Keeping it Clean
A cage is a bird’s home, so the cleaner it is kept, the happier and healthier the bird will be.
Antique birdcages are often very beautiful, with their intricate designs and fascinating styles, but it is easy to see that they must have been a nightmare to keep clean. Birds are, without question, some of the messiest pets around, and yet they must be kept in a clean environment to stay healthy. For both pet store employees and bird owners, knowing how to clean, how often to clean, what to clean and when equipment needs to be replaced will go a long way in avoiding any health issues.
One of the biggest reasons that intricately styled cages went out of favor was because they had too many cracks and crevices that were difficult or even impossible to clean out completely. Bacteria and mold will grow and populate places where dirt and feces can accumulate. Red mites love to hide in tight, cramped spaces during the day and feed on birds at night. Therefore, cages, dishes or other bird equipment must be able to be completely disinfected through brushing and/or soaking.
To disinfect, use a five-percent bleach solution on all parts of a cage, and soak any dishes or other hard, nonporous parts in this solution for 10 to 15 minutes. This will help kill problematic bacteria and bugs. Be sure to scrub the items that are being soaked before putting them into the solution. This will remove any solid dirt or feces so the bleach solution can do its job properly. In a pet store setting, cages and equipment, especially cups, should be disinfected with bleach solution and soaked at least once a week. Retailers should encourage bird owners to disinfect their cups and other equipment once every two to three weeks, and cages every four to six weeks. Cages and equipment in a store should also be disinfected with a bleach solution and/or a safe commercial disinfectant before they house new arrivals.
Any cleaning of cages and equipment should be done in a different room, away from the pet, as birds are very susceptible to airborne pollutants. Encourage customers to avoid using aerosol cleaning products, and tell them to dilute products that have strong and/or toxic fumes, such as bleach or ammonia. Stock commercial cleaners made specifically for cleaning around pet birds and encourage customers to buy these products–they are safe and the store will make a sale.
Food and water cups or bottles should be replaced every six months or so. Old cups and bottles get scratched and can accumulate pathogens over time, especially in those hard to reach corners. Therefore, they need to be cleaned with brushes. It is best for customers to keep two sets of cups on hand so they can put one in the dishwasher while using the other. After cleaning, make sure food cups are completely dry before filling with food, because wet food grows moldy, especially in warmer environments. A good rule of thumb is that if an employee or bird owner would think twice about drinking or eating from a cup, then it is not really clean.
The bottom, tray and grid of a cage must be scrubbed well with soap and water at least once a week at home and more often in a store, depending on the size of the cage and the number of birds being kept in it. If paper is used on the bottom, it will need to be changed every day at the store. This will not only help stop disease transmission, it will help the cage look cleaner for customers. At home, paper may be used for two to four days at a time, depending on the size of the cage.
If litter is used, avoid using shavings, as they can be spread easily by flapping wings. Corncob bedding can transmit a fungal infection to birds and should be avoided as well. To save on litter, remove only the areas that are soiled or wet, like a cat owner might do, and then change out all of the litter once a week (at home) or two to three times a week (at the store).
Other equipment used in the cage, such as perches and toys, can be disinfected by soaking them in a bleach solution, but only if they are made of metal or plastic. Wood, rope and other porous materials can be cleaned by scraping or washing, as long as the material can be completely dried; otherwise bacteria and mold can grow and cause problems.
Setting up toys and perches in a way that keeps them from getting feces on them is important, especially those made of porous material. Whether at home or in the store, all wooden perches, rope products and toys with porous materials must be thrown out and replaced every four to six months. This is also true for any cuttlebones or beak conditioners used in a cage, as long as they have not been dirtied by feces, in which case they need to be replaced immediately.
When cleaning with soap, bleach solution or other disinfectants, always rinse the equipment with fresh water to remove the cleaning agent. The equipment should also be dried thoroughly, especially in the corners, seams and crevices, before placing the bird back in the cage. Remember, a cage is a bird’s home, even in a retail environment, so the cleaner it is kept, the happier and healthier the bird will be.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 25 years of pet retailing experience.