The lining on the bottom of your parrot's cage has a pretty straightforward job. It collects the things that land there and makes clean up simple for you. But it’s an important job, too, because it plays a part in keeping your bird healthy and safe.
We all know how important it is to keep our parrot’s environment clean and part of that is changing the cage liner frequently. So one question remains: what liner is best to use?
The answer is PAPER. Hands down, without question…paper. Newspaper, butcher paper, paper towels, paper bags – it doesn’t matter which, as long as it will sit patiently on the cage bottom waiting for your bird to put it to work.
Aside from being the most economical liner, it has one HUGE advantage: it lies flat. One of the only ways we have to monitor our bird’s health on a daily basis is by checking the quality and quantity of their droppings. It isn’t possible to do that effectively on a surface that is broken and uneven.
There are other types of cage substrate that are available to parrot owners, but they all have disadvantages or dangers:
Wood chips or shavings, such as cedar, redwood or treated pine are toxic to birds should they come into contact with them and even the scent (of the cedar or redwood chip) can be an irritant and cause allergic reactions and skin inflammations. Additionally, they create the uneven surface that makes it difficult to view the quality of the droppings.
One argument I have heard in defense of these products is that is masks odors in the cage. However, there should be no odors in the cage of a healthy bird. If your bird’s droppings have odor, your bird is sick. If the cedar chips are covering the smell, how are you to know that your bird needs help?
Untreated pine shavings, while safe unless ingested, has to be changed or sifted through for debris frequently, making it impractical. Aside from making it difficult to observe droppings, wood chips allow small particulates, like powder down and dander, to drop through the cracks to the tray below. Flight or wing flapping within the cage will cause it to rise up and out into the air space. You can’t sweep or vacuum bedding to remove dander (even with netting over the nozzle, it’s been tried and doesn’t work.)
Other beddings are crushed walnut shells and corncob. While they are natural, they both provide a breeding ground for the growth of molds, fungi and bacteria. Corncob bedding is particularly concerning in damp or humid climates where the aspergillus mold might grow (aspergillus causes respiratory disease and can be fatal). If swallowed it can cause serious impactions in the digestive system because the pieces will swell when moisture is introduced.
Kitty litter is also a poor choice. Kitty litter has two types: clay, which produces dust and has the risk of causing problems to your birds delicate respiratory system, and clumping litter whose recipe includes a substance that grows enormously in size and clots together when moisture is introduced. If damp food or toys are dropped into the litter and retrieved, either type of litter will adhere to it. I don’t think I need to tell you how bad that would be in a bird’s digestive system, especially the clumping variety. Further, they are often scented.
Sand is also not recommended. While its main concern is in ingestion, especially if wet foods are dropped into it, it has other down sides. It is dense, weighty and abrasive making cleaning difficult and messy. Over time, it will cause problems to the cage bottom, not to mention your back.
I am not convinced this is a valid concern, but I know people who insist sand substrate has caused flea infestation their homes. True sand “fleas” are not fleas at all, but tiny crustaceans that live only at the beach. I think that actual fleas that have taken up residency in your house would prefer a more hospitable environment, such as on your dog or in your carpet.
Paper pellet and pulp bedding are also not recommended. They are safe to use, but I know of two people who are SURE their pellet loving birds have eaten them. They are not known to cause problems in the digestive system because the paper is broken down and passed through the system, but aside from not wanting your bird to fill up on paper products, you have to wonder if anything was stuck to it. Pulp flies everywhere as soon as the bird becomes active in the cage. Neither allow for good monitoring of droppings.
If you have cockatoos, cockatiels or another ground foraging bird, bedding is a fun place to search for old food that you may have missed during clean up. Unfortunately, old food is laden with dangerous bacterias.
And, dangers aside, bedding doesn’t allow for the proper measures of cleanliness needed in your bird’s cage and changing it frequently prevents it from being cost effective.
Newspaper is non-toxic and safe, almost all newspaper inks throughout the world are no longer petroleum based. It’s the best choice for a cage liner and very inexpensive. In fact, it can be free! If you notice the local paper being delivered to your neighbor, go to them and explain that you have a parrot (chances are they already know) and ask them to save the daily papers for you to pick up periodically.
The local library (yes, they still exist) usually subscribe, as do department stores or other establishments that do advertising. If you ask nicely, I am sure they will be happy to let you have their copies once they are done with them. That makes newspaper the most economical, ecological, safe and smart choice as a cage liner for your bird!
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.