Birds as Pets

Four-legged with fur or two-legged with feathers … which would be the best small pet for me? Birds can be included in your lifestyle, but as with most pets, there are certain criteria that should be considered.

“Birds can be wonderful pets, but they are high maintenance,” notes Dr. Sharman Hoppes, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian), clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

“Birds do have certain advantages over other pets in that they do not have to be walked and they are housed in a cage,” says Hoppes. “Birds are smart, they talk, and like to play and snuggle. They love to be around people and are usually very interactive.”

However, birds do have messy eating habits and can be noisy. Small and large birds can be loud, notes Hoppes. Birds require lots of attention and may scream or yell when they don’t get it.

“They are very social and do need daily interaction and time outside of their cage,” explains Hoppes. “They have destructive beaks and can eat walls, tables, and wood work if allowed out unsupervised.”

Hoppes encourages prospective pet bird caretakers to research and find out about the personality of a bird before purchase. Don’t base your decision on the cool factor, color, or size. She also suggests that you purchase pet birds from quality breeders. Birds from pet stores and bird marts have a higher chance of disease since so many birds are housed together. Also, some rescue organizations may have birds for adoption. The type of bird best for you is determined by your lifestyle.

“If you are busy or live in an apartment, a smaller less demanding bird like a budgie or cockatiel is best,” says Hoppes. “If you have more time and a house where neighbors will not be bothered by loud noise, then a bigger bird may work for you.”

“Larger birds typically cost more and so do their cages and toys,” notes Hoppes. Cages need to be big enough for the bird to exercise, climb around, or fly in. Play gyms, outside of the cage, provide a place to climb and exercise. A travel cage is beneficial when confined in a car.

“Correct diet and environment are important for maintaining a bird’s good health,” states Hoppes.

Birds should be fed a commercial pelleted diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, Seeds and nuts should be offered as treats only. Birds do not need large amounts of food, but enough to last throughout the day. She notes that proper diet and exercise help deter obesity, atherosclerosis and heart disease in birds.

Fresh water is needed daily for drinking. Hoppes notes that since parrots come from warm humid environments they need a bath several times a week; this may include showering, misting with a spray bottle, or offering a bowl of water for bathing.

“Bacterial infections from dirty cages and dirty water are common, as are respiratory infections due to the bird’s sensitive airways,” explains Hoppes. “They can get sick from poor ventilation, mold in the air, and fumes like Teflon. There are also several bird viruses: polyoma, psittacine beak and feather, and avian herpes virus that are potential pathogens in the pet parrot.” “One of the more important diseases pet bird owners should be aware of is Chlamydophila psittaci, a disease that can be transferred from birds to humans. It is most commonly transmitted to people with compromised immune systems: organ transplant recipients, people on steroids, or the very young and old. This disease can cause runny nose, eyes, and upper respiratory signs in birds and progress to pneumonia or liver disease if untreated, and causes flu-like symptoms in people.” Hoppes notes that a new bird should be tested for this disease before coming into your home.

“Birds can be one of the most rewarding pets, but you need to be an educated owner,” says Hoppes. “Birds can develop health and behavioral issues when not cared for appropriately. Anyone thinking about becoming a bird owner should learn about the different species and determine which bird would fit best into their life. Not all veterinarians see birds, so you should locate a veterinarian close to you for a well bird check up when you obtain your bird and to have someone available in case of an emergency.”

According to Hoppes, big birds have longer life spans and smaller birds have shorter life spans. Small birds such as budgies and love birds can live 7-12 year, cockatiels and conures 12-20 years, larger parrots 40-50 years, and the largest parrots (the macaws) can live 60 to 80 years. With good nutrition and a welcoming environment, your pet bird can live a full life and bring you pleasure and companionship.

ABOUT PET TALK: Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

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