Maybe you have cats or dogs or other animals, and are thinking about getting a parrot. Maybe you have a parrot, but miss having a cat and wonder if your pets could get along. Maybe you have multiple pets already, and are wondering how they interact. In any case, it all boils down to one question; is it safe to have my parrot with other pets?
Usually the answer is No. However, there are people who would insist there is no one clear answer to this question. You have to consider that even if you put in the maximum effort to keep the environment safe for all of your pets, accidents can still happen. Cats, dogs, and other predatory animals pose a threat to your parrot, and your parrot risks hurting them or your other smaller pets. There is a possibility of inter species diseases and infection, which can be very damaging to your animals. Animals can even hurt each other accidentally. You know how horses are much bigger than people, and sometimes hurt their trainers when they’re startled? It’s a similar concept. Even if you have the sweetest, most amicable cat in the whole world, it could still hurt your parrot by accident because it’s so much bigger and stronger. So before trying to introduce another animal to your parrot, ask yourself if it is worth the risk?
But don’t despair! Your furry and feathery friends can all live with you if you want! There’s always a risk, but that doesn’t mean that cats, dogs, and birds can’t live under the same roof together in harmony. Think about pets living together as roommates. Some roommates become best friends, while others are people you got along with for the few years you lived together. Sometimes you worked well with your roommate as long as you stayed out of each other’s way, and sometimes you counted down the days until you could get out of your lease and never see this person ever again. Animals work the same way. Each pet has a unique personality, and some types and personalities of pets get along better than others.
The best you can do is create a safe and secure space for all of your pets, to avoid them being horrible roommates. If your parrot and your other pets are trained, if you supervise their interactions, and commit to creating a happy home for all of your pets, all of your non-human friends will be content to cohabitate.
Introductions Are Essential
The key to your pets’ interaction is their introduction to each other. If you simply hide your parrot in a dog-and-cat-forbidden space, your animals will get more and more curious about each other. Parrots make noise, dogs bark. Eventually, there might be a day that you leave the door open, and then…well, it doesn’t look good for anyone. Separation is safe — Do keep your parrot in a separate space after everyone’s been introduced, but isolating them initially will increase the risk of bad interactions.
Though the rules are different depending on the other animal and your parrot’s training, generally you want your pets to be able to see and smell the parrot. The safest way to do this is to introduce them in separate rooms first, allowing both to hear and smell the other. After you feel the animals have some acclimation to each other, you can switch their rooms, i.e. put the cat in the room the parrot is in and vice versa. This allows the animals to get familiar with their environments and smells. For those of you who own multiple pets, this process probably looks familiar! You always want to introduce unfamiliar animals with each other slowly to make sure they get along. Parrots are no different!
Next, you’re going to introduce them to each other directly. You do this only with your bird in its cage. Allow your animals to look around the cage, smell it, and investigate the cage’s surrounding. Make sure they know what is appropriate and what isn’t. A sharp “No” can discourage your cat from reaching into the cage, or your dog from barking and startling your bird. Spend some time next to the cage where your dog or cat can see you. This can emphasize for your other pets that your parrot is not a threat to them. But be sure to watch your mammalian friends closely — under no circumstances should you let your cat or dog lick your bird. Saliva can get into eyes and scratches and cause serious infection. Keep the touching of the cage to a minimum — what you want is to familiarize your pets with the sight, sound, and smell of your parrot. If your pets scratch, hurt, or lick your bird, be sure to contact your vet as soon as possible to avoid infection or transferring disease. Usually, once the introduction process is complete, your pets will lose interest in the bird in about a week or so.
Cages : The Bigger the Better!
Other safety measures can ensure that your pets and birds can cohabitate after their introduction. One of the best things you can do for your bird’s safety is make sure they have a proper cage. A bird and cat/dog proof lock is essential. Remember that your parrot can be very smart, and open their cage if they get antsy! If you’re the only one that can open the cage lock, the bird is as safe as can be. The physicality of the cage can also increase security; heavier the cage is, the harder it will be for your pets to topple it over. Materials like stainless steel, wrought iron, and powder coated cages are ideal. The spacing between the bars should also be small, half an inch or less, to minimize the possibility of someone sticking a paw in there. You also want to place your cage in a corner or place where your bird could get away from any potential threats. Fun fact — the roosting boxes, branches, and toys that you got for the cage to enrich your parrot will also keep it safer! These items allow your bird a place to hide behind if it is being attacked.
You might have heard that your parrot needs time outside of its cage to fly around. You can still do this when you have other pets! This is when you want to close off a room. Generally, this should be a room your bird is already familiar with, like the one its cage is in. Before you let your parrot out, close off the room from the rest of the house and determine that it is unoccupied by other animals. Once it is safe, you can let your bird out to fly for as long as it needs. During this time, you’ll want to be in the room to supervise. Make sure the bird doesn’t hurt itself, or that your cat wasn’t silent and in hiding while you checked! You’re going to want to make sure that you’re ok with being in the room alone the whole time. If you open the door to get something or talk to someone, or tell your pet to stop scratching at the door, there is a chance your other animals can get in. Flying usually triggers your animal’s hunting instincts, so even if they are complacent around your bird normally, they can turn to their natural instincts when your parrot is up and about. To be safe, stay in the room with your parrot alone for however long you’re letting them fly.
Please note it is important that novice parrot owners NOT try this, however, professional caretakers have a great way to ensure the safety and comfort of their parrots by training them to know what to do in emergencies. Ms. Green, a dear friend of ours, has practiced this with her parrots for years. She has adopted and fostered a variety of animals that come to her through her family’s veterinary practice, and often cohabitates parrots, reptiles, cats, and dogs. To keep her birds safe, she prepares them to get somewhere safe if they find themselves in a scary or confusing situation. She trains them like this; first, she confines them to one room and allows them to fly around. Using treats and social encouragement, she trains them to fly or land up high, on shelves or in corners, sometimes even on special perches. Over time, she systematically does this process through the whole house. That way, if the birds get out accidentally or have to flee one of her other animals, it knows how to get somewhere safe no matter where it happens. “It’s like doing fire drills for kids,” Green said. “You show them where to go and what to do in case something bad happens. It’s important to make sure they know what to do in a scary emergency even if you hope it’s never going to happen.” The parrots naturally want to get up high and out of the way of an attacker anyway, so if they are familiarized with the space, their survival chances in an attack situation increase immensely.
My Parrot Needs Friends!
Birds are social animals though, just like humans! They need friends, don’t they? I hear you. And yes, birds are social animals that need friends around. The amount and kinds of friends they need depend on species and personality, though. For example, Ms. Green’s Quaker parrot, Kirmit, prefers the company of his human friends and doesn’t need an animal one. He likes to keep to himself and has been wary of other birds and animals. Some more socially inclined birds would love and benefit from a friend, but the same rules apply to introducing multiple birds as birds and other animals. There’s less risk of two birds of the same type hurting each other badly, but if they aren’t bought together, you still need to be careful about introducing them. Let them explore the cages they came to you in, let them talk to each other from separate cages. If they look like they want to get closer to be friendly, you can let them be in the same space together while you observe them. If you’ve found them a new feathery friend — great! If not, you can spend more time with them and be their best friend instead. Humans and other birds are generally safer for parrots to be around than other non-avians.
That being said, some owners are more comfortable fully acclimating their mammalian friends with their birds. This method of training your animals to be safe around each other is preferred to minimize risk. However, It is HIGHLY possible that situations will occur accidentally that you will have no control over. Which is why it is not recommend it. Emergency preparedness, as Ms. Green put it. This has the potential to turn in to interspecies friendship. However, you should keep in mind that this isn’t a fix that will eliminate risk altogether — even friendly animals trained to be safe can hurt your bird. Whether they’ve bonded or not, cats and dogs are still bigger than your parrot, and your parrot is still bigger than animals like lizards or hamsters. Going back to the horse example, there is always a risk of bigger animals hurting smaller ones accidentally.
So, Can All My Pets Live Together?
The best and most probable result of this lengthy introductions and safety processes is your animals feel complete ambivalence for each other. Your predatory animals will eventually lose interest in reaching inside your parrots’ cage. For no reason should you leave your parrot outside with other animals, specially if your parrot is flying around. Your other animals, like lizards and rodents, hopefully have as little interest in your parrot as it has in them. Your pets don’t all have to get along perfectly to live together, and they don’t have to try to hurt each other either. There is always a risk of your pets hurting each other, but as long as they are supervised, and properly separated, all will be well. Remember, even if your pets are the kind of roommates that don’t see or speak to each other, it’s a win!