Are you in the "Should I?" stage of welcoming a nonbird companion pet to your home? Can a prey animal like a bird peacefully cohabit with a predator like a cat or dog? Which pets are more likely to mix well with birds? Here are key points to consider to ensure that all pet family members remain safe and sane inside your home.
Be Super At Supervision
One steadfast rule all bird owners need to follow is to always supervise their pet birds when they are out of the cage. Supervision is even more important whenever a cat or dog has access to the room the bird is in. Even if your bird is used to your dog taking his daily nap beneath her cage, or your cat is "too old and lazy” to show any interest in your bird, it only takes that one unexpected moment (e.g., your bird crash landing on the floor) or certain movement (e.g., your bird climbing along the edge of the cage) to activate your dog or cat’s natural chase-and-pounce instinct. Similarly, seemingly playful interaction can quickly turn into rough play that injures your bird.
The mere presence of a cat, dog or other predatory pet might cause undue stress to your pet bird. Pay attention to your bird’s demeanor for signs of stress. Does your bird thrash about the cage when the cat enters the room, or hiss/screech when Fido sniffs at her through the cage bars? This might be a sign that your bird is not happy sharing space with them.
If you are a fan of Looney Tunes cartoons, you might have seen your fair share of Tweety Bird and Sylvester the Cat cartoons. Sylvester forever schemed to make a quick snack of Tweety Bird. Fortunately, Tweety was always one step ahead of the hapless Sylvester. You want to avoid this type of cat-and-bird chase in your home at all costs. Birds like cockatiels, budgies, lovebirds and conures are especially vulnerable to being caught by the household cat because of their small size and flighty movements.
Larger parrots like macaws and cockatoos might be more intimidating to a cat and less of a target but, even so, you need to keep an eye on their interactions. If you hear a commotion from your bird (e.g., thrashing about, screeching, etc.) and find the cat nearby, call your avian veterinarian immediately. A bite or scratch from a cat can infect a bird with Pasteurella bacteria, which can be fatal. The tricky part is that the scratch or bite mark might not be noticeable because it could be covered by your bird’s feathers. If there is any doubt as to whether your cat swatted at or bit your bird, play it safe and call your avian veterinarian.
Some pet birds and dogs get along like respectful roommates, minding each other’s space but, for the most part, ignoring each. Other dog-bird duos get along so well that the dog obligingly lies still so the bird can preen his fur. Then there are the dogs that jump or bark excitedly whenever the bird flaps her wings or makes any noticeable movement. The last scenario is the most worrisome, because a dog that appears fixated on getting to a pet bird might be overloaded with a predator-prey instinct. This dog might display the same urgent whimpering or barking associated with wanting a treat or a toy to chase. Dog breeds that were bred to hunt, such as terriers and hounds, are thought to be especially prone to going into predator vs. prey mode. Whether or not a dog can get along with a bird depends on the individual dog. However, when you consider the size difference between dogs and birds, it only takes a second for a dog to turn rough play into something that might injure or even kill a bird. Even if your dog falls into the docile category, keep a diligent eye on your bird whenever the two share space, just as you would whenever your bird spends time outside the cage, such as on her playstand.
Snakes are also predatory animals, and many parrot species are instinctually fearful of snakes. In fact, in Australia and other countries where native parrots are considered garden pests, fake snakes are used as a parrot deterrent. Housing a snake in the same room as your bird can cause her undue stress. There is also the possibility of the snake getting out of his enclosure and making his way into the bird’s cage.
A tank with fish in it can keep you pet bird visually entertained throughout the day. The main danger with fish is if your bird falls into the tank and drowns. An easy remedy is to keep the tank covered at all times. Keep in mind that fish tanks that are outfitted with filters and pumps emit a certain level of noise, which could interfere with your bird’s sleep.
Small mammals like rabbits and guinea pigs are prey animals like birds, so you won’t have to worry about your rabbit or guinea pig attacking your bird. A pet bird might visually enjoy the company of a small mammal pet; however, most small mammals are active during the night and early morning hours, which could interrupt your bird’s sleep. If your hamster’s wheel keeps you up at night, chances are it’s affecting your bird’s good night sleep as well. If this is the case, house your critter and bird in different rooms at night.
There is one small mammal pet that you must be cautious about if you have a bird in the home: a ferret. Ferrets might be small and cute, but they are true carnivores with hunting instincts. A ferret and a bird should not be housed in the same space or allowed direct interaction.
There might be occasions when you have to protect your other pets from your bird. Some birds can be quite territorial around the cage, especially when they are hormonal. Your cockatoo might climb down from the cage and chase after your dog, cat or rabbit if she feels the "furred intruder” is infringing on her territory. And while it might seem amusing to watch your bird chase your dog, don’t allow this to happen. You never know if or when your dog will turn around and aggressively react. Likewise, a parrot’s bite is strong enough to inflict injury on other pets.
Your bird might also find it amusing to throw food down to your dog. Nuts like macadamias, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, almonds and pecans, as well as raisins, can cause gastrointestinal upset in dogs. Rabbits, too, might make a habit of looking for food dropped or spilled out from the bird cage, which can be bad for their digestive tract. Also, be aware that dogs, rabbits and other pets have much more sensitive hearing than human household members. A vocal parrot, such as a macaw, Amazon, cockatoo or conure, can grate on your dog or rabbit’s sensitive ears. If your parrot is prone to bouts of loud screeching, consider offering your other pets quieter areas to retreat to.
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