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How To Give Your Bird A Bath So That It Is Squeaky Clean And Comfortable

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Bird Bath

Can I give my bird a bath?

People often wonder, “can I give my bird a bath?”  The simple answer is yes. Keeping your pet bird clean is part of good parrot wellness.

Bathing isan important hygiene function for all birds, domestic or wild. Parrots are dusty and they put off a lot of dander.  Giving your bird frequent baths cuts down on the mess.  But, more than that, bathing is good for your bird's skin and feathers.

Feathers provide several functions for birds.They insulate the body and assist in controlling body temperature. Most birds have a waterproof oil on their feathers to protect them from the elements. Feathers  help birds to blend in with the environment.   They also assist in finding potential mates.

In the wild, birds maintain their feather condition with frequent bathing and preening.  They are meticulous about their feather care and make time for it every single day. Wild parrots bathe in the rain, near splashing or running water, and in streams. Wild birds teach their young how to properly care for their feathers.

How do I get my bird to take a bath?

Our pet birds didn't have their mom and dad to teach them how to bathe and care for their feathers.  They rely on you, their human caretaker, to teach them how to bathe and sometimes even preen.

Our pet birds are subject to "unnatural dirt" on their feathers in the form of oil from human hands, cleaning chemicals, newsprint, dirt and bacteria transferred from our hands, lipstick from kisses, and a multitude of other substances.   Frequent bathing will rinse these substances away. 

Frequent bathing also promotes healthy preening.  The process of spraying feathers may misalign feather barb's so you'll frequently see your bird preening feathers back into shape following a bath.

But, how do you get your bird to take a bath? 

First, let's talk about the various ways you can bathe your bird. There are three common ways to bathe your bird:

  • Misting with a spray bottle
  • Taking your bird in the shower with you on a shower perch
  • Providing your bird with a shallow bowl were they can romp around in the water

SMALL BIRDS: If you have a small bird like a parakeet, lovebird or cockatiel, offer a bird bath  inside of its cage.  Make sure to change the water Or any time that it gets soiled. 

Some small birds love bathing in leafy vegetables. A large sopping wet leaf such as collard, turnip, mustard or kale provides a  fun and natural bathing experience while providing good vitamin A nutrition.  

My little green cheek conure left to bathe in an automatic cat water dish.  H Here's our video of Kiwi splashing around.

 

I don't recommend that you take a small bird in the shower with you. The droplets are just too big and they might knock the bird off the perch.  It only takes one hard fall for the bird to begin dreading baths going forward.

LIXIT BATH and Water dish like Kiwi’s

MEDIUM TO LARGE BIRDS: Many parrot species, including African Grey Parrots and Cockatoos, enjoy a thorough saturation. You'll find a bird shower perch to be a great asset.  Soaking your bird in the shower is a great way to wash all that oily  bird dust down the drain.

Most shower perches are made with suction cups so that you can stick them to the shower walls. You just have to make sure that you have smooth tile or a glass surface, otherwise the suction cups won't hold your bird.

And, like I said earlier,  it only takes one incident of falling off the perch for your bird to dread showers going forward.  I have one customer who bought a bird car seat to put in the bottom of the shower because it offered a studier perching surface for her large parrot.

 

Of course, any time that you're bathing your bird, you need to make sure that it doesn't get chilled.

How do you train a bird to take a bath?

Use Positive Behavior Reinforcement methods like those taught in Clicker Training for Birds to teach your bird to enjoy bird baths and showers.  Just follow these steps:

  1. Make sure that the shower perch is firmly secured in place.

  2.  Place your bird on the shower perch without the water on. Your goal is to get your bird used to being in the shower and perching in place. Reward your bird for staying on the perch with a clicker and treats, cuddles, dramatic praise, or whatever else it won't work for. Gradually increase the time that your bird is expected to stay perched.

  3.  When your bird is staying on the perch for a few minutes, it's time to test the water. Turn the shower on just for a few seconds and reward your bird for staying on the perch.  Gradually increase the time that your bird is exposed to the sound of the water.

  4.  Finally, you're ready to let your bird experience being sprayed. Again, reward your bird for tolerating just one spray or just a few seconds. Gradually increase both time and tolerance for getting wet.

  5. When the shower is over make sure that your bird does not get chilled after a good soaking. You can wipe the bird with a towel or place it near a warm light. There are even cage heaters available to warm your bird up.
 

Most parrots love to bathe once they learn how  and are associated with positive reinforcement. If your parrot is afraid to bathe, slowly model how getting wet in the shower can be fun. We like to place new parrots on the shower door or shower rod in a place away from the water jets. And, in a demonstrative display, we show our birds how fun a shower is several times.  

Most experts warn against using parrot shampoo that actually dries the skin out and makes your bird feel itchy.  Opt for natural plant-based bath sprays like UnRuffledRx Aloe Vera Spray that won't dry your bird's skin out.

I was talking with veterinarian Anna Osofsky one time about whether it's possible to teach a pet bird how to use its preening gland effectively. After all, mom and dad teach their young about their preening gland.  

The preening gland, and birds that have them, emits a gentle oil that moisturizes the skin and makes the feathers waterproof.  One way that you can show your bird how to use its printing gland is to gently massage it to kind of milk out the oil.

 Of course you wouldn't want to get into the habit of petting your bird's vent area, but just showing your bird a few times where it's preening gland is will serve the purpose of helping your bird learn to preen, appropriately.That way your bird won't have to suffer with dry skin and brittle feathers.

How  often do birds need to bathe?

The law of the jungle is to 'preen until you're clean.' Preening cleans and realigns the feathers. Bathing removes dust and dirt. 

A bird that doesn't know how to bathe and preen may resort to feather plucking in effort to get relief. 

When you're first starting out teaching your bird to bathe just bathe your bird once or twice a week.  Most birds come to enjoy a daily bath. Other birds, and colder climates may only want to be bathed once or twice a week. The goal is to keep bathing as an activity that your bird looks forward to.   

I definitely like to bathe my dusty birds like African grey parrots or a cockatoo everyday. It just makes their feathers look so much better and cuts down on the dust in the house. I've had several vets tell me that a lot of people don't even bathe their dusty birds and the dust cakes up dand causes a lot of discomfort. 

Is it okay to bathe your bird at night?

While bathing is important for a healthy bird, you'd never want your bird to get chilled after a bath. That is why you shouldn't bathe your bird at night.  Nights are often a little cooler and your bird may not have time to dry off before it goes to sleep.

You'd also want to avoid bathing your bird if it's not feeling well. If your bird shows any signs of illness, like it not being as active as usual, not as chirpy as usual, its droppings are runny, or it's perching and fluffed up, avoid bathing. Instead, make an appointment with your avian vet to get your pet checked out.

So, hopefully I've answered all of your questions about how to bathe your bird. If you got any tips or tricks up your sleeve, in terms of bathing your bird leave a comment below. 

Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. With over 30 years experience, in a range of settings, she’s created thousands of successful behavior plans to help turn around challenging behavior. Diane got parrot fever in the ‘90’s and founded BirdSupplies.com in 1998. Nowadays, BirdSupplies.com focuses solely on Science-backed Parrot Wellness with bird collars for feather plucking birds, nutritional supplements to support avian wellness, and a range of educational materials to support bird behavior. Diane’s authored a number of books on supporting challenging behavior in birds.

Hey there! Because of conscientious parrot caretakers like you we are able to continue to offer valuable, science-backed parrot wellness support that will help your feathered friend to thrive so that you can enjoy it for years to come.

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