Silver Linings

Having the right cage tray liners and litters is key to maintaining a healthy environment in which pet birds can live happily and thrive.


Without a doubt, birds are messy creatures. Yet, as with any other pet, birds require clean cages and surroundings in order to live long, healthy lives. Since most of the mess—food bits, droppings and so on—ends up in the cage tray, it is imperative that pet owners keep the tray clean, and choose tray liners or litters that are both effective and safe.

Most bird experts say paper liners are the best choice for keeping birdcage trays tidy. There are several advantages to using paper liners. First and most importantly, they allow bird owners and employees to see the bird’s droppings and watch for any changes that may indicate illness. Observation of the droppings is the number-one tool for determining if a bird is sickly. Birds are inclined to hide any signs of illnesses, since in the wild, predators target weakened birds. Even though pet birds don’t have to worry about predators, they still carry that instinct, so being able to examine a bird’s droppings can be a great indicator of a bird’s health status.

Another benefit of using liners is that they are safe. Birds, especially parrots, will often reach through cage grates to grab and eat anything in the tray, and some litters, if ingested, can cause an impaction in a bird’s digestive system. Paper products, like liners, are safe for birds to eat—although if they do get a hold of a paper liner, parrots will usually shred it and make a mess.

Pet owners can use black and white newspaper, non-colored paper towels and paper bags as birdcage tray liners, but they should never use anything with colored inks. Still, none of these paper products will ever be as good as paper liners made specifically for this purpose. A number of manufacturers make precut liners that make changing them a breeze. Some liners are available in cost-effective rolls that can be quickly cut to the right size. Birdcage liners are usually made to be non-absorbent and with anti-microbial properties, so mold and bacteria cannot grow on them easily.

Most liners should be changed daily or every other day, depending on the size of the cage, how many birds are in the cage and the size of the birds. If liners are layered in an amount that will last a week—for example, seven liners stacked in the tray for daily removal—the tray should be washed out when the last liner is removed, usually once a week.

While paper liners are effective and useful, some bird owners favor litter because it is absorbent and looks good for much longer than liners. One downside to litter is that it does not get changed as often as it may need to be, so it is important to tell customers that even if it doesn’t look bad, the litter still needs to be changed often—at least two or more times a week, in most cases. Litters also don’t allow the bird owner to be able to see the droppings well, and litter can be a bit messy itself and harder to clean out.

Still, there are litters that customers may want to consider. Paper litters are generally the best for parrots, because they must be completely safe to ingest. Walnut and corncob litter should not be used with parrot species because if they are ingested, they can cause impaction and death even years after these litters were used. The only circumstance in which walnut litter would be acceptable is in a case where the cage grate is far above the tray, preventing the bird from reaching the litter with either its beak or feet. It is best to always avoid using corn-based litters for birds, because unlike mammals, a bird’s respiratory system is highly sensitive to airborne pathogens, and corncob can cause a fungal respiratory disease called aspergillosis in birds.

Pine and aspen shavings are usually safe to use, but the problem is that they can be blown around everywhere when a bird flaps its wings for exercise. Cedar shavings should never be used for birdcages, because the strong, aromatic odor can hurt a bird’s respiratory system. Note that kitty litter should also never be used, because ingestion could be very dangerous to pet birds.

There are many wonderful bird liner and paper litter manufacturers that make products, which can be used safely for birds, and these should be the ones offered for sale and used in the store. Although some beddings claim to be safe for use in a birdcage, oftentimes, they need to be used with caution or not at all because they pose ingestion or respiratory risks. It is better to be very cautious when it comes to choosing the right liners or litters for birds, especially with parrots, as they can be amazingly smart about getting into things that they are not supposed to get into.

Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.

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