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Are Birds Dangerous for Babies? A Safety Guide for Families

Birds can be an exotic and unique choice of pet for your children, but are birds dangerous for babies? While these feathery creatures are beautiful and tempting to have in your home, is it wise to introduce a bird into a home that houses an infant?

When choosing a bird for your family, you will find that, first, you will need to choose a species that is considered “kid-friendly.” However, there is much more to consider than just the species of bird that you will buy.

Are you prepared to look for a veterinarian that will care for birds? Are you prepared to possibly pay more for your bird’s care than you expect? There are illnesses that live within birds that can be passed along to your children, and they can be particularly dangerous for an infant.

Before making the decision to purchase a pet bird for your household, you must consider all of the facts.

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Bird Bites and Scratches

While birds do not have teeth like other animals, they do have very hard beaks. Some of them have large beaks, as well. Additionally, birds have claws on their hands and feet that can make for nasty scratches.

Since most birds require time out of their cages in order to thrive, your infant can possibly become the helpless victim of a curious bird, resulting in bites and scratches that need to be cared for right away.

In addition to the danger bird bites and scratches propose to infants, toddlers and younger children can also agitate birds by playing with their cages or holding them the wrong way.

How to Treat Bird Bites and Scratches

If your infant or child is the recipient of a bird bite or scratch, follow these steps:

  • Wash the wound immediately with antibacterial soap and water.
  • Hold the wound under running water for several minutes, if possible.
  • Clean the area with a disinfectant solution, like alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.
  • Dry the wound and dress it with antibiotic cream and a sterile gauze or bandage.

There are some instances in which you will need to call a doctor in the case of your child being bitten or scratched by a bird. Those instances are:

  • If the bite or scratch completely broke the skin
  • If the wound is on the child’s face, neck, hand, foot, or near a joint
  • If the wound won’t stop bleeding after 10 minutes of direct pressure being applied to it
  • If your child’s tetanus immunizations are out of date
  • If the wound develops pus or becomes feverish and red
  • If the wound becomes very painful
  • If your child has a weakened immune system or a medical condition that would cause an infection to be likely

How to Prevent Bird Bites and Scratches

The best way to treat a bird bite or scratch is to prevent it from ever happening, right? There are some ways that you can lessen the chances of your infant or child being bitten or scratched by their pet bird.

For older children, it is important to teach them the following ways to prevent bird bites and scratches:

  • Use soft voices around the bird. Loud voices can startle it.
  • Do not make sharp, sudden movements around the bird. Again, this can startle it.
  • Do not poke at the birdcage or shake the cage while the bird is inside. This can cause the bird to become angry.
  • Don’t make lots of loud noise around the birdcage. It causes the bird to become very anxious.

For infants, protecting them from bird bites and scratches require physically removing them from a room that has a bird that is outside of its cage.

If your bird is enjoying free-flying time in an open room, make sure your baby is not in the room that the bird is flying in. Put your infant in a separate room and close the door. A curious bird landing on a curious infant is a recipe for innocent disaster.

Zoonotic Diseases Carried by Birds

Zoonotic diseases are diseases that are carried by animals that can be transmitted from animals to humans. All animals carry them, but they vary by animal species.

Zoonotic diseases carried by birds include:

  • Cryptococcosis
  • Histoplasmosis
  • Psittacosis
  • Salmonellosis
  • Cryptosporidiosis
  • Campylobacteriosis

Cryptococcosis

This infection, caused by the fungus Cryptococcis neoformans, is found all throughout the environment, and it is found specifically in bird droppings. It spreads through the air when humans breathe in the fungus. It is more likely to cause complications in persons with weak immune systems, like infants.

Symptoms can resemble pneumonia and include fever, sharp chest pain, cough, bloody sputum, headache, changes in visions, nausea, vomiting, lethargy, and confusion. Some people may develop rashes or other skin issues. In more extreme cases, this fungus can cause meningitis, seizures, and coma.

Cryptococcal meningitis manifests as headache, fever, and neck pain.

All infections caused by this fungus, even milder ones, are treated with antifungal medications for 6 months or longer. The severity of the infection decides which medicine is used and the length of the treatment.

Histoplasmosis

This zoonotic disease is caused by the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum. Similar to cryptococcosis, this infection is also spread by microscopic fungus in the air. Bird droppings carry this fungus. Infants and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk for this infection.

There are two forms of histoplasmosis: acute and chronic. As you breathe in more of the fungal spores, your symptoms get worse. Histoplasmosis is, in short, a lung infection that manifests with pneumonia-like symptoms.

Specific symptoms include fever, dry cough, chest pain, joint pain, and red bumps on lower legs. In more extreme cases, symptoms can include excessive sweating, shortness of breath, and coughing up blood.

If there is continued exposure, infected people can experience chest pain caused by swelling around the heart, very high fever, and stiff neck and headaches from swelling around the brain and spinal cord.

Mild cases are treated with over-the-counter medicines, and more serious cases are treated with oral antifungals or IV antifungals, depending on severity.

Psittacosis

Caused by the bacterium Chlamydiophila psittaci, this infection is spread through both bird droppings and respiratory secretions. It can be transmitted to human by bird bites and contact with bird beaks and by humans breathing in dust infected with the bacterial particles.

Symptoms in humans infected by psittacosis resemble flu symptoms. They can exhibit any of the following symptoms: fever, chills, cough, fatigue, muscle and chest pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, sweating, and intolerance to light.

This sickness typically targets the lungs but can move to other areas, causing inflammation of the liver, the lining of the heart cavity, the heart itself, and the brain.

Those diagnosed with this particular zoonotic disease can be treated with antibiotics, but it is important to know that this particular bacterium is resistant to penicillin. It is vital to take medicine as prescribed because this sickness can cause death in serious cases.

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Salmonellosis, Cryptosporidiosis, and Campylobacteriosis

These three zoonotic illnesses carried by birds affect the intestinal tract. Because they all can cause diarrhea, they are very dangerous to infants. Diarrhea can dehydrate an infant within hours.

Things to Know About Salmonellosis:

  • It is a common bacterial disease that affects the intestinal tract in humans.
  • It is shed through feces and can contaminate food and water.
  • Diarrhea caused by this sickness can be very severe and require fast medical attention, especially in infants.
  • Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, chills, headache, and bloody stool.
  • Some salmonellosis bacteria can cause typhoid fever, which requires immediate medical attention.
  • Dehydration can happen quickly when infected with salmonellosis, so take special care to remain hydrated.
  • Symptoms in those infected can last up to 7 days, normally.
  • Diarrhea can last up to 10 days, and it could take months for the infected person’s bowels to return to normal function.
  • This sickness is treated with antidiarrheals and antibiotics.

Things to Know About Cryptosporidiosis:

  • It is a disease that causes watery diarrhea and other intestinal issues.
  • The bacteria that cause this illness can be found anywhere that has been contaminated with feces from the infected animal.
  • Diaper-aged children and those that care for them are most at risk for this illness.
  • Those with weak immune systems, young children, and pregnant women who become infected with this sickness are more likely to dehydrate extremely fast or develop more severe symptoms.
  • Symptoms include watery diarrhea, stomach cramps and pain, dehydration, nausea, vomiting, fever, and weight loss.
  • Symptoms can last up to two weeks in people with healthy immune systems.
  • Watery diarrhea is the most common and the most persistent symptoms of this illness.
  • Those with healthy immune systems do not require special treatment for cryptosporidiosis.
  • If needed, you can treat diarrhea with antidiarrheals.
  • In special cases, the drug nitazoxanide can be used to treat diarrhea caused by these bacteria.

Things to Know About Campylobacteriosis:

  • This illness is also caused by a bacteria that infects the intestinal tract.
  • There are an estimated 1.3 million cases of this sickness every year in the United States.
  • The bacteria are spread through infected feces that contaminates whatever it comes in contact with.
  • It is one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in the United States.
  • Symptoms include diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Special care has to be taken to prevent dehydration, especially in infants.
  • People with normal immune systems usually recover from this illness over time without treatment.
  • Only those with weakened immune systems will be given antibiotics for campylobacteriosis.
  • The illness will fade on its own after about a week, and you can treat symptoms with over the counter medications.
  • It is reported that 1 in every 1000 cases of this illness results in Guillain-Barre syndrome or GBS. This syndrome can cause paralysis and muscle weakness and permanent nerve damage.

How to Prevent the Spread of Zoonotic Diseases (and Other Bird Germs)

The list of germs and sicknesses that a bird can pass to its owners is rather lengthy and scary, but there are safety precautions that can be taken to ensure that both your family and your bird continue to be healthy and happy.

Make Sure to Properly Care for Your Bird’s Health

A little known inconvenient fact is that lots of veterinarians only provide care for cats and dogs. Most times you will have to search for a veterinarian that will provide proper care for your bird. Sometimes, veterinarians that cater to bird will cost more.

Ways to Cater to Your Bird’s Health:

  • Find an avian veterinarian and take your bird to the vet as soon as you purchase or adopt your bird. This way, the vet can assess your bird while it is healthy. Knowing the healthy version of your bird will allow your vet to better notice symptoms of illness that your bird exhibits.
  • Because birds are prey animals, they tend to hide any symptoms of illness they have. This is an instinct they have that helps them appear strong in the wild. It is important to watch your bird closely, so you can notice symptoms of illness, even if your bird is hiding them.
  • Anytime your bird has diarrhea; you should assume it is sick. Bring it to the vet.
  • Birds require unique care that is different from the average pets like cats and dogs. It is important that a bird owner research and learn about his bird in order to notice differences in demeanor and even vocal changes that can indicate sickness or unhappiness.
  • It is extremely important to bring your bird to an avian vet at least once a year in order to establish good health and to test for illnesses or other problems with your bird’s health that cannot be seen.

Things Every Bird Owner Should Know: (according to the Association of Avian Veterinarians)

  • Basic daily bird requirements
  • Proper nutrition required for a healthy bird
  • Housing and environmental needs for their bird
  • The importance of environmental enrichment such as toys and foraging opportunities
  • Their avian veterinarian’s phone number and when to schedule a checkup
  • Techniques for accident prevention
  • How to prevent the spread of disease from one bird to another
  • How to provide emergency care to their bird

Teach Proper Hygiene Techniques to Your Children

When it comes to raising a bird as your pet, the entire household, even children, need to be taught to practice proper hygiene.

Some tips for preventing the spread of illness between birds and their owners are:

  1. Make sure to wash you and your child’s hands thoroughly after touching the bird or bird supplies. This needs to be done every single time. Never forget to wash your hands after handling your bird. Preach the importance of it to your children. Remember: what isn’t washed off of your hands is passed on to the baby’s skin when you touch or hold it.
  2. Don’t let your bird give your children or babies “kisses.”
  3. Keep your bird’s cage clean. It should be cleaned out regularly, and make sure to wash hands thoroughly and with antibacterial soap after doing so. Bird droppings carry lots of illnesses.
  4. Never wash anything that is for your bird in the kitchen sink. It can introduce dangerous germs to the area.
  5. Do not allow your bird to free-fly in the kitchen or any other area where food is prepared. Bird’s can drop feces at any time, and bird droppings are full of harmful germs.
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The Bottom Line of Bird Safety

The desire to have a bird companion can sometimes outweigh the energy you are willing to put into learning how to care for the bird properly. This lack of knowledge and research is usually what causes mistakes when it comes to housing birds and children, especially infants.

First, as a parent, you must be willing to put forth the effort into caring for both the bird and your children. This requires double the time and energy that you needed before to just care for your children.

As far as getting a bird that is the sole responsibility of one of your children, the child should be at least 10 to 12 years old and able to understand, learn, and remember all that it takes to care for his bird completely. That said, having a child be the sole caregiver to a bird in the house with an infant is not recommended.

It is okay to admit that a pet is not suitable for your household. It is responsible, albeit emotionally rough, to make the decision that your pet is too risky to have in your house with an infant. Sometimes, your family dynamic changes, and that is okay. There are ways to rehome your bird properly.

What to Do if You Can No Longer Keep Your Pet Bird

It’s hard enough to decide that you can no longer house the family pet, but it gets even harder when the realization of having to find another home for your beloved pet hits. However, there are some helpful tips you can follow to make rehoming your bird easier.

You can Contact Local Bird Rescue Facilities.

Bird Rescues can house your bird safely while they search for a home for it. These places make sure that birds go to good homes.

You can Contact a Local Bird Club or Aviculture Society.

In your town or, perhaps, a larger town next to you, you may find bird clubs that have members that are more than willing to take in your bird as their own. A plus side to this is that a bird club member is sure to know how to give proper love and care to your bird!

You can List Your Bird for Adoption in an Online Ad or a Community Newspaper.

Some people search for online forums and newspaper classifieds for new pets. Listing your bird for adoption can attract people that are interested in owning their own pet bird. One bit of advice is to ask for a small adoption fee. Asking for the fee will help make sure that your bird’s new family is serious about owning a bird and willing to do what it takes to keep it healthy and happy.

You can Ask Your Avian Vet for Advice or Suggestions.

Your Avian Vet may have numerous connections in the bird world and can also know of other clients that are looking for another pet bird.

You can Ask Friends and Family.

There may be friends and family that are willing and able to house your pet bird, and, this way, you and your family would still be able to see your pet at times. In some instances, you can work out a deal with a friend or family member that they will keep your bird until it is safe to house him within your home again.

Which Birds Are Safest Around Children, Anyway?

If you’re going to risk it all and keep a pet bird in your home with your infant and young children, you have to find at least a bird that is kid-friendly. With all the different kinds of birds that you can choose from, how do you know which ones are best for households with children?

Six Birds That are Kid-Friendly and Parent-Approved

#1 – Finches

Finches are a good choice because they rarely bite and don’t need to leave their cages often. They love putting on shows in their cages for their owners, and they are known for being friendly.

#2 – Canaries

The canaries are another bird that doesn’t have to leave its cage often, and they are also known for their beautiful singing. They are close cousins to finches, and they share the habit of putting on shows in their cages.

#3 – Parakeets

Parakeets can learn to mimic up to 100 sounds and are great pets for children with inquisitive minds. They are very social and love interacting with their owners, and they are not prone to aggression.

#4 – Cockatiels

Cockatiels are great birds for older children to be sole caregivers for. They are easily trained and love to learn tricks to show off to their owners.

#5 – Lovebirds

Lovebirds are affectionate birds that are full of personality. They are another kind of bird that can be fully taken care of by an older child with the time to devote to training and caring for it.

#6 – Lorikeets

Lorikeets form very strong bonds with their owners. These birds require lots of mental stimulation with toys and things in their cages because they are highly intelligent.

Do I Even Have Time for a Bird and a Baby?

Good question.

Babies kind of control their parents’ lives for a while. Most new parents can be found wearing day-old shirts with spit up on them with undereye circles half asleep on the couch with their baby in their arms.

So, is it wise to introduce the time consumption of having a newborn with the time consumption of owning a bird?

In fact, there are multiple reasons that birds will just plain not agree with having a baby in the home. Just ask The Spruce Pets.

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Birds are Noisy.

What is the one thing that all parents look forward to with a newborn? Sleep! Whether you are trying to get sleep yourself or your baby has finally fallen asleep after fighting you for 45 minutes, you will not appreciate a bird waking you or your newborn up with loud, obnoxious squawks.

Birds are Messy.

Birds cages are known to be very messy, and some birds even throw the mess out of their cages, creating even more of a mess. Cleaning the mess and not properly washing your hands and arms before holding your baby is dangerous. Not to mention, once a baby is mobile, it can easily crawl into and play with the mess that the bird throws out of its cage.

Birds Require Consistent Socialization.

Birds are exotic pets that need to be constantly socialized in order to stay tame. There is no “I can solely tend to the baby for a few months, and the bird will be fine.” Your bird needs human interaction and attention as a reminder of where he is and how he should act.

Birds Require Specialized Diets.

You cannot throw birdseed into your bird’s cage while fixing a bottle and consider the bird fed. You have to give it the seed or pellet that its specific breed eats and supplement that with fruits and vegetables. Birds need proper nutrition to stay healthy.

Birds can be Destructive.

Bird beaks grow continuously, and birds have to wear them down to prevent them from growing too big. This means they will “wear it down” on whatever they can find – tables, chairs, televisions, car seats. They do not know the difference. They are just doing what is natural for them – maintaining their beaks.

In Conclusion…

Birds are gorgeous, feathery creatures that are fascinating to watch, but they are very high-maintenance pets. When it comes to housing a feathery friend in the same home as a newborn infant, things can get risky.

There is too much potential for illness and injury to truly suggest keeping a pet bird in the house with an infant.

However, if you have the time and energy it takes to keep your pet bird healthy and happy and make your home safe for your baby simultaneously, please bottle it up.

The rest of us parents need it!

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