How to keep your pet birds safe

Whatever your bird’s home is like, there are some common things to avoid that can harm pet birds.

Whether they are outdoors or indoors, there are steps you can take to make sure your pet birds are safe and happy.

What are the hazards?

Unfortunately, there are lots of things around our houses that could harm our birds and be potentially fatal.

Because birds have sensitive lungs, toxins in the air can be especially dangerous. In general, anything with a ‘strong smell’ should be treated carefully. As a rule, it‘s always best to keep any product that gives off strong fumes away and open windows to help ventilate the area.

When keeping pet birds, avoid:

  • Candles. This may seem obvious, but the fumes from incense and both scented and non-scented candles can be really harmful to pet birds.
  • Non-stick pans. Teflon and other non-stick coatings on pans release toxic fumes when they are heated up which can cause sudden death in birds. Teflon coverings can also be found on irons, ironing board covers, heat lamp covers and on the inside of ovens.
  • Lead. Birds can be exposed to lead from lead-based paint, champagne and wine bottles with certain foil, curtain weights, bells, imported bird toys and stained glass.
  • Zinc. Zinc in wire cages, mesh, staples, nails and some toys is a common cause of poisoning in birds. Other sources of zinc can include fertilisers, some paints and pennies (minted after 1982).
  • Household cleaners. As with all pets, direct contact with many household cleaners can harm your pet birds. The fumes from cleaners can also harm them.
  • Beauty products. Hairspray and nail varnish can both cause harm to your birds, especially if used in close proximity to them.
  • Smoke. Smoke from any source, including cigarettes as well as from wood-burning stoves or open fires, can be fatal to pet birds. If you smoke, don’t smoke anywhere your birds will be and wash your hands thoroughly before you handle them. Remember some smoke can linger in the air and on surfaces after its source is gone. Don’t let pet birds in rooms with fires even when they aren’t on.
  • Carbon monoxide. Birds are more sensitive to carbon monoxide – hence the historical practice of a “canary in a coalmine” to detect it before it affected human workers. Nowadays, we can install a carbon monoxide alarm to protect both people and our pets from this danger.
  • Plants. Each bird species can be different so read up on yours to find out which plants are harmful to them. Those that are nearly always harmful include yew, laburnum, lilac, philodendrons, dieffenbachia, poinsettia and berries from lariope grass. Birds like parrots and parakeets are particularly inquisitive and may be more likely to investigate these by eating them.
  • Human foods. Parrots in particular like to chew anything they can get their claws on, which might include human food. It’s best to avoid feeding them human foods that in general as many of our foods (especially those high in fat, salt, sugar or dairy) can upset their tummy or affect their nutrition. Keep harmful food like chocolate, alcohol and caffeine completely away from your birds. Avocado toxicity can cause sudden death so it should never be fed to pet birds.
  • Glass windows and doors. This might be an obvious one, but windows aren’t just dangerous because your birds might escape if they’re left open. Birds might not see glass clearly and may try to fly through it, even if it’s shut. A collision can seriously hurt or even kill them. Try to make your windows more visible to birds by making glass panes more obvious with decals or use blinds or curtains.
  • Toys. Well-made toys are an absolute must to keep your bird’s mind active, and your birds will love to play with them. Most toys available to buy should be pet-safe for birds but there can also be potentially dangerous toys on the market. Birds can easily choke on small pieces or hurt themselves on sharp edges. Keep an eye out for worn or damaged toys, too.
  • Paints and glues. These can give off harmful fumes or toxins due to volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Using VOC-free paints around birds can be safer. House your birds away from the house during any construction or DIY until the fumes, dust and debris have had time to ventilate.
  • Sprays or diffusers. Plug-in diffusers and aerosol sprays could harm birds.
Pair of parakeets in the home

How to make your home safe for your birds

  • Keep your birds away from drafts. Sudden changes in temperature and drafts can make your bird sick, so keep them somewhere well-ventilated but away from any direct drafts.
  • Keep windows closed and obvious. Keep windows and doors closed to stop any escapes. You might also want to stick something to your window or pull a blind over it so your birds don’t fly into it.
  • Only feed them bird food. Try to avoid feeding your birds scraps and bits of human food. Not only will this keep them safe from potentially poisonous foods but it will also avoid health problems related to diet, which are common.
  • Ventilate. When using products that give off strong fumes, you should move birds to a separate room and open windows to ensure plenty of ventilation. Limit exposure from other areas, for example by placing a towel under the door of the bird’s room.
  • Keep them away from the kitchen. Never keep a bird in the kitchen. There are many things in the kitchen that could be toxic to your birds. It’s best to keep them somewhere else.
  • Keep poisons out of reach. By this, we mean anything poisonous to your birds. Keep medicines and cleaning products safely locked away and make sure rooms are well ventilated before your birds go back in after cleaning. Also avoid bringing toxic plants into the house or into or near their aviary.
  • Keep other pets away from your birds. Your dog or cat might seem like they are OK with your birds, but you can never be too careful. Always supervise them closely around your birds. They should never be alone together or allowed too close to your birds.
  • Keep electrical cords hidden away. Birds are very curious and like nothing more than to peck and chew things. They could get a nasty shock or even be killed if they chew your electrics, so keep them away from electrical cords. Keep cables in a protective covering or secured under floorboards or furniture.
  • Don’t run fans when your birds are around. Birds may not realise the blades on a fan are dangerous and they might fly straight into them, or get too close and become trapped.
  • Check the humidity and temperature. It might be uncomfortable for us, but many exotic species of pet birds like high humidity or need it within a certain range to keep healthy. Each type of bird will have their own temperature and humidity requirements, so speak to your vet for advice on keeping them in the best conditions.
  • Choose bird-safe toys and accessories. Natural branches are great for both indoor and outdoor enrichment, but make sure that they are disinfected (with bird-safe products) before introducing to their home. Apple, pear, magnolia, ash and dogwood are all good wood types to use. Always check toys for damage and make sure new toys you’re buying don’t contain toxic materials or small parts.
  • Keep their home or aviary safe. Lots of birds will chew and climbs on bars. Always use non-galvanized metals to prevent zinc toxicity.
  • Keep it clean. Excessive dust in the environment can cause potential problems in your birds, so make sure that your home is kept as dust-free as possible.

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