The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
by Carol Highfill
At one time or another all of us have pondered the question of what is best to use to line the bottom of our bird's cage. Although there are a variety of products which can be used, some of them are very dangerous for your birds. Learn all you can before making your choice. The life you save may be your bird's!When deciding upon a cage lining material the first concern must be safety. The second is that it should enable you to see and monitor your bird's droppings.
Birds are intelligent and ingenious animals and many can find a way, no matter how hard we try to prevent it, to get at the bedding material in their cages. Unfortunately there are a number of products on the market today which, if ingested, are harmful to birds and can even cause death.
Most birds are quite messy. The combination of dropped food, spilled water and bird poop is a rich environment for bacteria to flourish and is also an open invitation to flies, ants, mice and other small animals. Some bedding products promote growth of molds, fungi and bacteria and should never be used for bedding.
Use a bedding product which can be easily examined. A change in your bird's droppings can be an indicator of illness so they should be examined each day. You want a product which will make it easy to see the constistency, color, volume, shape and number of the droppings. An easy to examine bedding will also enable you to see what food your bird is eating and what is winding up on the bottom of the cage. You will need to change bedding materials daily so that fresh droppings aren't confused with older ones.
Corn Cobs - Once ingested, corn cobs can remain in the body for years before causing illness or death. Ingested corn cobs absorb moisture and swell, which can cause impaction, bleeding and death. Baby birds can also develop bacteria and yeast infections from the ingested material. When wet or in humid climates, cobs can grow Aspergillus molds which cause a respiratory disease in birds. This disease is difficult to treat and can be fatal. The cobs will also absorb moisture from your bird's droppings, promoting growth of organisms and hiding loose poops. It's a poor material for examining droppings.
Walnut Shells - Walnut shells, when eaten, can inflame and irritate organs, causing internal damage, bleeding and death. Like all bedding products, they need changing frequently to prevent growth of organisms. Their examinability is also poor.
Cedar Shavings - Cedar shavings contain ingredients which can be toxic to birds. Even their aroma is caustic. They can cause dermatitis, allergic symptoms and irritation of the digestive tract. They also make it difficult to examine your bird's droppings.
Pine Shavings - Pine shavings don't have the toxicity of cedar and are commonly used as nesting materials for birds. While it appears safe for the parents, ingestion can still cause infections and impaction in the chicks. Like other materials, pine shavings should be changed (or the top layers removed) frequently to prevent the growth of organisms. Since poops can fall between the pieces and absorb liquid, it is difficult to examine and monitor your bird's poops.
Kitty Litter - There are two kinds of kitty litter, regular and clumping. Both are dangerous. Clumping litter contains ingredients which can absorb moisture and swell to over 10 times their size, possibly causing crop impaction, gastrointestinal tract obstruction and death. Even if not eaten, there is a possibility of inhalation of the powdered portion of kitty litter. These products absorb liquid and make poop examination difficult. Paper Products - Paper products are the safest materials to use for bedding. Unprinted newspaper, printed newspaper, paper towels, any plain paper and even brown paper bags can be used. Paper towels are expensive and very absorbant and are a better choice for chicks. If using printed newspaper, don't use the glossy pages or the pages with colored ink as these inks may contain lead and other harmful chemicals. Paper and paper products are very easy to change and allow you to visibly monitor droppings. They are also relatively inexpensive.
So for your bird's sake, use paper materials to line your bird's cages. NEVER use corn cobs, walnut shells, cedar shavings or kitty litter. Limit pine shavings to nesting material. If a new product comes along, do some research and see how it passes the above criteria before you consider using it.
Paper is not only safer, it is also cheaper. For those of you who don't like the look of newspaper, you can get unprinted newspaper or plain paper in bulk from many sources.None of us likes the task of changing cage bottoms. And the larger the cage, the more annoying the task. However, cage linings should be changed daily, both for health reasons and to enable you to examine the freshly made poops. You can make this task a bit easier by putting multiple layers of paper in the cage bottom and then removing one or two layers each day. Once all the layers are used up, wash the cage bottom thouroughly before putting in the new paper.
The Avicultural Journal -Volume 15, #5 recently published an article "ORGANIC BEDDING" warning about the dangers of many organic bedding materials. Quoted below are three incidents from the article.
"I had a breeder find her male macaw dead one morning. She had the bird for about a year....... When we opened the bird's body we discovered that there were signs of bleeding into the bowel. The gizzard and proventriculus were both distended with bloody food and small corn cob bedding. There was so much cob in there that there was very little room for food. Like grit, the corn cob bedding was inert and stayed in the gizzard. Unlike grit, the stuff swelled. And this bird had not had access to corn cob bedding for over a year."
"Another notable necropsy was on an Amazon. He too died suddenly. His proventriculus was markedly thickened and his bowel, just past the gizzard, showed gross evidence of bleeding. His gizzard was FULL of walnut shell bedding. He had only had access to the bedding for about two hours a month before death."
"An eight week old Senegal baby started to regurgitate and have variable crop emptying time. The next day the same baby started passing bloody droppings. We started antibiotics and he improved for 24 hours. Then he started to pass walnut shell bedding in his droppings - 3 to 5 pieces per dropping. He had been parent raised for his first sixteen days. His parents were in a cage over a tray of walnut shell bedding that was thought to be out of reach due to a cage bottom grill. That is as close as the young one got to the bedding. After three days of treatment he passed a dropping containing about fifteen pieces of the bedding, and Died."
Winged Wisdom Note: Carol Highfill is both a pet owner and co-creator of Birds n Ways.