Author: Peter Wilson, Avian Vet

The home can be a very dangerous place for a pet parrot. Parrots are inquisitive and curious and they need to chew. In one respect, they are very similar to young, human toddlers; everything new goes into their mouth. As a result, the household environment is fraught with dangers for the pet parrot. These dangers generally pose no threat to our 
dogs and cats however, because parrots have wings and a beak, they explore territory and chew on things that have the potential to cause life-threatening injury, poisonings and death. Many well-meaning but misguided pet parrot owners dont like to see their birds caged and therefore, give them unlimited, free access to their home. As an avian veterinarian, I am constantly seeing the end result of pet birds that come to grief as a result of unsupervised, free-range of the house. Just as we would not allow young children to be left alone in a house, we should not allow our birds unsupervised, access to the household environment. It can be a death trap! 

Household accidents and traumatic injuries

Free-flying parrots that are unsupervised and untrained often end up in my surgery as a result of traumatic, household accidents. Commonly occurring accidents include the following:-

  • Collision with ceiling fans
  • Drowning in toilets, sinks, bath-tubs
  • Scalding from landing in sinks full of hot water
  • Burning legs and feet from landing on hot plates, in pans of hot fat, saucepans of mashed potatoes etc.
  • Flying into window panes and mirrors
  • Being stood on, sat on
  • Rolled on by wheeled computer chairs
  • Falling behind the fridge
  • Flying out of open doors and windows
  • Attacked by pet dogs and cats

Common Household Substances that are toxic to your parrot

It is not just traumatic injuries and accidents within the home that can prove fatal to your pet bird. There are also many ordinary household substances and products that can be toxic if chewed on, ingested or inhaled by your parrot. Things such as:-

  • Match heads
  • Candles
  • Incense
  • Nicotine
  • Medications meant for humans or other pets
  • Soap
  • Insecticides
  • Rat Poison
  • Many household cleaning products
  • Fumes from Teflon coated cooking pots and pans
  • Plug-in Air Fresheners
  • Snail Bait
  • Motor Oil
  • Electrical leads

Fur ball impaction caused by chewing fabric and fibre 

One of the main dangers of parrots free-ranging in the house is their instinctive chewing behaviour. Parrots need to chew to keep the beak in shape and trimmed. They are also hard-wired to forage for food. Parrots that chew on carpet fibres, curtains or upholstery fabrics are in danger of ingesting these fibres and threads and causing a foreign body impaction in their gastro-intestinal system. I have treated many birds with impactions of the crop and stomach. I have also performed post-mortem examinations on birds that have been so severely impacted and in such weakened condition when presented that they died.

Heavy Metal Poisoning.

One of the most common causes of household poisoning is metal toxicity. Parrots are attracted to shiny items. Most parrot owners will be familiar with their pets fascination for jewelry. Gold and silver do not poison birds. However, there are many other sources of metal within the house that are toxic to parrots. Copper, lead, zinc, aluminum, chrome, brass all cause varying degrees of toxic reactions. Some common causes of heavy metal poisoning within the household include:-

  • Lead-light ornaments
  • Lead weights at the bottom of curtains or vertical blinds
  • Fishing sinkers
  • Foil from wine bottles
  • Lead paint
  • Lead solder
  • Metal toys
  • Christmas tinsel and glitter
  • Slivers of aluminum from the tracks of sliding glass windows and doors
  • Bases of light bulbs
  • Batteries
  • Electrical leads
  • Copper wire
  • Galvanized wire

Exotic house plants

Many commonly kept house plants are toxic to parrots. Some plants merely make your bird sick, but others can kill them. It is best to keep your parrot and your indoor plants separately. Some plants that cause problems for your birds include:-

  • Philodendrons
  • Ivy
  • Oleander
  • Onion
  • Avocado (fruit and seed)
  • Poinsettia
  • Weeping fig
  • Mother-in-laws tongues
  • Rubber trees
  • Azaleas
  • Dieffenbachia
  • Asparagus Fern
  • Elephant Ears
  • Ribbon Plant
  • Yucca

Symptoms of poisonings

Bloody droppings, excessive drinking, vomiting, diahorrea, convulsions and paralysis are some of the signs and symptoms of possible poisonings. Irritated skin around the mouth is another sign to watch for. Any of these symptoms should be investigated by your avian veterinarian.

How to avoid the dangers of the house

In order to avoid the pitfalls and dangers of the household environment, use some common sense. Always supervise your parrot when it is out of its cage. Make the cage an attractive and interesting refuge for your bird. Furnish it with perches from native trees and foliage from native plants. Dont have the parrot free in the kitchen when you are cooking meals. Remember that your parrot is inquisitive and likes to chew and be aware of the potential for trouble that these characteristics can cause.

Written by Peter Wilson
BVSc MACVSc
Avian and Reptile Practitioner