Pet Interaction and Saliva?

Is it appropriate for parrots and other animals (e.g., cats) to interact?  In addition, is there a danger to parrots from animal saliva in the case of a bite? And, is human saliva a danger to parrots?

I was wondering if anyone else was looking at ‘Tweety and Sylvester’ as a potential disaster!!  There are always the stories of the cat that ‘grooms’ the bird, the dog that lets the bird ride on its head, the bird that seeks out the company of the other pets in the household, and I can’t say that these anecdotes aren’t charming; we all love the idea that the ‘lion lays down with the lamb’.  But if we look at pet interaction in terms of the potential problems, it can become much less cute.

As with anything owners should go into a pet interaction armed with information.  It is a fact that instinct is instinct.  A cat may be absolutely benign while ‘playing’ with the bird, but playfulness in cats and kittens often involves extended claws, especially as the game escalates and the ‘toy’ keeps moving.

It is a fact that even a tiny knick in the skin of a bird by a cat’s claw or tooth can inject enough bacteria (that is normal to the cat) into the bird that it can die within 24 hours.  A retriever may ‘soft mouth’ a bird, picking it up and setting it down, but the from the bird’s perspective, it has been snatched into the jaws of a carnivore, only to be dropped wet, cold and possibly bruised!

I would think that a cat ‘harmlessly’ staring into a bird’s cage, ‘but never touching it’ would be like someone threateningly standing outside your front window, but ‘never coming in’.  Your attention wouldn’t be far from the potential threat and your body would continually be flooded with adrenalin in a ‘flight’ response.

So why do birds not act more ‘afraid’ of the family dog or cat?  One could speculate that in the ‘flock’ that is family, the human flock members don’t act as though the animal is a threat and the bird, as a flock member, takes signals from the rest of the flock.  In nature, a bird has the ability to fly away from a threat in a moment (think of the magpies on the road when the car is coming), but at home, many of our pet birds are wing clipped, removing that instinctual escape route and potentially creating a dangerous situation.  And as we all know too well, birds love action. Name me an Amazon that wouldn’t love the ensuing drama of nipping a dog or cat on the nose or tail – I can almost hear the peals of laughter coming from that beak!!

The bottom line has to be this.  If you have a multiple pet household, don’t become complacent.  All pet interactions (and child pet interactions) should be supervised.  Cats and dogs should be discouraged from behaviour that could escalate into something dangerous.  If there is any doubt about what occurred during the interaction, have your bird examined by an avian veterinarian.  And accept that some pets just should NOT be interacting.  The risk is just too high.

And, is human saliva a danger to parrots?

Human saliva can carry bacteria that could potentially be harmful to birds.  We do not recommend ‘sharing’ chewed food or letting a bird preen a person’s lips.

Respectfully submitted

Dr. Kerry Korber
Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic