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Important Tips for Bird Owners: 10 Household Hazards You Must Know

In this video Dr. Karen Becker discusses the 10 most common household hazards for pet birds.
Dr. Becker's Comments:

Today I'd like to discuss an article in titled "The Top 10 Hazards for Pet Birds." I'm in complete agreement with the information in this article, and wanted to share it with you.

Although we can't prevent pet birds from exposure to every conceivable hazard in the home, it's important to be aware of the most common reasons pet birds end up at avian veterinary hospitals.

Armed with this knowledge, we can do our part to reduce the potential for pet birds to encounter life-threatening hazards around the house.

#1 – Water Deprivation

It may sound strange, but the majority of pet birds that become dehydrated have busy owners who put water bottles in the bird's cage. Many small birds are trained to drink from water bottles and it's a great invention -- unless the water bottle malfunctions.

The roller ball at the end of the bottle can become stuck and stop rolling. If you don't realize there's a problem, you'll fill the bottle assuming your pet has a water source, and in a matter of 24 hours your bird can become life-threateningly dehydrated.

If you're using a water bottle system in your bird's cage, get in the habit of checking its operation every day. When life gets hectic and you've put a couple days' supply of water in the bottle, you still need to check the operation of the roller ball every day.

The second problem with a pet bird's water source is bacterial contamination with open water containers. When you wash the water container and you feel a slippery surface on the inside of the bowl, that's bacterial growth and a potential contaminant for your bird. Open water dishes should be disinfected very single day. Water bottles should be put in the dishwasher at least weekly.

Avian veterinarians do not recommend you add anything to your pet's water – no vitamins, no minerals – no supplements. There should be nothing but clean, fresh water in the bowl. If you want to offer your pet vitamins, minerals or other supplements, you can give them in an additional water bowl or medicated water dish. Or use a powdered supplement on their food. Just make sure your bird has access to clean, fresh, pure, unadulterated filtered water at all times. And don't forget to wash that bowl every day.

#2 – Unclipped Wings

pet birds' safety
Wondering what a flight harness looks like?
Here are Herb's (my client) umbrella cockatoos, Spike and Harley,
who LOVE their bird harnesses.

Every avian vet inevitably is told by a bird owner, 'My bird has never flown even though the wings are grown in.' Owners take their unclipped birds outside, and then are shocked and broken hearted when something spooks the bird and it flies away.

Even a bird that has never left the porch might at some point take off if startled by a jet overhead, or a hawk, or a truck horn or tornado siren. With just a little pump of adrenaline, your pet can get far away from you.

Unclipped wings pose hazards outside. If you take your unclipped bird outdoors, he must be trained to a flight suit or you need to have another means of controlling him.

Indoors, you need to insure your bird can competently navigate your home and land well, and that he's not exposed to ceiling fans, mirrors or windows. A mirror or window can give your pet the impression he can fly through it, and lots of birds end up with head concussions and other head trauma from an encounter with a wall, mirror, ceiling fan or the like. Other hazards include pots of boiling water on the stove, fireplaces and toilets. Many common household items can present potentially life threatening risks to pet birds.

If you have an unclipped bird in your home, you need to know your pet's personality well enough to identify what sets him off or startles him. Work with him to strengthen his breast muscles so he becomes an efficient flyer who can also land in a controlled fashion. This will help reduce potential injury to your pet.

#3 – Toxic Fumes

The third biggest hazard for your pet bird is toxic fumes in the home. These fumes can come from several different sources.

Heating non-stick fry pans or Teflon-coated fry pans to high temperatures releases a gas, polytetrafluoroethylene, which is highly toxic to pet birds. The same Teflon-type non-stick surface is also found on the inside of ovens, on irons and ironing board covers.

Using these items is fine, but if you own non-stick cookware, be sure not to overheat it. Don't leave the iron on or in contact with a Teflon-coated surface. Don't leave the kitchen while cooking. These are all ways to keep your pet safe while continuing to use regular household items.

Another type of inhalant that can be fatal for pet birds is cigarette smoke. Secondhand smoke is very detrimental to birds. I don't recommend you smoke around your bird or allow anyone else to.

If you are a smoker, you should disinfect yourself before handling your bird. Wash your hands, rinse out your mouth and change your clothes. This sounds harsh, but I believe people who smoke should avoid contact with birds … it's just too toxic for birds to be around people that smoke (even when they aren't smoking!).

Fumes from household cleaners, perfumes and aerosol sprays are all potentially toxic to your pet bird. Gas leaks can also be fatal. I recommend installation of a carbon monoxide detector in your home if you have one or more pet birds.

#4 – Physical Trauma Caused by Humans

The fourth most common hazard for pet birds at home is physical trauma.

Birds with clipped wings are often walkers, meaning they don't fly off their cage. They scale down it and then walk around the house looking for their humans.

Your bird can sneak up behind you or another family member or guest, and get stepped on. Every year I see at least a couple of pet birds with injuries from being crushed in this manner. Tragically, these injuries are often fatal, especially when the ribcage has been crushed. Needless to say, the pet's owner is heartbroken when something like this happens.

If your bird's wings are clipped, you need to make sure you know where she is at all times so you or another human in the household doesn't inadvertently step on her.

#5 – Physical Trauma Caused by Other Animals

Other animals can even include other birds. I see this happen a lot, unfortunately at my Feathers Bird Clinic.

There will be two or three birds in a home, and often they're friendly with each other. But one of them gets annoyed or perhaps afraid and causes injury to the other. The annoyed bird might approach the other bird's cage and bite a toe, for example.

Even a bird in its cage can be harmed. A new puppy, for example, might be able to push his muzzle into a bird's cage and nip at the bird. So it's extremely important that you're supervising your bird when any other animals are present in your home.

#6 – Toxic Food and Plants

Number six on the list of pet bird hazards is toxic food and plants. Foods include any type of chocolate – chocolate containing theobromide, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, etc.

Birds are very sensitive to caffeine, so any caffeinated beverage (including any black or green tea containing caffeine) is a potential toxin.

There are many household plants that are toxic to birds. You can learn the most common ones here.

#7 – Hand-feeding Mistakes

I don't recommend prospective bird owners hand-feed baby birds unless they really know what they're doing.

There's a common misperception that owners need to complete the hand-feeding process for the baby in order for the bird to bond with its human parent. This is a myth.

We know baby birds actually do better being fed by their biological parents, with the last couple weeks of hand-feeding completed by a human if necessary. But if the owner hasn't done it before, it's best to leave the baby bird with a breeder or a seasoned hand-feeder so no mistakes are made with the baby.

#8 – Owner Caused Diseases

An owner can create a problem by, for example, taking a bird to a bird swap, bird fair, or other bird event where avian diseases are present.

Pet birds are susceptible to a whole host of avian illnesses that are airborne and potentially fatal. Taking your bird out and about can inadvertently expose him to disease.

#9 – Heat Exposure

Many bird owners assume that exotic birds native to tropical climates are immune to heat and humidity.

Putting your bird outside in his cage to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air is a wonderful idea, as long as your pet can get out of the direct sunshine.

This also holds true inside your home. If you have a large window you put your bird's cage in front of, be sure he can escape the direct light and heat or he can potentially suffer from heat exposure.

#10 – Sleeping Hazards

Most bird owners at some point fall asleep with their pet on a shoulder or while cuddling.

Unfortunately, crushing injuries are a frequent result when owners fall asleep with their bird either perched on their body or next to them on a couch or bed. The weight of a human body can do fatal damage to a bird.

Hopefully, having knowledge of these 10 potential hazards will reduce or eliminate the likelihood they will happen to your precious pet bird.

My personal thanks to for compiling this extremely important and useful list.

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