Cleaning & Disinfecting a Bird Cage
By Eleanor McCaffrey Copyright© Notice: No portion of this text or photos
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Your bird's cage: It's a place where your bird sleeps, eats, plays and spends a good portion of the day breathing in air. Why would you not want the place where your bird lives to be clean and sanitary? One of the most essential elements in helping to keep a pet bird healthy is a clean cage that is free from dust, fumes, droppings,  mold spores and bacteria. Because of busy or uncaring humans, some pet birds are sadly forced to live in a dirty, unhealthy environment. Urine soaked papers or litter on the bottom of the cage that contain piles of droppings are rarely changed. Perches and grates that are thickly coated with hard, cement like droppings are never cleaned. Cage bars that have caked on, sticky table foods are never washed, promoting the growth of mold spores and bacteria . So much feather dust has accumulated inside of the cage that when the bird flaps its wings, a cloud of dust is visible in the air. This is not a healthy environment for pet birds to be living in and this is not the type of environment that wild birds live in either. 

It's not acceptable to put off the daily changing of cage papers and cleaning of cages and food dishes because we are busy or tired. If we fail to meet our responsibilities as a bird owner than we should feel guilty because we are letting down a helpless bird who has been confined to a lifetime behind bars. Birds living in captivity are not the same as wild birds. To suggest that because wild birds can live with bacteria and mold in the environment, our pet birds can live in a less than clean environment too, is simply ridiculous. Wild birds are not confined to the same quarters each day and night, only inches away from the bacteria, mold and organic dust produced by piles of droppings, urine, decaying food and debris from feathers. Pet birds are exposed to normal bacteria and molds in the environment each day too and they usually do not get sick. However if these agents are allowed to accumulate in massive amounts like they do in dirty cages that are rarely cleaned and  disinfected, pet birds will get sick. 

Cage Liners: Cage papers should be changed every single day. The use of corn cob, walnut shells, kitty liter, pine, aspen or cedar shavings or chips on the bottom of the cage should be avoided for a few reasons. Corn cob, walnut shells, kitty litter, pine, aspen and cedar all contain excess dust or fumes, (pine and cedar) which can irritate a bird's eyes and delicate respiratory system. All of these materials retain moisture, decay rapidly and promote the growth of bacteria and fungus that can make your bird sick as well.  Although the bottom of the  cage may look nice and clean, it's not clean at all.  Feces are buried under wet, decaying, moldy material and urine soaked bedding produces ammonia fumes that are harmful to a bird's delicate respiratory system when inhale.  If your bird ingests any of the above bedding materials, the resulting, possible health complications include: internal bleeding, deadly digestive impactions or obstructions that may require surgical removal. 

Safe cage liners include white paper towels, black and white newspaper, butcher paper and  commercial paper cage liners available at pet shops, (NEVER gravel or sand coated paper.) Plain paper liners are dust and fume free. Paper liners also dry quickly when wet to help control bacterial and fungal growth. ( IF changed daily. ) Black and white newspaper is probably the most popular cage liner because it's so economical. Newspapers are usually printed with  a safe, non toxic, soy based ink in the USA. (Call your local press to check.) Most newspapers also sell their end rolls of paper, blank, ink free paper that is left on a roll after printing. Which ever paper liner you choose, cage papers should be changed every single day. By pre-cutting an entire newspaper or two into a stack of sheets that custom fit the bottom of the cage, daily paper changing takes less than 30 seconds. If you are concerned about your bird chewing on paper, having a grate over the bottom of the cage will help to discourage this behavior. If ingested paper can usually be partially digested. 

Food Dishes: Food and water dishes must be washed in hot soapy water, everyday and disinfected every week. If you use Citricidal, food and water cups can be disinfected each day by adding a few drops into the dishpan. If you have an extra set of food and water dishes, one set can be sanitized in the dishwasher daily while the other set is being used. Water dishes may need to be washed a few to several times a day if they contain pieces of food, droppings, feathers, dust or other particles because bacteria multiplies rapidly in water that contains organic matter. After washing and rinsing dishes, replenish with fresh pellets and seeds each day.  Seeds and pellets that remains in food dishes for several days can become contaminated with air-borne bacteria and mold that are a normal part of the environment. 

Grates and Cage Bars: Droppings on grates can be removed daily with a mixture of 50% water and 50% white vinegar when your bird is out of the cage playing. Spray the solution on, allow time for droppings to soften then wipe off with damp paper towels. Cages need to be thoroughly washed every week with hot soapy water and disinfected at least once a month and immediately after a recent outbreak of illness. Besides droppings inside of the cage, birds drop, shake and wipe excess food off of their beaks onto cage bars and grates. This causes harmful bacterial growth that can make your bird sick. Remove your bird, all toys and perches from the cage. DO NOT keep your bird in the same room when you are using any type of cleanser or disinfectant that has fumes. Put the cage in the bathtub to make the job easier.  Disinfectants will not work if organic material like droppings and food are present on cage surfaces. Remove all organic material first. Spray on  a solution of Poop Off, or use an all natural solution of  50% water to 50% white vinegar on the cage grate.  If there's real build up because you haven't been doing daily maintenance, wait about 10 minutes until debris softens. Use hot water from the shower to remove loosened droppings,  dust, pellets, bird dander and other particles of debris. A hand held shower head makes the job much easier.

Soap Cleanser: The next step in disinfecting is to use a soap type cleanser to wash the cage. Use a small brush if necessary to clean all corners.  Rinse off the soap extremely well, using hot water from the shower (hand held showers are the easiest). To disinfect the cage, purchase an avian disinfectant from your avian vet or from a pet shop and use according to directions. A diluted bleach/water solution is very effective and economical alternative. A proportion of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water is strong enough to disinfect cages. An easy way to do this--1 ounce of bleach to 10 ounces of water. Either sponge it on or use a spray bottle to thoroughly cover all surfaces.  Keep the cage wet with disinfectant for 10 minutes, then thoroughly rinse it again under hot water from the shower,  to remove the disinfectant. Dry cage completely. Do NOT use bleach or any other product with fumes around your bird! Fumes are toxic!

Perches and Toys: To clean perches, first scrape off droppings using a little wire brush that you can purchase at a pet shop for this purpose. Next, disinfect them and allow them to dry completely before putting back inside of the cage. (Wood perches can not be disinfected.) Keeping an extra set of perches will make life easier for you. While one set is disinfecting and drying, the other set can go inside of the cage. Toys should also be cleaned separately in hot soapy water then disinfected with either an avian disinfectant or in the 1-10 bleach to water solution. Rinse thoroughly and dry completely  before placing them back inside of the cage as well. PLEASE remember to take your bird out of the cage before disinfecting it and do not use any product with fumes around your bird. Non-toxic disinfectants are addressed below. Perches, toys and food dishes that can withstand high temperatures can be sanitized in the dishwasher. 

Non-Toxic Methods of Disinfecting The use of Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) to disinfect bird cages, toys and hand feeding utensils has become very popular among bird owners and bird breeders. Citricidal (name brand) is an all natural disinfectant made from grapefruit seed extract. Citricidal has been proven to be just as effective as bleach when used according to directions.  Besides being non-toxic to birds Citricidal, will NOT corrode cage bars if used according to directions.  One of the many advantages of using grapefruit seed extract is that there are no fumes so cage grates and bars can be wiped off daily. GSE comes in different strengths and it can be purchased at a health food. The name brand Citricidal can be purchased online at All Health Trends. Name brand Citricidal from All Health Trends is the strongest, commercial strength available. It may cost more but you use 1/3 less that a generic brand of GSE.  Citricidal can also be used as a fruit and vegetable wash to remove pesticides and other harmful debris.

Stabilized chlorine dioxide, which is NOT the same as regular household bleach, is also a very effective, non-toxic disinfectant. It will not corrode cage bars like regular chlorine household bleach. You can purchase Oxygene, products, which are manufacture by Oxyfresh online www.oxyfresh.com or from Strictly Birds online www.strictlybirds.com/oxyfresh_pricelist.html One of the newest and easiest ways of cleaning a bird's cage is with a steam cleaner. Claims about disinfecting and sanitizing a bird cages may not be accurate. By the time steam reaches certain areas of the cage, the steam may not be hot enough to disinfect or sanitize.  Perches, toys and food dishes that can withstand high temperatures can be sanitized in the dishwasher. 

Before you cover your bird's cage tonight, take a good look at the bottom of the cage then look at your bird's sweet little face. Ask yourself if you would like to sleep in a cage with all of that organic waste just inches away from you? Your answer will probably be no because you know that excessive amounts of bacteria and mold can make you sick. The same applies to your bird. Living and sleeping in a dirty cage day after day can make your bird sick. We all want our birds to live a long and healthy life. By changing cage papers, washing food and water dishes daily and by washing and disinfecting the cage on a regular basis, we can help our birds to stay healthy and live a long, full lifespan. 

       

Special Thanks to all who have shared photos of their birds with us.
Quido, you will always be remembered and loved .

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