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Safety and the Pet Bird

A couple of weeks ago, the guest speaker at my local parrot association’s meeting was a veterinarian who treats birds. It was an informal Q & A session, and one of the questions asked was regarding the most common accidents that pet birds can get into. I took a few notes, which are the basis of this post.

Here are the most common mishaps and husbandry mistakes seen by this particular vet (along with some of my own comments):

1. Escapes, even by birds with clipped wings.

I don’t want to go too in depth with the wing clipping controversy, but one of the common reasons people clip wings is that doing so can help prevent escapes. To a certain degree, it can. However, sometimes people lose birds that have clipped wings. If a wing-clipped bird gets outside and hits a strong wind, it can be carried quite far. Very light-bodied birds, like conures, budgies, and cockatiels, can even get quite far with clipped wings without a wind. Keep windows and doors closed when a bird is out, even if his wings are clipped.

2. Feet bitten by other birds.

This is a common injury in multi-bird households. Often, when multiple birds are let out of their cages, one will climb on another’s cage. The bird may then get his feet bitten by the bird still inside. Birds frequently bite at anything that comes near their cages.

I try to avoid this type of injury by not letting my parrots loose in my ‘bird room’ (where several of my birds’ cages are). I do let them out frequently, but when they come out, I take them away from their cages and place them on separate play stands outside of their room. Each parrot has his/her own separate play stand, since my parrots are different sizes and do not get along with each other. The exceptions are my ‘aviary’ birds who are not tame with people but do get along with other birds. These birds (a mix of Australian parakeets, Lineolated Parakeets, quail and finches) are housed in large flight cages with other birds.

Be sure to keep birds off of the cages of rodents and rabbits as well. These animals have sharp teeth and may nibble or bite bird toes.

3. Bird perches on top of door; door is closed.

This injury is likely more common with unclipped birds but clipped birds can sometimes end up on door tops as well. Avoid this injury by making all members of the household aware of the need to check door tops before closing them or by not allowing the bird on top of doors.

4. Cats.

Cat bites can easily kill birds and even bites that aren’t very deep can become serious due to the bacteria cats carry in their mouths. Any bird that has been scratched or bitten by a cat, even if the injury is minor, should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible (go to an emergency clinic if needed) so an antibiotic can be administered.

Needless to say, cats and birds should never be allowed to interact with each other, even if they appear to get along.

5. Bumblefoot

“Bumblefoot” is the common term for a condition technically called “pododermatitis.” It results from inflammation of the foot and can be manifest as anything from mild irritation and redness to the presence of large, painful abscesses. This condition is generally not the result of a single mishap (though it can be), but is often the result of an inappropriate cage set up and poor overall husbandry. A lack of varied perching surfaces can lead to the formation of small injuries or bruises on a birds’ foot due to some areas of the foot having to bear excess weight. These injuries may become infected and may develop into painful abscesses.

Birds on a poor diet lacking in vitamin A are more prone to foot problems than birds on balanced diets, and obesity can make existing foot problems worse. Filthy perches also increase the chance that a bird will develop foot infections. In finches, foot problems are often associated with very overgrown nails, as birds with overgrown nails will have their weight unevenly distributed over their feet.

Avoid foot problems by providing a bird with a variety of perching surfaces with different textures. Natural branches can make excellent perches for parrots. Do not use sandpaper-covered perches – they can irritate a parrot’s foot and actually do not help keep their nails trimmed (as is often claimed). Give a bird’s perches a good wash every week or as needed. Feeding a pelletized diet will prevent any major nutrient deficiencies.

Bad perch placement can also lead to feather damage. A bird’s tail can also be damaged if a perch is placed too close to the back or the floor of the cage. Take the length of your bird’s tail into account when choosing a cage and outfitting it with perches.

Infrequent Problems

One thing I was happy to hear was that this vet has only rarely seen cases where birds have swallowed pieces of non-food items. In general, birds are apparently pretty good at differentiating food from non-food. My Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Mitri, loves to chew everything, including wood, paper, plastic whiffle balls, cardboard, and wicker and I sometimes worry that he’s going to swallow something.

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