About the Parrot Respiratory System
By Diane Burroughs
While most of the focus on the most recent Black Forest Fires in Colorado Springs, Colorado has, understandably, been on the toll that those fires have taken on humans, I've also been fielding some questions on how air quality in the home (or outside) affects your pet birds respiratory system.
So I thought that now might be a timely time (can I say that? - English majors be kind!) to cover the topic.
To start, I'm going to go over how air quality affects pet birds in general, and then I'll go over the forest fires.
So first, it's good to know that in general birds are really sensitive to air quality, and if you don't take care, it's very easy to make your bird very sick, and just as easy for them to die of the illness.
Birds lungs are very different to human lungs and, as a result of their much higher relative energy needs, are much more efficient at processing oxygen.
Unfortunately, this means that birds' lungs are also much more efficient at processing and absorbing toxins, and it doesn't take much to make them sick.
Upper respiratory tract infections are very common in birds, and often avoidable if you take care to look at the following:
1. Aerosols. In general, all aerosols are a nightmare for birds. Air fresheners, bug spray, furniture polish, you name it, if you spray it out of a can, keep it as far away from your bird as possible.
Although they don't come out of a can, I'm going to include incense and candles here as well.
You know how you feel when you cop a strong whiff of bug spray or air freshener? Well, now divide your body by 200, so that you're the same size as your pet bird, and image copping that whiff now.
The coughing and stress to the system is far greater for birds and can cause serious distress and heart failure.
2. Smoking. I hate to say it, but for all you smokers out there, if you're smoking inside where your bird gets to breathe in the smoke, then you are seriously risking the health of your little pet.
Apart from the cocktail of random lethal chemicals that are in cigarettes, the nicotine in the smoke is also dangerous to birds, and I haven't even begun talking about the physical contaminants like tar!
We've all seen the ads, and we know exactly what smoking does to our lungs, and studies are proving that in some ways second hand smoke is even worse. If you've smoked a cigarette, wash your hands thoroughly before handling your bird.3. Overheated cookware (pots and pans). Random, I know. Who would have thought that leaving the pot on the stove too long would affect a bird?
Well, get this, according to tests that were commissioned by the Australian Environmental Working Group (EWG), Teflon overheating is responsible for the deaths of thousands of pet birds each year, with the possibility of many more unreported cases!
It turns out that when non-stick cookware overheats it releases up to 6 really toxic gases, which besides killing birds also makes people sick as well.
For birds it's called "Teflon Toxicosis", and in this case the lungs of of your little guy will hemorrhage and then fill with fluid, which will lead to suffocation in minutes. All it takes for these gases to be released into the air is for you to leave the pan on the burner for a couple of minutes to 'pre-heat' the pan, so if you really need to pre-heat your pan, then you should use a stainless steel or cast iron pot instead that hasn't been treated with Teflon.
You've been warned!
4. Kerosene heaters. These guys suck a lot of the oxygen out of the air around them, and also emit their own contaminants as the kerosene burns that are really bad for your bird, and you should keep the two as separate as possible. Smoke is always bad for birds!
So now let's get back to the forest fires.
If your bird lives outside, then it's a good idea to put him or her inside for a couple of days until the air clears up. Just make sure that when you do this you take heed to everything I've mentioned before in this post, as it would be terrible if the cure was worse than the problem!
If your bird already lives indoors, then you're probably all good, and your little bird has nothing to worry about, just try to make sure that you keep doors and windows shut for a couple of days until the air clears up a bit.
5. Watch out for Aspergillus. After the fire has gone, make sure that you clean all surfaces near of your house thoroughly, as believe it or, residue from fires can be a great energy source for mold and bacteria such as Aspergillus, which if breathed in by your pet can cause a serious upper respiratory infection, that, if not treated by antibiotics, will not heal by itself and almost always results in death. I'm not trying to go for the dramatic finish here, but it is important that you watch out for this! Soot and soot particles mixed with water are an unhealthy mix for any set of lungs.
And that's it for me, and in general covers all the major points on air quality as it affects your bird.
As a side note, it goes without saying that if your bird is showing any symptoms at all of a respiratory tract irritation then you should go straight to the vet.
Symptoms include your bird being listless and having no energy, nasal discharge, seeming to struggle to breathe with a dry or raspy or clicky breathe.
In addition, if your bird is spending a lot of time on the floor of the cage or spends a lot of time clutching the side of the cage with it's mouth and 'hanging' these are all signs that your bird is struggling to breathe and is trying to work out ways to get air.
Whatever you do, don't wait, as birds are notoriously susceptible and succumb quickly in many cases.
So have I missed anything, or has your bird been affected by the fires or any of the above? Let me know how it's going for your bird, or things that you avoid, as there is a wealth of experience out there, and always more to learn! (and I just like hearing about other people's pet birds.)
Check back again soon. Do you have a parrot question that you'd like help on? Just ask
- Diane Burroughs, LCSW