There have been so many pictures posted on our Facebook Q&A page recently depicting parrots playing with the family pets that I thought a post on the subject was needed. I know this is going to make me seem like a killjoy, but I feel it’s necessary to warn you of the dangers of allowing members of your feathered and furry family to interact.
When I was younger, I always had any number of different animals sharing my home. Most of them were not species that we traditionally think of as being compatible: dogs-cats-rodents-birds. However, they all managed to get along and some even became good friends. It wasn’t unusual to find one of my daughters missing rats curled under the chin of our sleeping dog, or one of the cockatiels preening the fur on our cat’s head.
It was kind of cool, and was always a surprise to our houseguests that our menagerie of animals were all so willing to interact and share quarters. I always thought of our home as a place where all creatures, big and small, could come and be part of a larger family. We all got along.
Then, one summer, on separate nights, my cat brought home the remains of a field mouse and a sparrow. Lovingly, she left them in my bed in the middle of the night for me to discover in the morning. The only thing more horrible than finding their tiny corpses was the realization that my cat had killed both a mouse and a bird – two species with which she freely interacted in the house.
I had no choice but to rethink the way we were doing things with our animals. I began to study animal instincts in depth. I read about the dogs that were bred as “birders” in hunting sports (retrievers, spaniels, pointers). I eventually came to the understanding that while an animal’s wild instincts might be repressed, buried under years of domestication and training, they are still present and are sometimes expressed at the most unexpected times.
I discovered that instincts are not entirely controllable in animals, and are definitely beyond the understanding of the human race. When a cat is paired with a bird or a rodent, instinct bubbles just under the surface waiting for the right trigger to set the hunt into motion. We can’t fully fathom what those triggers are, and we cannot keep them at bay.
In just the past year, I have had two people tell me of the deaths of their beloved birds following attacks by their family dogs. One death was immediate, the other bird died as a result of infection. My friend hadn’t noticed that the bird had been scratched by the dog’s nail or tooth. All mammals (including us!) carry gram negative bacteria in our mouths, which is transferred to other parts of the body – such as claws and fur – through saliva. Bird’s bodies do not harbor this bacteria naturally and it can be deadly to them when left untreated. (For this same reason, we should not let our birds play with the toys of any pet mammals in the house.)
We all love the romantic notion that our home is a place where all species show respect and love for one another. While we may live in peace and harmony on most days, this can change in the blink of an eye when a single, unobservable event triggers the hunting instinct in one of your animals resulting in the death of another.
Please be VERY AWARE AT ALL TIMES if you allow your pets to share a communal play area. I don’t want you to discover a tragedy by noticing a blue and gold feather hanging from the chin of your dog like someone I know recently did.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.