Dangers in Our Homes: Respiratory Problems

Birds are not mammals. While that seems to be quite obvious based on their physical appearance, there are also important differences between birds and other animals that are not always apparent. One very important difference is in the respiratory system. While birds and animals both have lungs which aid in processing oxygen in their bodies, birds have an additional part to their respiratory process: air sacs. In the case of most parrots and soft billed birds that are our pets, their respiratory system is far more efficient than mammals, including humans. This is likely due to their need for sufficient oxygen during flight, as the air sacs are very active during flight.

However, due to the great efficiency of the air sacs in our birds, that also means that they are quite efficient with intake and processing of anything in the air, including dangerous toxins. While it often requires a lot of toxic stuff in the air for us to be aware of it, the least little bit can be deadly to our birds. For instance, one woman who kept a pair of love birds in her bathroom, decided to use hair spray on her hair. She sprayed her hair. She noticed the birds showing extreme distress, and in a few minutes they were both dead. While the woman did not have respiratory distress, but the birds died.

One person lost a clutch of baby African greys that were being transported in a kennel where the owner had installed a device which is used to provide heat to herps. The device had not been used prior to the baby greys being kept warm with it. The outgassing of the surface material was sufficent to kill them.

Veterinarians recommend that you avoid cigarette smoke, aerosols such as hair spray, deodorants, perfumes, and cleaning products around your birds. Keep in mind that there are air currents in our homes which move sprays from one area to another. That means if you use ANY of these products, your birds need to be in another room which is securely closed. If you use cleaning products, you need to make sure that the area around the door is secured with tape or toweling, otherwise these dangerous chemicals will enter the room thru the slight cracks around, under and over the closed door.

Examples. A man left his parrot with a friend who managed a dog kennel. The kennel owner was cleaning his kennel with a routine product which does not affect the dogs. However the parrot died during the cleaning of the kennel from breathing in the fumes of the cleaning fluid. In another case a family had a large garage area and built a special room in that area just for their many pet birds. The room was completely closed off from the garage. The entry door was inside the garage. One day the husband decided to spray a pair of shoes to protect them from moisture. He took the pair of shoes to the garage and sprayed them. Later that day when they went to bring more food and water to their birds, they found them all dead. Apparently some of the aerosolized spray had floated under the door or thru the small cracks in the doorway and the birds breathed those few spray particles and died.

One interesting case involved a Blue and Gold macaw. The owner had taken the bird to several vets to find out why the bird had sores on its facial skin. Finally one observant avian veterinarian in California talked with the owner and observed the bird. He asked her if she stroked the bird’s face. She said yes. He noted that her fingers were stained with cigarette residue. He told her to stop stroking the bird’s face. This was the cure as her cigarette-stained fingers were leaving a residue of irritating material on the bird’s facial skin and causing the sores. Once she stopped the stroking, the bird’s sores healed.

Bottom line, if a spray or liquid product contains ANY chemicals or is teflon coated and heated, do not use it around your birds. If a space heater is used, be sure to plug it in and run it outdoors for many hours prior to using it indoors in your home or aviary. It is better to be safe than sorry.