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Birds and child safety

Birds can make lovely pets for your family. They can be very intelligent and amusing. But it is important to keep your child safe around birds.

Birds could put your child's health at risk by:

  • biting and scratching
  • carrying germs that could cause illness

Pet birds and health risks to your child

Pet birds can carry germs. These can cause infectious diseases that can cause illness to you and your child.

Make sure you and your child wash your hands after handling the bird, its litter, cage, bowl or toys. This can reduce your child's risk of catching a disease.

The most common bacteria and diseases birds can carry are:

  • psittacosis (parrot fever)
  • allergic alveolitis (bird fancier’s lung)
  • salmonella

Psittacosis (parrot fever)

Psittacosis is also called parrot fever. But it can be caught from all types of birds by breathing in dust containing dried bird poo or mucus.

It is especially dangerous for your child if they have:

  • a poor immune system
  • respiratory or breathing problems

It is also dangerous for pregnant women and the elderly.

Parrot fever is spread to humans most often by pet birds such as:

  • parrots
  • parakeets
  • macaws
  • budgies
  • cockatiels

It is also spread by poultry such as turkeys and ducks.

Parrot fever causes flu-like symptoms. You or your child will usually have a dry cough and fever.

Children have less resistance to parrot fever than adults. Make sure your child washes their hands after any contact with the bird, its cage, poo, toys or feeding bowls.

You can treat parrot fever with antibiotics. But it is still a dangerous illness. You should be aware of symptoms.

Talk to your GP immediately if you think your child needs treatment. Make sure to let your GP know that you own a pet bird when you go for treatment.

Allergic alveolitis (bird fancier’s lung)

Allergic alveolitis is sometimes called bird fancier's lung. This is where your lungs become inflamed. It is caused by breathing in particles from feathers or bird droppings. It results in coughing and difficulty breathing.

You can reduce the risk of getting it by avoiding bird dander (skin flakes) and feathers.

If you think you or your child has bird fancier's lung, talk to your GP.

Salmonella

Salmonella is a bacteria that causes a type of food poisoning. It's usually caught from eating foods infected with the bacteria. You or your child can also catch it from an infected bird or infected bird poo.

Read more about salmonella and other illness spread by pets

Pet birds and your child - preventing illness

Tips to prevent your child getting an illness from a pet bird:

  • Wash your and your child's hands regularly after touching the bird or bird supplies.
  • Don't let the bird 'kiss' you or your child.
  • If your bird seems sick, bring them to the vet.
  • Clean out your bird's cage regularly, and wash your hands well afterwards.
  • Don't allow your bird near food preparation areas. Never wash any bird equipment in the kitchen sink.

Bird bites and your child

Birds will nip or bite in self-defense when they are afraid.

They can become frightened by:

  • a screaming child
  • being poked with a finger or a stick
  • having their cage interfered with

You should hang the bird cage out of reach of toddlers and young children.

If a bird bites your child

If a bird bites your child or a bird scratches your child:

  • wash the wound immediately
  • clean the area with disinfectant cream or solution

Talk to your GP if you are worried or if it is not healing properly.

Teach your child how to interact with a bird

You can reduce the risk of a bird biting your child by teaching them how to interact with the bird.

Tell your child to:

  • use a soft voice around the bird
  • make no sudden movements
  • not to prod, poke or shake the bird cage
  • not to make noise around the bird cage

page last reviewed: 28/06/2019
next review due: 28/06/2022