrichment. A comprehensive list of safe and unsafe plants can be found on the Planned Parrothood website.
Besides houseplants that are toxic to birds, the soil itself can contain toxic pesticides and/or fertilizers. Even organic soils contain fungi that can cause deadly fungal infections in birds. If you choose to let your birds play with plants or wander in your yard, monitor them carefully to be sure they are not ingesting any soil.
Standing water presents a danger to pet birds in the household. Toilet bowls in particular can be a drowning danger because a bird is unable to get out of the slick interior of the toilet. For flighted birds, boiling water on the stove can also be a hazard.
There is a danger to your birds anytime you have a heat source operating in your home. Pots and pans simmering on the stove, for example, can attract a bird. The sight of food can draw a bird in, resulting in the bird touching something that it is dangerously hot. So when you are cooking, make sure your bird is confined somewhere safe. Wood stoves, fireplaces, and space heaters can also be risky to use around birds. So take steps to limit your birds' access to open heat sources, and make sure that your home is well-ventilated to limit dangerous fumes that can damage birds' delicate respiratory system.
Birds and kids
Birds are remarkably fragile beings, and children can injure or crush a bird without realizing they are causing harm. It is important to teach your children how to interact safely with all the animals in your home, especially the delicate birds in your life. Birds can also be a danger to children; their sharp beaks can cause a nasty injury in the blink of an eye. Always supervise any interaction between children and your birds, teaching them how to interact respectfully with each other.
Birds and other household pets
Saliva from humans, dogs, cats, and other omnivorous or carnivorous animals contains gram-negative bacteria against which birds have poor immunity. Allowing household pets to lick your birds, or allowing a bird to eat food from your mouth or stick their head in your mouth, puts the bird at risk of a potentially deadly bacterial infection. If there is a reptile in the home, be sure to wash your hands after handling the reptile to avoid potentially spreading salmonella. If your bird has any physical interaction with a cat, go to your avian vet immediately for medical treatment. Cat saliva and the bacteria on their claws are fatal to birds, so any injury must be considered a medical emergency.
Like all animals, birds can be carriers of contagious diseases. Letting your birds interact with birds that have an unknown health status can expose them to deadly diseases. And bringing a new bird into your home without properly quarantining and vetting the bird first can pose a risk to your whole flock. A new bird should be housed in a separate room in the home, preferably with a separate air system. Once the new bird has been to the veterinarian and is given a clean bill of health, you can slowly integrate the bird into your existing flock.
If you have poultry, such as chickens, it is important to keep a separation between the parrot supplies and the poultry supplies, as well as their living spaces. Disease can spread between the two and potentially be lethal.
Your bird's cage
When purchasing a cage, be sure to get one from a trusted brand, such as HQ, King’s, Prevue Hendryx, Avian Adventures, or A&E. Buying an off-brand cage might be cheaper, but they are often made of flimsy, dangerous materials that can hurt your bird. If you purchase a used cage, inspect the cage before buying it. Look for rust, missing parts (especially door latches), and unsafe materials, such as iron or zinc. The only safe materials are stainless steel, ceramic powder coating, and acrylic.
Also, the bar spacing should be wide enough so that the birds won’t get their toes stuck between the bars and narrow enough so that they can’t get their heads between the bars. Carrier-style cages function as a temporary carrier rather than a permanent home. They are too small and malleable for long-term use.
Litter of any kind in a birdcage can get impacted in a bird’s crop if ingested, and clay litters create a lot of dust that can cause respiratory inflammation. Pine, cedar, and redwood shavings emit aromatic oils that can cause respiratory inflammation. Use only paper products (e.g., newspaper) as substrates for your cage, and change the substrate frequently to prevent the growth of harmful molds and bacteria.
Moreover, grit is a substance used by some birds to aid in the digestion of whole, intact seeds. Unlike passerines and other families of birds, parrots do not use or need grit; if ingested, it can cause a life-threatening impaction of a parrot’s crop (the muscular pouch near the gullet or throat).