Liz Wilson explains how you can keep Parrots and other pets together.
Many of us who love Parrots are also fans of other companion animals. For instance, besides my Blue and Yellow Macaw Sam, I have two cats (Millie and Chelsea) and a leopard tortoise named Emmett.
But we multi-species animal lovers need to be aware of various issues when adding other animals to a Parrot household, as well as adding Parrots to other-animal households.
The first issue to consider is the category of these other animals. Are they predators or prey? One quick rule of thumb to differentiate these two categories: predators have their eyes on the front of their faces (i.e., humans, hawks, ferrets, etc.) so they have binocular vision and depth perception so they can hunt their dinners.
Prey animals have their eyes on the side of their heads (i.e. cows, deer, Guinea pigs, rabbits, etc.) so they can keep looking over their shoulders to see if anyone is sneaking up behind them, to avoid becoming dinner!
All species of Parrot are prey animals. My cats are predators. My tortoise is an herbivore, so it is prey.
This is important to understand from the psychological perspective. While many of my clients stubbornly insist that their Parrots are not afraid of their huge dogs, this is simply not true. After all, how could an intelligent animal like a one pound Parrot NOT be afraid of a ten stone Rottweiler?
But many owners are fooled because Parrots have adopted the sports rule that attack is the best form of defence. This means they do not wait for the attack of a large predator. Instead, they take the offensive and attack first – which does not mean they are not afraid. Quite the contrary!
A situation with a cat of mine exemplifies this. My silly old cat Agatha (who was nicknamed the UNcat) was afraid of any bird that acted aggressive towards her, even if that bird was a tiny Parrotlet. However, she was instantly attracted to any bird that acted afraid of her, no matter what size it was. So acting afraid can actually increase the chances of predation.
If you already have a dog and want to introduce a Parrot, you need to make sure the dog does not misunderstand and think the bird is a new toy or a lovely snack. While training the dog, you may want to keep it on a leash whenever it is in the room with the bird, and never let the bird out of its cage while the dog is there. Do not make the potentially fatal mistake of assuming your presence will prevent a tragedy.
With a dog that has never lived around birds, I would strongly suggest you work with an experienced dog trainer or dog behaviour consultant for help in controlling the dog in the future. This will be money very well spent. Dogs are the number one pet bird killer, but this is not a criticism of the canine.
Pet dogs that kill companion birds are only doing what nature designed them to do. Having such a terrible thing happen is NOT the fault of the dog; it is the fault of the humans who allowed these animals to come into contact.
Incidentally, dogs like terriers and dachshunds have extremely high prey drives, so tremendous care must be taken with these breeds around pet birds … but no dog can be considered completely safe, no matter how sweet its temperament.
With cats, things will vary depending on the size of the bird. Small birds are definitely in danger from cats, and many trainers find adversiries (such as a water pistol) to be quite effective for teaching cats to stay away.
Medium-sized and large Parrots rarely are in danger from attacks from cats, as cats tend to avoid them. The predator-prey relationship is generally based on a size differential. My Macaw Sam (who has an extremely dark sense of humour) has thoroughly enjoyed training multiple kittens and cats over our thirty-five years together, and a bitten tail is generally all it takes for cats to learn to stay well away.
However, never allow a cat to share a room with any sized Parrot without very close supervision. Cats can carry deadly bacteria on their claws and a scratch can be fatal to a bird over a matter of hours.
Therefore, a cat-scratched bird is a true emergency even if it seems fine, as it needs antibiotics immediately.
Oh, and please do not allow your cat to sleep on top of your bird’s cage! (I’m amazed at how many people do!) It cannot be relaxing for any size of bird to have a cat (no matter how benign) on top of its house.
The only companion animal I know that does not respond to the predator-prey size differential is the ferret, as Nature designed them to attack and kill prey animals (such as rabbits) that are much larger than they are. Consequently, ALWAYS keep any species of birds well away from ferrets. Also, please remember that ferrets are not only fierce predators, but they can get into almost anything, including wriggling under closed doors.
On the other hand, herbivores like rabbits and tortoises are no physical danger to a caged bird. However, the birds may not perceive them as harmless, so introduce these pets slowly to minimize this fear.
I have been interested over the years as to various Parrots’ perception of my tortoise. At about 9 kg, he is rather hefty and he lumbers about the house quite freely. However, only skittish birds act afraid of him. On the other hand a couple have even shown an interest in riding him. (My Macaw appears to perceive him to be a very large walnut.)
For already established birds, adding another animal needs to be handled carefully. My experience with kittens is that most Parrots couldn’t care less, but small birds might be concerned about an adult cat.
A wildly active puppy frightens most Parrots of any size, especially if the puppy is a large one. With good reason! Exuberant puppies can be dangerous to any size of Parrot, so care must be taken to keep them apart until the puppy has matured a little and has responded well to training.
In the decades that I have lived and worked with Parrots, the only animal I have found that invariably causes a strong fear response in Parrots is the snake, which is quite logical. Snakes are a substantial predator of Parrots in the wild. From my experience, Parrots are much happier if they do not share a room with a snake, no matter what the size.
Therefore, with forethought, patience and care, and assistance from experienced professionals if necessary, those of us who love a variety of species can have a happy and safe household!
Get more advice on keeping your Parrot safe here.