Birds and their owners love the freedom of allowing their pets to fly around the house. Birds, after all, were designed to fly and it is wonderful to see them stretching their wings and enjoying our household environment. That being said there are many household dangers from which we must protect our pet birds. Some of these dangers are obvious while others are obscure and yet potentially deadly.
Traumatic injuries are unfortunately not uncommon in my avian practice. Common occurrences include collisions with ceiling fans and windows. Birds may even fly into walls if frightened, or if they are allowed to fly in a relatively small space. Avoiding these types of injuries can be as simple as turning all fans off when a bird is out of its cage. However, if the area available for flight is simply too small then it may be in the bird’s best interest to have its feathers clipped by an experienced avian veterinarian to prevent free flight. It is also critically important to only allow a bird out of his or her cage under close supervision. Other relatively common injuries related to flying include burns and/or near drowning seen in birds flying into pots or pans on stovetops; drowning or near drowning seen in birds flying into toilets or sinks; burns or death from flying into ovens or fire places. With some planning and commonsense a great deal of these types of injuries could be prevented or eliminated.
Severe illness or death can occur in birds exposed to a number of inhaled agents. A common cause of death in pet birds is inhalation of vapors produced by non-stick cookware. When these products are heated they emit a gas which is extremely toxic to birds delicate airways. Birds exposed to such fumes will often die in just a few minutes and may not show any symptoms prior to death. Due to the severe nature of non-stick coating induced disease it is advised that pet birds be kept away from kitchens and other sources of these fumes. New pots and pans tend to emit more toxic gas than older pans, so while one should always keep your bird away from the kitchen, it is best to have kitchen windows open the first few times a new pot or pan is used. Other common appliances with may be coated with non-stick coating include: irons, space heaters, hairdryers, and self cleaning ovens. As with pots and pans these items emit more fumes when first used than when used later, however caution should always be used when such appliances are used around birds. Other inhalational concerns include smoke from fireplaces and woodstoves, vehicle exhaust, scented candles, fabric softeners, bleach and other cleaning products. In brief it is best to always keep you pet away from scented, odorous or smoke producing items. Should your bird demonstrate respiratory distress contact a qualified avian veterinarians immediately.
Oral ingestion of toxic agents is another common risk household birds are exposed to. All parrot species are intelligent and naturally inquisitive. While these traits endear many birds to our hearts, they put these birds at particular risk for toxin consumption. Perhaps the most common of all poisonings seen in birds is lead poisoning. Almost all homes built before 1978 have lead based paint. Many owners feel that their homes do not have leaded paint owing to renovations, or painting upgrades. It is important to keep in mind however that extensive lead remediation is costly and time consuming, as such most renovations simply cover lead-based paint with fresh paint. This leaves birds at risk when they chew on doors and doorframes, walls, baseboards and or molding. Other sources of lead can include: fishing weights, curtain weights, antique toys, stained glass, solder, galvanized wire, shotgun/air gun pellets. Signs of lead poisoning can vary with the amount of lead ingested and the timeframe over which the lead was consumed. Birds eating a significant amount of lead (this need not be a large amount in small birds) can rapidly develop signs of decreased appetite, vomiting, weakness, diarrhea, abnormal stool/urate color, and profound neurological signs such as seizures and even coma. When birds eat a smaller amount over a longer period of time, as often happens with lead-based paint, the signs can include weight loss, decreased appetite, abnormal stool, increased thirst and more subtle neurological signs such as weakness and stumbling. Lead poisoning can often be successfully treated by an experienced avian veterinarian if detected promptly and treated aggressively. When the culprit is solid metal, such as lead shot, an X-ray can allow for a rapid diagnosis. However, in the case of paint ingestion X-rays are often normal. In these cases blood needs to be taken for evaluation at a specialized laboratory to determine the amount of lead in the blood. Even if your vet sees lead in your pet’s bowels s/he may still suggest a blood test to determine your bird’s health status, and the amount of lead circulating in the bloodstream. Prevention is by far the best cure for lead poisonings. As with traumatic injuries described above, most birds with lead poisoning spend a lot of time out of their cages. Owners often report that the birds are supervised. However many of these owners later report to their veterinarian that they have found an area of chewed paint above a door, behind the fridge or on the baseboards when they return home. So for your bird’s health I strongly recommend that all time out of the cage is very carefully supervised. Having your bird out of sight for even a second can be sufficient to allow them to eat a lead containing item, or other toxic item such as: avocado, chocolate, cleaning products, certain plants, cigarettes, chewing gum, etc.
A household danger we may forget to think about exists in the form of new birds being brought into our house. Friends or family may visit with their pets, or we may bring a new bird into our household. In the latter case it is very important that the new arrival has been screened by an experienced avian veterinarian. In addition to performing a detailed physical exam, s/he may wish to perform screening blood tests such as a CBC/chemistry and/or test for several infectious diseases such as PBFD, psittacosis, herpesvirus and possibly polyomavirus. A clean bill of health based on examination and blood tests greatly reduces the risk a new bird will pose to our current flock. That being said, it is still a wise idea to quarantine any new arrival in a separate room, with separate toys and never handled before handling our current birds. Quarantine should last at least 30 days, but the duration may vary depending upon various risk factors, so please check with your bird vet before introducing your new birds to your current pets. If you allow friends and family to bring their birds over for a play date, it is important that they too have been screened by an avian vet and are outwardly healthy.