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The Proper Cage for Avian Patients

Cage Size- Keeping in mind that most pet birds spend the majority of time in their cages, proper cage size is a priority. The bird should be able to fully extend its wings in all directions of the cage. The spacing of the bars should be smaller than the diameter of the bird’s head, not allowing their head to fit between the bars.

Cage Construction- Ideally stainless steel is the best but it is also very costly. Other options include baked enamel, chrome-plated or brass. Though very commonly used on cages, galvanized and powder coated should be avoided at all times. These coverings can contain toxic levels of lead and zinc. The bottom of the cage should have a grate; this will allow the fecal material to drop down and not allow the bird to walk in it.

Perches- Perches must be the appropriate size for the bird being housed and be kept clean and dry at all times. Natural wood such as oak, maple, manzanita, and ribbon wood are the best choices and will last a long time. These perches should be various sizes and textures, allowing the bird to grasp the perch using different portions of its feet. Sand paper and ceramic perches should be avoided, they often cause irritation to the foot requiring medical attention. Perches should be cleaned daily.

Toys- Multiple toys of appropriate sizes will help to keep the bird busy; multiple, not an over indulgence of toys. A cage too full of toys is a physical hazard to birds; they can easily get their wings trapped between them. Keep in mind that the purpose of the toys is to keep the bird active. If specific toys never have to be replaced the odds are the bird isn’t playing with them and should be replaced with a more desirable toy. Foraging is a large part of making a caged bird’s life complete. Toys should be cleaned as necessary. See our article on Foraging.

Bowls- You need to have several bowls in each cage for water, pellets and fresh food. Setting the bowls at different heights in the cage will encourage the bird to climb and forage. Stainless steel, ceramic and stoneware are the recommended choices. Plastic and painted bowls should be avoided for the obvious reasons. All of the bowls need to be cleaned daily and at times more often.

Cage Lining- Newspaper is the best substrate for lining the cage bottom, below the grate. The newspaper is inexpensive, easy to clean and allows the owner to easily observe the fecal material.
Other substrates including corn cob, ground walnut shells, shredded paper and sand should be avoided. These substrates will often “hide” fecal material giving the owner the false impression that the cage does NOT need to be cleaned. Some birds have been known to reach under the grate and ingest these substrates causing impactions. They also collect moisture which can lead to bacteria, fungus, and yeast forming. Cage lining should be cleaned a minimum of once daily.

Location- It is recommended that the cage be placed in an area where there will be interaction with the family. The location should not be in direct contact with cold or hot air flow. Also keep in mind that birds do need to have about 10 hours of complete darkness daily. This will help to avoid some behavior issues such as feather picking and screaming. With the decrease in light smaller birds such as cockatiels and parakeets may no longer have the problems of excessively laying eggs or egg binding.

References:
Exotic Animal Medicine for the Veterinary Technician – Ballard and Cheek
Exotic Animal Care – Tully and Mitchell