HAZARDS AND CARE OF YOUR BIRD
by Bobbi Brinker
No product that has Teflon or any non-stick coating belongs in a house with a bird. Teflon - and any non-stick coating - is very serious business for birds. Non-stick coatings are everywhere - space heaters, irons, bread machines, ovens and racks, ironing board covers, waffle irons, burner pans or grilles, etc. Be sure that any product you apply heat to does not have a non-stick coating. Open a window and run the range fan on high when you cook - in case there is a non-stick coating on the grilles.
Some oven and oven components are coated with a shipping resin that can be fatal to a bird. Cook stove grilles can be heated to a high temperature in an outdoor grille to make sure there is no resin on them. It doesn't matter how careful you will be so that food doesn't burn; it doesn't matter if food sticks in aluminum or stainless steel pots and pans; it doesn't matter what the exact temperature is that non-stick coatings kill; it just doesn't matter. For the sake of the life of your bird - do not use any product or buy any item that has a non-stick coating.
Don't run the self-cleaning cycle with your birds in the house. If you have a new oven, run the self-cleaning cycle several times (with the racks in the oven) after removing your birds from the house. The high temperature generated by the self-cleaning feature will burn away the shipping resin if one is present. If you have not used the self cleaning feature in an existing oven, run it several times (with the racks in the oven) after removing your birds from the house to make sure that all the shipping resin, if one is present, is burned away.
Pick a summer day and take the bird from the house to use the self-cleaning feature if you need to use it or want to use it in the future. The stench from the shipping resin on the oven interior in the self cleaning mode in my new home was enough to drive us from the house. I can well believe it would have killed my birds had they been in the house.
A coating - meant to be burned away during use - on ceramic stovetop surfaces has been implicated in the deaths of birds. Take precautions, open windows, run the stovetop fan on high and keep your birds out of the kitchen, during the early weeks and months if you have a ceramic cooking surface. Will this save your bird? I don't know. An attempt to burn off the coating before the bird is present will certainly help.
TOXIC FOODS, PLANTS, CHEMICALS AND TOY SAFETY
There are many substances - foods, plants and chemicals - that can cause injury and death to our birds. Birds have also been injured and even died from poorly made toys and cages. Of equal danger are electrical cords and outlets. Childproof your outlets and restrict roaming. Please read some of the articles below to learn more about protecting your bird.
Roaming is dangerous for our slow-moving, clipped birds. Crushing injuries in birds are very difficult to repair should a bird be stepped on. A bird should be returned to the play area or cage each time he comes off the cage unless you are in the room and he is coming directly to you. If there are any side trips, he should be returned to the play area or the cage. It may take 10,000 times until he learns he is not allowed to roam. The return should be matter-of-fact. No drama, no "reward", no scolding - just a matter-of-fact return. Do not leave the room for extended periods of time when your bird is uncaged. Even the best trained bird will come off the cage and roam
When you have guests, make sure they understand that your bird is to be given nothing to eat without your approval. Non-bird people may not understand there are foods that are toxic to birds. If you can't supervise guests, put the bird in another room. Never leave the bird unattended with the children of guests. Don't allow guests to handle the bird unless they are instructed in the proper way to handle him. It can be an important socializing tool for a pet bird to be handled by strangers, but avoid "bad" experiences.
OTHER COMPANION ANIMALS
It is vital that other companion animals never be allowed physical contact with birds. Horror stories abound on the bird mailing lists regarding confrontations between birds and other companion animals. Some of these are:
A dog pulled a bird from between the cage bars into pieces.
A dog who allowed a bird to ride on his back mauled and killed the bird.
A dog who was allowed to "kiss" a bird gave that bird a very serious bacterial infection.
A dog pulled the tail feathers from a bird and the bird subsequently became a plucker.
A ferret tore the throat out of a Goffin's cockatoo who fluttered to the floor while the owner was out of the room for just a minute.
A bird who customarily chased a cat died from septicemia when a break in the skin from the cat's claw was not discovered or considered.
Never leave your bird alone with other companion animals. Never allow the slightest physical contact with another companion animal. In any confrontation, the bird always loses....eventually. The bird may be fearless - he doesn't know his life may be in grave danger. Cage or crate other companion animals when you are away if they have the free rein of the house. They should never have access to the room where the bird is caged - whether you are home or away.
YOUR BIRD IN ANOTHER'S CARE
Be sure that a pet sitter or other caregiver is aware of the dangers our birds face in our homes. Along with detailed instructions for routine care and feeding, alert the sitter to the manifold opportunities for escape or injury. Inspect the bird's wing clipping and do any necessary grooming before you leave your birds in another's care. Write down some of the warning signs of potential illness for the sitter - loss of appetite, tail bobbing, sleeping with on both feet on the perch, respiratory sounds, blood anywhere, changes in the appearance, volume or color of the feces, fluffed, excessive daytime sleeping, etc. Make arrangements with your vet for promised payment of any emergency care. Include the vet's name, phone number and address (as well as directions to his clinic or office) in your care instructions. If the vet will give you his pager number or other emergency contact information, include this for the sitter too.
Keep the bird's wings clipped - for his safety indoors. Clipped wings do not guarantee that a bird will not escape on a gust of wind. Never take the bird out of doors unless he is in a cage or carrier. Continue to have the bird clipped or better yet, clip him yourself in the manner described in previous articles. Ankle tethers shouldn't be used on a bird.
OUT OF DOORS
Never leave your bird unattended in a cage, enclosure or carrier out of doors. Predators (such as possums and raccoons) live in even urban settings. Snakes, cats, dogs and biting insects are also of concern.
WINDOWS AND MIRRORS
Clipping your bird and keeping him clipped will avoid injury, head trauma and death that can occur when a bird flies full tilt into glass. Birds don't understand about glass and mirrors - they think it is a passage to the outside they see beyond it. If your bird is learning to fly, draw sheers across the windows or tilt-close mini-blinds or verticals to soften the impact with glass. Paste temporary decals on mirrors. After your bird is flight proficient, clip him and keep him clipped. A bird who escapes is usually a dead bird - death by starvation, from a predator, the elements, autos, etc. Do not open doors or windows to the outside unless the bird is locked in his cage. Take the few seconds it requires to cage your bird before answering the door. Make it a practice to open any door to the outside with your back to it and the bird in plain sight.
VET VISITS AND MEDICATIONS
Don't permit any procedure unless you are present. Birds do not need to be anesthetized for routine grooming. Anesthesia can be risky for birds. Their respiratory systems function very differently than those of mammals. Air (and anesthesia) is circulated throughout the entire body - not just the lungs. If a vet wants to anesthetize your bird for a routine procedure, leave. Choose a vet who sees only birds - preferably a board certified one. There are many competent vets who are not board certified, but one who is may be a safer choice.
Don't give your bird antibiotics or other medications without a reason. Don't give your bird over-the-counter medications for some fancied malady. These are, for the most part, worthless. Be sure you understand the reason and the need for any medication. There is no reason to give a bird antibiotics in the absence of evidence of a disease process or an infection. Antibiotics kill bacteria - not viruses.
Have the blood calcium level checked at each annual exam. Youngsters typically have a lower concentration than older birds. The level can change over time. African greys, unlike many other species, are very sensitive to inadequate levels of calcium in the blood. They will have seizures or falling episodes, whereas other species may suffer fractures from inadequate calcium in their bones. Don't give calcium supplements routinely or just in case. Never give a calcium supplement in the absence of a diagnosis of abnormally low blood levels of calcium. A bird who is on a pelleted diet shouldn't require additional calcium - except the calcium in the foods he gets.
BIRD FAIRS, EXPOS, MARTS, PET STORES, BIRD CLUBS
Some of the really dangerous and life threatening diseases that affect birds are brought home to them after contact - peripheral or otherwise - with birds of unknown health status. If a toy can't be run through the dishwasher, don't buy it. Leave the bags and package wrapping that you bring from a fair outside the house - do not bring them into the house. Put any toys you buy in the dishwasher after you have disrobed in the garage, put your clothes in the washer and showered and washed your hair. Take these precautions any time you have contact with the birds of others. Needless to say - do not take your bird to gatherings where he will be exposed to the birds of others.
PBFD apparently does not cause disease in birds over 3 year of age. Dr. Branson Ritchie was unable to experimentally infect a bird over 3 years of age when he was doing PBFD research.
Until and unless there are vaccines for the life threatening and death dealing diseases that affect our birds, we must guard them carefully from exposure. Vaccinate your bird against Polyomavirus and boost yearly. Most older birds do not die from polyoma but some do. Don't let your bird be one of those.
Baths are important for the health and well-being of your bird. Our homes are, for the most part, a desert environment. Heating dries out our homes in the winter; air conditioning removes the moisture from the air in the summer. Many parrots evolved in the tropical regions of the world and require adequate skin and feather hydration.
Molting is often a time when a bird begins to pluck. They are itchy and uncomfortable with the emergence of new feathers. If they are accustomed to daily baths, this period will be easier for them and for you. Some like it, some hate it, some tolerate it and some huddle in misery waiting for it to be over. Bathing is one of life's little miseries for some birds, but it is important and must be done. Make an effort to discover your bird's bathing preference. Some tolerate spray bathing, some like to go in the shower with you, some will bathe in the sink, some like a pan of water. If they like none of these, choose the one they hate the least.
ROPE & FABRIC TOYS
Entanglement is a very real threat to our birds. Entanglement in frayed fabric or rope can cause the lost of a toe, leg, wing.....even death. Rope and fabric items should be supervised only items. These toys or items shouldn't be left in the cage unsupervised or overnight. Deaths and infections from obstruction of the digestive system of rope and fabric fibers, especially the fabric sleeping huts, have been reported. The Cotton Candy preening toy has been implicated in reported deaths and injury on the bird mailing lists. Inspect rope toys and other fabric items frequently. Trim off any raveled fibers or threads. One of my former Cockatoo babies got frayed rope threads wrapped around his ankle. The blood supply to the foot was cut off and the bird lost his toes. At present, the only rope toy components I consider safe are short pieces of sisal. Dangling ropes, chains, thin rawhide laces, etc. also present an entanglement danger when hung from the cage bars.
CAGE CROCK/BOWL HOLDERS
Do not leave crock or bowl holders empty in the cage. These rings are an invitation to exploration and entrapment. Serious injuries can occur - to the bird and to the owner who attempts to extricate the bird.
Buy spare crock or bowls and put them in the rings immediately when you remove the used crocks or bowls - fill them with foot toys or small toys.
Birds of dissimilar size, age, disposition or species should not be allowed to share a play area or interact. The life of the smaller, less aggressive, younger bird is in danger in these kinds of situations. While interaction may proceed without harm for months or years, the potential for injury is very real. Each bird needs his own cage and own play area.
SLEEPING WITH BIRDS
Sleeping or napping with a bird presents a mortal danger to birds who have neither the strength nor stamina to save themselves when a sleeping human rolls over onto them. Suffocation is the result when a bird's chest is constricted.