Birds have a sensitive respiratory system that is susceptible to air quality, so owners and retailers need to act with care when cleaning their cages.
The 2009/2010 APPA National Pet Owner’s Survey asked bird owners about the benefits and drawbacks to keeping birds at home. Not surprisingly, the number-one drawback is cleaning up. Birds are extremely messy and need their cage, accessories and the area around them kept clean in order for them to stay healthy. But caution must be used when it comes to what products can be safely used around birds.
Cleaning products that cause the most health problems for caged birds are those that can get into the air. Birds have a very unique respiratory system in which the air in their lungs is completely changed out with every breath, unlike us mammals that have residual air left in our lungs from our last breath. This is the reason coal miners would bring canaries into the mines with them as air-quality detectors years ago. The birds would succumb quickly to the odorless methane gas that could be released at any time, warning the miners to get out right away. Now special electronic sensors are used in mines so the birds are no longer needed, but air quality can still be an issue in the home.
Most pet store employees know that using pesticides, herbicides or any other sprays that are meant to kill pests should never be used around birds. Even if the product is being sprayed outside the house it can be dangerous, so birds need to be removed from the area completely. This is also true of any flea or tick sprays or powders that can get into the air, because many can cause health issues for caged birds.
Fumes from paints and new flooring (either carpet or wood) can also harm birds. Non-stick cookware and even irons that are overheated can produce a gas that can kill a bird very quickly, so these items should never be used in a bird owner’s home.
Air fresheners and deodorants seem to have exploded in the market in recent years. No one wants to have a home that smells bad, but misters, sprays, incense, potpourri and scented candles can cause illness or death to caged birds. Vacuuming furniture or carpets that have been sprayed with a cleaner or deodorant days before can still release toxic substances into the air. We’re not affected, but any avian creature living in the house can be overwhelmed. It’s not something that most customers would even realize, and so they must be warned to be careful with what they use around their bird and home area.
Strong smelling, commonly used cleaners like ammonia and bleach, products that contain these chemicals or other strong smelling products should never be sprayed near birds. A bleach solution of approximately one cup bleach to slightly more than one gallon of water can be used to sanitize cups and cages, but this needs to be done in a separate room away from the bird, and everything must be rinsed well to be sure there is no bleach residue remaining.
Tell customers to be aware of what they are using around their birds when cleaning, and to use non-toxic products that are known to be safe. Thankfully, with so many products going green, these items are not difficult to find in stores. Remember, however, that even if a product is marked “all-natural,” it does not mean it is safe to use around pet birds. Pet stores can help by selling cleaning products that are made specifically to clean birdcages. These products are not only safe around birds, but many are made to help break down bird waste faster and/or prevent feces from sticking to the cage bars, grid and tray.
Considering their very sensitive respiratory system, we need to be cautious about what goes into the air around our birds. Generally, birds are healthy creatures, but some of their uniqueness makes them more susceptible to air quality than our furry pets, so tell bird customers just to be cautious when cleaning.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.