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For the Birds! Avian Housing Basics for Pet Care Pros

For the Birds! Avian Housing Basics is just one of the articles from Pet Care Pro Quarterly, IBPSA’s digital magazine for pet care services professionals. Read the current issue online here. AND smart pet care will be tackled in sessions at the upcoming IBPSA conference. Learn more and register at

According to the 2017-2018 American Pet Products Association’s National Pet Owners Survey, you can find at least one pet bird in 7.9 million households in the United States. Overall, there are 20.3 million pet birds. Because birds are not routinely spayed or neutered like dogs or cats, most possess their full set of reproductive organs, unless they have been altered to treat an illness. Uniquely, proper lighting is important for a bird’s health and natural behaviors. Many birds exposed to artificial light for too long each day can be stimulated to begin breeding behaviors, such as egg laying. In short, caring for pet birds is an entirely different (feathered) animal from caring for the furry and the four-legged. Safe and proper bird care requires knowledge from basic anatomy to basic emergency procedures, nutrition, handling techniques, and environment. The following, excerpted from IBPSA’s “Avian Basic Certification” course materials, highlights some of the bird housing basics for pet care providers.

Appropriate housing is important for birds to reduce stress and prevent injury. Cage size must be, at a minimum, large enough for a bird to stand comfortably and fully extend its wings. If housed for longer periods, cage size should be increased dramatically to allow for exercise and stimulation. There must be room for at least one appropriately-sized perch in a location that is comfortable for the bird to use. A good perch size is one that allows the bird to stand with the feet closed around 2/3 the circumference of the perch.

Inappropriately sized perches can cause foot injuries. Large cages with multiple perches and bird-safe toys are encouraged. Food and water dishes should be located in easy-to-reach locations and not located under perches where they are likely to become contaminated with droppings. Enclosures for multiple birds must be larger to avoid stress and aggression among birds. Visual barriers are encouraged to allow a bird to remove itself from view should it become stressed.

A substrate can be used at the bottom of the cage to collect droppings and facilitate cleaning. A simple, nontoxic substrate such as paper towel, newspaper, or towels is appropriate. Avoid substrates with irritating dust or odor such as wood shavings, or substrates that readily grow mold and mildew such as corn cob. Many cages are fitted with a grate to prevent the bird from accessing the feces on the bottom of the cage.

If the bird is to be allowed out of the cage to exercise, it should be allowed to do so only in a safe area, with no ceiling fans, open windows, or other potential dangers. Birds should not be allowed to perch on cages housing other birds, not only for the obvious risk of disease transmission, but also the risk of being bitten through the bars by the bird inside.

If using wire cages, the bar size and spacing must be appropriate for the size of the bird housed. For small birds, bars spaced too far apart may allow the entrapment of wings or legs resulting in injury, or could even be wide enough to allow escape. For large birds, narrow bars may be weak enough that birds can actually bite through them, resulting in escape or injury. Bars must be constructed from a safe, nontoxic material such as stainless steel. Lead bars and galvanized metal (zinc coated) are inappropriate and may result in heavy metal toxicity if chewed and ingested. Any metal clips used to hang toys should also be stainless steel.

Ideally, birds should be kept separate from dogs, cats, and any other animals they may view as predators.

IBPSA’s “Avian Basic Certification”, with course materials written by Dr. Nick Sitinas, VMD, DABVP- Avian, Raina Schunk, DVM, and Laurie Huston, DVM, is available in the Online Education Center through the IBPSA Member dashboard.  Species-specific certifications are available at both Provider and Specialist levels for Canine, Feline, Avian, Rabbit, Ferret, and Guinea Pig. For more information, visit