One of the most controversial topics in bird keeping is what should be put in the tray at the bottom of a cage and how often it should be changed. However, pet store employees can help bird owners find the perfect bedding for their pets by considering the cage set up, the bird’s behavior and the environment.
“Choosing the right bedding or litter for your pet bird can be a daunting task because there are so many types to choose from,” says Justin Lengel, marketing and design assistant at F.M. Brown’s Sons, Inc., a bird product manufacturer in Sinking Spring, Pa. “Don’t be intimidated, however, as most are excellent choices for your bird, as long as you follow the directions and precautions listed on the packaging.”
Lengel recommends using F.M. Brown’s Twirls & Cobs Cage Litter & Bedding, as it combines corncobs with paper twists, making it absorbent and odor resistant. Corncob products are also fairly inexpensive, and many bird owners have used them for years, but certain precautions need to be considered. Corncob bedding can be a breeding ground for aspergillus, a mold that can cause the disease aspergillosis in birds. A number of companies process corncobs, usually by heat treatment, to keep the bedding from harboring any mold or other harmful pathogens such as bacteria. Still, the best ways to keep the birds healthy and infection free is to change the bedding often, use it in dry environments, and keep it away from pet birds by using a grate and having a lowered tray.
Walnut shells are considered safe for birds, but as with corncob bedding, it must be used with some caution. Parrots love to chew, and some like to eat things that they should not be eating, including their bedding. This can be very
dangerous, as both corncobs and walnut shells can cause serious digestive issues, including impaction for birds that like to reach down through the grate to snack on it. Many birds will not bother with the bedding, but for those that do, keep the tray low enough under the grate so the birds cannot get to it, even if they stretch their feet as far as they can to try to reach it.
Wood shavings are usually not recommended for bird litter, especially cedar, which can contain oils and give off odors that may harm a bird’s sensitive respiratory system. Also, in a practical sense, shavings can fly all over the place when a bird flaps its wings in the cage for exercise, making a huge mess on the floor. Heat-processed pine shavings or aspen, however, can be used inside nest boxes as needed. Wood or paper pellets, or litters made from aspen or other safe wood products, on the other hand, can be great for birds as they are non-toxic and will stay in the tray.
Paper liners are considered one of the best products to use in the cage tray. Although black and white newspaper and white paper towels can be safe, anything with colored ink can be toxic, and these paper types can harbor dangerous pathogens if not changed out often. Paper liners manufactured for bird cages generally do not have this problem, as they have been treated to stop pathogens from forming. Caterina Novotny, director of marketing for Prevue Hendryx, in Chicago, says that the company’s T3 Antimicrobial Cage Liner is “treated with silver ion, a natural occurring element that inhibits the growth of mildew and bacteria on the surface.”
Prevue sells paper liner in rolls of 25 feet or a 100-foot bulk roll, and both are offered in different widths to fit a wide variety of cages, adds Novotny.
Offering a variety of cage liner sizes is very important. Cage Catchers, of Sparta, Mich., has been making waxed paper liners for two decades, and while customers still flock to the original product, the company has become more accommodating as cage sizes and styles evolve. This makes it easier for bird owners to find the right fit.
Paper liners usually need to be changed more often than other bedding—often daily. Placing several layers in the tray allows for the top layer or two to be removed easily, revealing fresh, clean paper. The advantage of paper liners is that they make it easy to see droppings, which are a good indicator of the bird’s health and whether there are any problems. Note that retailers should use the manufactured paper liners and not newspaper or paper towels in store cages, since these products are not treated to inhibit mold and bacteria growth. Using paper liners also allows the store to showcase a product it sells.
How often an owner should change the bedding depends on the size of the cage, the type of bedding, how many birds are in the cage and how messy they are. Bird owners should “change their pets’ bedding frequently so the birds’ environment will remain healthy, clean and odor-free,” Lengel says.
Janelle Crandell, president of Avitech, a Frazier Park, Calif.-based bird product manufacturer, agrees. “As far as birds are concerned, cleanliness is next to Godliness, in order to maintain optimum health of the pet bird,” she says.
If a bird is very messy—particularly with wet foods, such as vegetables, which easily falls onto the tray—the bedding will need to be cleaned frequently. What is important is that it remains clean enough that any mold or bacteria will not have a chance to grow and cause health issues, no matter what the owner is using in the cage—corncob, crushed walnut shells, wood or paper litters or pellets, liners or a mix. And bird owners should never use any type of kitty litter, as that can lead to serious health issues, including death.
Store personnel need to make it clear to bird owners that keeping their birds’ cages clean and changing the litter or paper in the tray as often as needed is imperative if they want to keep their pets safe and healthy. This may mean changing it every day, every other day or twice a week, depending on a range of factors. The type of bedding used will also depend on what the owner is looking for, the type and size of the cage used, and of course, how messy their pet can be, especially when eating.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.