Poison Alert: Birds Love These Tiny Small Objects and May Swallow Them Whole

Household Hazards for Parrots

Story at-a-glance -

  • Most novice bird owners, and even some people who’ve owned birds for years are very surprised to learn of all the dangers the average household harbors that can threaten the health and safety of their pet.
  • These threats include toxic fumes from a wide variety of household appliances and other sources, including cigarette smoke; flight dangers associated with unclipped wings; indiscriminate chewing; and ingesting toxic food or plants around the home.
  • Additional hazards to pet birds include human medications, physical trauma from other animals (including other birds), owner-caused disease, heat exposure, and the potential dangers of falling asleep with your bird perched on your shoulder or beside you on a bed or couch.

By Dr. Becker

If you share your life with a feathered friend, you might not be aware of some of the hazards lurking in your own home that are especially dangerous for birds.

10 Household Hazards for Pet Birds

  1. Toxic fumes. Toxic fumes can come from several different sources inside your home. 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. 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. Taking these precautions will keep your pet safe while you continue to use convenient household items.
  2. Fumes from household cleaners, perfumes, room fresheners, and “plug ins,” as well as any aerosol sprays are also potentially toxic to your pet bird. Gas leaks can also be fatal. I recommend installing carbon monoxide and radon detectors in homes with birds.

  3. Cigarette smoke. Another type of inhalant that can be fatal for pet birds is secondhand cigarette smoke. I don't recommend you smoke around your bird or allow anyone else to, but if you are a smoker, you should not smoke in the home your bird lives in and disinfect yourself before handling your bird. Wash your hands, rinse out your mouth, and change your clothes. I strongly urge people who smoke to avoid contact with birds, period. Honestly, smokers are toxic to birds.
  4. Flight dangers from unclipped wings. Sadly, owners take their unclipped birds outside, and then are shocked and broken hearted when something spooks the bird and he flies away. Even a bird that has never left the porch might at some point take off if startled. 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.
  5. Indoors, you should insure your bird can competently navigate your home and land well, and that he's not exposed to ceiling fans, mirrors, or windows. Lots of birds end up with head concussions and other head trauma from an encounter with a wall, mirror, or ceiling fan. Other hazards include pots of boiling water on the stove, fireplaces, and toilets. Many common household items can present potentially life-threatening risks to birds with the ability to fly.

    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.

  6. Chewing. Parrots in particular have a strong natural need to chew and investigate items with their beaks and mouths, because in the wild, they use their beaks to tear food into small bites and also to build nests. Unfortunately, in your home, your bird’s natural urge to chew can create a life-threatening situation.
  7. Pet birds have been known to chew electrical cords, baseboards, and windowsills treated with lead paint or other toxins, soldered or stained glass items, galvanized wire, batteries, and other objects containing toxic metals. Since it’s difficult for most people to live in a 100 percent bird-safe environment, when your bird is out of his cage, it’s important he be constantly supervised.

    I recommend providing your bird with new all natural, totally destructible wood blocks, natural fibers, and interesting non-toxic toys on a weekly basis (yes, I said weekly) to prevent boredom, allow her to vent her need to chew appropriately and prevent damage to your home.

  8. Toxic food and plants. Potentially toxic foods include any type of chocolate, caffeinated beverages (including any black or green tea containing caffeine), and alcohol. Other toxic foods include avocado, garlic, onion, and heavily salted snacks and food.
  9. Birds like to chew on plant material and eat plants in the wild, but they can get into trouble if they decide to sample a household plant. While some plants are merely irritating to birds when ingested, others can be fatal. Household plants that are toxic to birds include jasmine, daffodils, holly, honeysuckle, ivy, lilies, parsley, poinsettia, mistletoe, and the morning glory plant.

  10. Human medications. The leading cause of pet poisonings in the U.S. is human prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and birds are among those pets. Birds are attracted to small round objects like pills, and will pick them up and swallow them whole. Many of these drugs cause significant side effects in birds, especially when ingested at dosages meant for humans. To make matters worse, the rapid metabolism of birds means there’s very little time to treat them or save their lives once they’ve swallowed a drug. It’s very important to take every precaution to secure all medications out of reach of your pet.
  11. Physical trauma caused by other animals. “Other animals” includes other birds in the home. Even if your birds are friends, if one of them gets annoyed or afraid, she can cause injury to the other. I see many cases of toe trauma and traumatic amputation every year from birds who decide to visit another bird’s cage uninvited.
  12. Even a bird in his cage can be harmed. A new puppy, for example, might be able to push his muzzle into the cage and nip at the bird, or tip the cage over. It's extremely important that you're supervising your bird when any other animals are present in your home. Also be aware that a bouncy puppy or stalking cat outside your bird’s cage is incredibly stressful for him and should be avoided at all costs.

  13. Owner caused disease. Owners create health problems for their birds by taking them to bird swaps, bird fairs, or other bird events where avian diseases are floating around. Pet birds are vulnerable to numerous avian illnesses that are airborne and potentially fatal, so taking your bird out and about can inadvertently expose him to disease.
  14. Something else you should never do is share food from your mouth with your pet bird, and exercise caution when using utensils that have been in your mouth to cut food for your bird. The human mouth harbors bacteria, yeast, and other organisms that are foreign to birds and can cause serious, potentially life-threatening infections.

  15. Heat exposure. Many bird owners assume that because their exotic bird is native to a tropical climate, she is immune to heat, humidity, and direct sunlight. Putting your bird outside in her cage on a warm, sunny day is a great idea, as long as she isn’t in direct sunlight or can move away from it easily, and temperatures are between 74 and 84 degrees. If your bird becomes fluffed (too cold) or begins to pant (too hot), she is stressed by the temperature and should be removed to a more comfortable environment immediately.
  16. Inside your home, if you have a window you put your bird’s cage in front of, be sure she can escape the direct light and heat or she can suffer from heat exposure. Also make sure the window is energy efficient, meaning there are no drafts.

  17. Sleeping hazards. Many bird owners at some point fall asleep with their pet on a shoulder or while cuddling. Unfortunately, crushing injuries are often the 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.
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