The holidays are in full swing! The days are shorter, many streets are festively festooned, and pumpkin spiced lattes are in hand. Many of you amazing pet bird owners out there will likely include your feathered friends in the festivities this year, as many will be staying home for the holidays due to COVID-19. To help ensure that they too enjoy the cheer, Nestbox would like to gift our readers with a holiday pet bird safety guide!
Seasonal Plants and Decorations
Many of the splendid traditional holiday accents; including festive plants, glittering Christmas trees, twinkling lights, and the smell of cinnamon and cloves from scented candles, may pose a health hazard to many pet birds. Read on to learn how to avoid these holiday hazards for your pet’s sake:
- Decking the halls. As the holiday favorites listed below can pose a health risk to your pets, consider replacing these beautiful plants with artificial silk versions or keeping them in places not accessible to your birds.
- Mistletoe is a traditional favorite but may pose a threat if any part of the plant is consumed, even 1-2 berries can be life threatening! Signs that your bird may have eaten this plant include vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory distress (abnormal breathing), and collapse.
- Poinsettias are not nearly as toxic as mistletoe but if ingested may cause some gastrointestinal (gut/tummy) upset.
- Popular decorative flowers such as chrysanthemum, yew, and lily may add a lovely festive accent in the home but may also cause illness to your pet bird if ingested.
- Oh, Christmas tree. Christmas trees themselves are considered a safe tree for birds but there are a few things to consider before adorning one in your home for the holidays. If your bird finds its way to perch on your tree, be mindful of any tree sap that may stick to your bird’s feathers. While perched, your bird may likely peck and nibble at the tree’s naturally prickly needles that can cause injury externally and internally if ingested. Also, Christmas trees themselves may be sprayed with chemicals and the water frequently contains fertilizers to keep them alive through the holidays. Dressing up the tree can be an occasion for joy and expressing your own artistic flare, but take care to avoid spraying white flocking (fake snow) or glitter as these “wow” factors may prove poisonous to birds.
- Not all that glitters is gold. Twinkling lights and gleaming décor can provide a truly winter wonderland atmosphere, but these can break, leaving sharp edges and exposed wire that can quickly become an electrifying or hazardous experience for your beloved bird. Some decorations may contain toxic heavy metals such as zinc. Zinc can be found in candy foil wraps, wine bottles, bells, stained glass, and even some paints. Common symptoms with zinc toxicity include lethargy and weakness. Additionally, your bird can become entangled by ribbons and tinsel. Pecked and shredded decorations may lead to choking or an intestinal blockage. Consider an alternative decoration, such as birdseed ornaments, pine cone feeders, cranberry garlands, and strings of plain air-popped popcorn or unsweetened cereal such as regular Cheerios. Here’s a link on DIY Birdseed Ornaments.
- Amazing aromas. Scented candles, incense, and air fresheners can add a touch of holiday cheer with tantalizing fragrances like fresh baked cookies, maple, and pine. Unfortunately, these products typically contain oils that are poisonous to birds, so be sure to avoid using these while your beloved bird is in the same room. As an alternative, try boiling herbs like cinnamon, cloves, or peppermint. While we are on the topic of stovetop cooking, you may have noticed that some non-stick cookware contains polytetrafluoroethylene (aka PTFE or Teflon), which is the most common inhaled poisoning in companion birds. When Teflon-containing products are heated, they give off toxic fumes that can quickly become deadly to birds. Additional household products that may contain Teflon include heaters, lamps, coated light bulbs, and hair dryers. As mentioned with the scented candles and air fresheners, be sure to only use Teflon containing products when your companion bird is not in the room.
Tasty, but toxic treats
Many pet owners show their affection by sharing their delightful feast with their favorite companions without realizing the potential dangers. This can prove particularly true during the holiday season. We can’t fault you for your kindness; just be sure, if you are sharing, to take great care to choose foods that are not harmful for your pets. The following is a list of some foods dangerous to birds and other pets:
- Avocado. A staple in sunny Southern California even during the holiday season. All parts of the avocado plant contain persin, a toxin that has been reported to be a cardiotoxic (toxic to the heart) in birds. Smaller pet bird species like canaries and budgies are considered more likely to become ill. Respiratory distress (trouble breathing) is a typical symptom that can develop within 12 hours after ingestion and death can occur within 24-48 hours.
- Chocolate. Chocolate contains toxic methylxanthines including caffeine and theobromine that may cause your pet to exhibit an increased heart rate, tremors, seizures, and possible death if chocolate is ingested. A general rule of thumb is the purer or darker the chocolate, the higher the potential to be toxic in smaller amounts.
- Garlic & onion. Tasty flavor profiles infused with garlic and onion can hit the spot for human palates while posing a threat to your beloved bird. If ingested, especially in their more concentrated forms such as garlic powder or onion soup mixes, may cause digestive issues, lethargy, weakness, increased heart rate, and even sudden death.
- Sugar-free foods. Sugar-free foods can contain artificial sweeteners like xylitol that can be toxic to many bird species. If ingested, xylitol can cause severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) that may present as incoordination, weakness, collapse, and death.
Many vigilant families will be staying home for the holidays this year to keep loved ones safe. If you will be practicing social distancing for the holidays this year, consider using an online video chat platform like Zoom or Skype to celebrate with your loved ones. If you do find yourself hosting some guests in your home , consider these additional precautions. Since this year has meant fewer family and friends in your home these unfamiliar masked guests could cause your feathered friend to become a little stressed. Consider providing a safe and quiet space for your bird, for example, moving their cage into a spare bedroom where guests are unlikely to enter. This can be particularly helpful if any of your guests decide to bring their young children or even their own pets. Prior to the arrival of your guests, consider going over some ground rules regarding your bird companion such as no unsupervised visitation with your bird, no feeding of unauthorized foods, etc.
If you are concerned that any of your pets may have ingested something toxic, immediately contact your trusted veterinarian or the ASPCA animal poison control center at 1-888-426-4435. Please remember that accidents can and do happen, even to the most responsible of bird owners. SoCal Nestbox is here to support our readers and provide resources such as the Find-A-Vet tool on our website. Click here for more information on household dangers provided by The Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV).
We hope that you have found these holiday pet safety tips helpful and will consider using them to keep your pet from experiencing any unfortunate mishaps. May you and yours remain safe, happy, and healthy through the holidays and into the New Year!
- World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress Proceedings, 2019. Common Toxins in Companion Birds presented by T. Bradley Bays. https://www.vin.com/doc/?id=9382769
- Wismer, Tina. “Top Ten Ways to Keep Your Bird Safe from Kitchen Dangers – Veterinary Partner.” VIN, 27 Sept. 2010, veterinarypartner.vin.com/doc/?id=6048567.
- Foods Toxic to Pet Birds. Christal Pollock, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian, Lafeber Company veterinary consultant, & Laura Doering. https://lafeber.com/pet-birds/foods-toxic-pet-birds/
- Gardner BR, Mitchell EP. Acute, fatal, presumptive xylitol toxicosis in cape sugar birds (Promerops cafer). J Avian Med Surg. 2017;31(4):356–358.
- Burmeister CA, Yunker J. Toxicology brief: Avian avocado toxicosis. Vet Tech. 2013;34(7):E1–E3.