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Understanding Common Household Dangers for Your Bird

Birds are hardy creatures in many ways, survivors both in the evolution game — where they boast residency in nearly every ecological niche — and in the challenging role of sharing their lives with humans.

Although life in the rain forest or jungle harbors plenty of risks, so, too, does the modern human dwelling. Some of these hazards are obvious, and others manage to sneak up on bird-owners who don't realize what's happening until it's too late.

Your bird's best protection is a safe cage and an observant owner. But you need to know what to look out for to keep your pet safe.

Inhalant dangers

Remember the historical accounts about canaries being put to service in mine shafts? Coal-miners once used birds as an early-warning system for dangerous gases. Because birds are highly sensitive to dangerous fumes, a sick (or dead) canary meant fumes were building up to toxic levels — a clear signal that the miners had to get out to save their own lives.

Although this practice has been replaced by more accurate — and certainly more humane — monitoring equipment, the fact remains that pet birds have sensitive respiratory systems. In tightly sealed homes, they can be killed quickly by aerosol products and cookware coatings. Remove your bird before using insecticides and cleaning products, even those that seem as benign as air freshener. Be especially careful about insecticides: Read the label and look for ingredients, such as pyrethrin, fenoxycarb, and precor, all of which are safe around birds after the application has dried.

Perhaps the most insidious danger is from nonstick cookware, such as Teflon or Silverstone. When overheated, these products emit fumes that can kill your bird quickly — without harming humans or other mammals. You can't smell or see the gases, so the only way to protect your bird from injury is to keep your feathered friend out of the kitchen when you're using such cookware or when setting your oven's self-cleaning feature.

A final inhalant caution: Don't smoke around your bird, and don't leave cigarette butts where your pet can get hold of them. Cigarette smoke is just as bad for your pets as it is for you.

Foods that shouldn't be shared

Cleaning products aren't the only dangerous items in your home. Although you can share healthy people-food with your bird, don't hand over even a morsel of avocado, chocolate, or anything with caffeine.

Birds also are sensitive to foods that have spoiled or grown mold. Give your pet fresh food only and remove it from the cage before it has a chance to spoil. Another food caution: Because you don't know what was sprayed on any fruit or vegetable you buy, be sure to wash any produce before offering it to your pet.

Metals that are, like, heavy, man

Although zinc poisoning does turn up from time to time, by far the top danger of heavy metal poisoning is from lead. Lead can be found in weights for fishing and for curtains, bell clappers, solder, some types of putty or plaster, some linoleum, stained glass, costume jewelry, leaded foils from champagne and wine bottles, batteries, some ceramic glazes, the backs of some mirrors, paints, and galvanized wire.

No pet owner is going to feed a fishing weight to a pet, but as always, the inquisitive nature of birds put them at risk. The energetic chewing of a parrot can even reveal lead paint many layers down on the walls of an old house.

You have to keep an eye out for dangerous metals in your bird's environment, but some things you may worry about aren't a problem. Pencil leads, for example, aren't made of lead anymore, and contrary to some long-held beliefs, you have nothing to fear from regular black newspaper ink or "child-safe" paints.

Maybe some medicine will help

If you ever consider, even for a second, giving your bird some medication just because you think it may help — stop!

Over the counter human medications, even those as seemingly benign as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or vitamins, can poison your bird. Commonly available bird products — such as antibiotics, mite sprays, or feather-picking "remedies" — should likewise be avoided. Always check with your veterinarian before giving any health product to your bird. And don't guess on dosages for medications prescribed for your bird, or overdose with the idea that if a little is good, more must be better. Birds are small compared to people, and so the margin of error when it comes to medications is slimmer. Follow your veterinarian's directions precisely on any medication sent home with your bird.

Birds are clever and exceptionally interested in exploring and tasting. Keep not only medications — those pharmacy containers are appealing to play with — but also any questionable household product out of your bird's reach. Some to watch out for: mothballs, rodent poisons, cleaning fluids, deodorants, matches, carpet fresheners, and flea products meant for dogs and cats. Don't leave your bird free to explore in areas where such products may be stored!

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