Smoking Around Your Birds

If you choose to smoke, that’s your business and your right.  This post is about secondhand smoke, and how smoking around you birds affects affects their health.

What is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke is the smoke that is emitted from a cigarette, from either the burning end or the filtered end.  It contains thousands of different chemicals that fill the air as either gases or particulates.  Following are facts about secondhand smoke by the National Cancer Institute and the EPA:

  • “Secondhand smoke contains over 4000 chemicals, including 69 compounds that are known to cause cancer.  Anyone who breathes secondhand smoke is breathing in formaldehyde, ammonia, cyanide, arsenic, carbon monoxide, methane and thousands of other chemicals.  The concentration of these carcinogenic chemicals is actually higher in secondhand smoke than in the fumes directly inhaled by smokers.”
  • “Secondhand smoke is classified as a class-A carcinogen, the same classification given to asbestos.”

Your parrot’s respiratory system

Your parrot has a very sensitive and intricate respiratory system.  It is quite unlike ours.  Here are some avian respiratory facts:

  • Birds have lungs, which are not lobed like our own. They also have air sacs (either 7 or 9, depending on species) which extend into their bones, which are hollow. This fact makes them lightweight and enables flight.
  • Birds do not have a diaphragm.  Air is drawn in and expelled by the contraction of muscles.  Because there is no diaphragm, and the air sacs extend into the bones, respiratory infections also can extend to the abdominal cavity and the bones.
  • A bird’s respiration is slower than in mammals of similar size.
  • It actually takes two breaths to complete a single respiration cycle and move air through the entire respiratory system.  The second breath pushes the first through to the end of it’s cycle.
  • The respiratory system of a bird is more efficient than ours in transferring oxygen.  This means that toxins inhaled are delivered equally as well.   Because of this efficiency, a parrot will succumb to the same level of toxic fumes that would be tolerated by a mammal.

Feather destruction and plucking can result from smoking around your birds

So the math involved here is not hard – the combination of toxic particulates and gases in the air and a dynamic respiratory system are not a good match.  But there’s more, as if that’s not enough… it has been found to be a source of feather destruction and plucking.

Cigarette smoke rises into the air because it’s heated.  When it’s cools, gravity brings it back down.  It lands on your birds, their perches, their cage bars, toys AND food.  If your hands are coated with chemicals from holding the cigarette, it is easily transferred to your bird.  I know of an extreme case where an amazon,  who turned out to be very sensitive to chemical exposure, began mutilating his feet before they determined the cause to be his perches that were covered with residue from cigarette smoke.

When you bathe a parrot that lives in the house with a smoker, the water that rinses off them is often a brownish-yellow color.  Their feathers will pick up the odor and it often stays with them until all feathers have been molted.  A friend who re-homed an african grey from a smoker’s house says that after a year, she is still able to smell the smoke on her parrot, especially when he’s wet.  Other parrots will simply remove the tainted feathers on their own, a habit they may not be able to kick.

Another concern is that where there are smokers, there are nicotine products.  Nicotine poisoning can occur when your parrot finds and chews apart a cigarette like a shredder toy.  The butt of a cigarette alone contains 25% of the nicotine of the original cigarette.  Signs of nicotine poisoning include: twitching, excited-ness, panting, salivation, vomiting, increased heart rate, collapse, coma and cardiac arrest.

If you do smoke, please do it outside where the fumes and residue will not affect your parrots or other members of your household, and remember to wash you hands before you interact with them or their belongings.

Outdoor aviaries for your birds will help to alleviate some of the problems and give them plenty of fresh air and natural light.  Covering their cages and play stands while they are outside will help to keep harmful residue from settling on surfaces where they spend their time. Frequent bathing is a must for your parrot if you are a smoker, and adding a product like George’s Aloe to a spray bottle will help in maintaining feather condition.

Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.



Hi Mary, I agree with you that smoking around your birds is abuse. I feel that people who smoke indoors should not keep birds, but I know of several who do and have no intention of giving up either the birds or the cigarettes. Smokers are addicted and it is difficult for them to quit. Keeping that in mind, it seems a better idea to explain the risks and offer solutions to the problem at hand.


Good point Mary. I think giving up smoking for a bird owner is just as vital as giving up teflon, avacado, and other bird dangerous household items. Birds and smokers do not belong under one roof under any circumstances. No matter how nice of an owner the person may be otherwise, the smoke is killing the bird. To any bird owning smokers out there, consider your bird’s life a damn good reason to quit! It’s healthier for yourself anyway.


That is absolutely disgusting! I cannot imagine a parrot living in that kind of an environment and I would not hesitate to call that animal abuse (especially after reading the details you outlined). I don’t smoke but I never take my parrot into a smoker’s home and I don’t let smokers touch my bird. The thought of exposing her to that is disturbing. I get very frustrated if I am walking outside with my bird in the carrier and someone walks by with a cigarette because they hold it at the same height my carrier goes. I try my best to keep her far away from this poison.


Sorry, I don’t think it is anyone’s right to keep a captive bird AND smoke. It is animal abuse, pure and simple. If you are guardian to birds, you are living with animals that are so acutely sensitive to what they breathe, that you are actively harming them if you smoke. And you know it. Do you know any smoker who would be so careful as to remove all the secondhand smoke, such as by always stepping outside? You have a right to your opinion. But I do think “owning” a bird implies that you must not live in contradiction to the birds most basic—most basic—need. However, I applaud your article and am really grateful for it. Thank you.


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