Q: Is the strong smell of aftershave bad for birds? My dad like, BATHES himself in that stuff…and it makes me sick to my stomach and was wondering if it could have any effect on my birds.
– April Hilary R. from our Facebook page.
A: This is a great question, April. One of the most common environmental causes of parrot death comes from bad air quality. People have unwittingly killed their birds by spraying cleaners and air fresheners in their presence, and many, many have died from the off gassing of non-stick cookware.
One of the first things you learn when you start your journey of exploration with parrots is that birds have an intense respiratory system that functions so efficiently that they are much more susceptible to toxins in the air than mammals.We have all heard the canary in the coalmine stories. Birds were selected for that job because they are so reactive to toxic air that they die quickly and a mine shaft could be determined as safe or dangerous for humans in a short period of time.
However, while you dad’s aftershave overload might drive you crazy, it won’t be the cause of anyone’s death.
We are constantly warned that strong odors are dangerous for parrots. However, it isn’t the SMELL that kills birds, it’s the particulates or gasses in the air that accompany the smell. Air that carries an odor to it will alert you to the fact that it might contain particulates that are dangerous. Never ignore odors.
Aside from smoke and dangerous gasses, some of which we can’t smell at all (like PTFEs from teflon or carbon monoxide), it is the contents of spray bottles that are the main culprits in air toxicity. They throw a mist of particles carrying bits of the product into the air that waft through the room and cause the air itself to become toxic. Even when the particles do not carry toxicity, they can complicate breathing. The stronger the smell, the heavier the air will be with particles.
In your dad’s case, and the same applies to perfume (as long as it was applied in another room) the particles settle and become attached to the wearer, and are no longer floating in the air to make your bird’s air space dangerous. Some birds don’t like the smell, but it will not hurt them.
NOTE: With particulates that accompany paint and cleaning product fumes, you can never be certain that air is clear until the smell has entirely disappeared.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.