Most pet bird owners are familiar with the phenomena of bird dust and dander. You’ve seen those little, light-colored flecks on your bird’s back if you look closely. Perhaps you were petting your parrot in your lap and then wondered why your pants were covered in what appeared to be dandruff. If you keep birds, their dust and dander is an inescapable fact of your shared lives. In this article we’ll look at 1) what causes bird dander and which birds produce it, 2) the allergies and symptoms caused by bird dander, and 3) how to get rid of bird dust.
What Causes Bird Dander and Dust?
All birds produce dander to some extent. It is the by-product of the new growth and preening of your bird’s feathers. The sheath of a new feather is coated with keratin, which dries as the feather grows. It breaks off into small pieces forming dander. You will see more dander during your bird’s molting periods and when birds preen, small bits of feathers break off and contribute to the problem.
According to the Winged Wisdom e-zine, bird dust (aka parrot dandruff) is generated by an extra set of small feathers that leave a very fine, waxy powder made of keratin. This white powder serves as waterproofing for the bird and is spread among their feathers as they groom. The powder gives the birds a soft and silky feel to the touch. In powder down birds, the absence of this powder often indicates an illness. Certain species of birds produce a fine form of dust and are known collectively as powder down birds.
We’ve created two small lists below showing some of the highest and lowest bird dander producing birds.
Which Bird Species Produce Dust and Dander?
Powder Down Birds List
- African Greys
Low Dander Birds List
- Finches and Canaries
- Eclectus Parrots
- Pionus Parrots
If you do not already have a pet bird, the dust and dander issue may need to be considered when choosing your avian companion. For more information on low dander birds or hypoallergenic birds, see our article here. Those with a predisposition to allergies or other respiratory ailments should steer clear of powder down birds. To see how much dust just 2 parrots can produce check out this video:
Bird Allergies and Diseases from Dander
In the wild, the dust is rendered harmless by the wind and the bird’s constant movement to different locations. The bird still produces the same amount of dust, but it disperses throughout its environment and never builds up into concentrations that may be harmful.
This is not the situation when captive birds are living in an enclosed area, such as your home. Birds living indoors do not have the wide range afforded their wild cousins over which to spread their dust and dander.
Fine particles of dander, and especially the dust from powder down birds becomes airborne. Unless corrective actions are taken, concentrations will increase over time. This can cause a number of problems for both the avian and human inhabitants that are exposed to this contaminant.
Bird Dander Allergy Symptoms
Common bird dander allergy symptoms include the following:
- Itchy or watering eyes
- A sore throat
- Itchy skin or rashes
- Shortness of breath
- Post nasal drip
Bird Keepers Lung
According to Washington’s Department of Commerce, when the above symptoms are present, then there’s a possibility that you’re suffering from bird keepers lung disease (also known as bird fanciers lung or pigeon breeders lung). This is a form of Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis which is condition where you body reacts badly to the organic materials leftover by birds such as dander, feathers and bird waste. Commonly this occurs when the tiny dander particles accumulate in places such as your lungs over a period of time, resulting in an allergic reaction.
You should also remember that if you’re suffering from bird dander, then there’s a chance that your pet bird is being negatively affected as well. So check your bird as well to verify the condition of their health.
The build up of this white powder can adversely impact the visual quality of your home as well as have potentially harmful physical ramifications. Though it may seem normal to the pet owner, the lingering dust and dander may be very obvious to your visitors.
How To Get Rid Of Bird Dust and Dander?
Drastic measures may not be required if your bird only generates a modest amount of dust. But if you own a parrot that produces a lot of powder this doesn’t mean the end of your bird keeping journey. There are a number of steps you can take to prevent and get rid fo bird dust and dander.
How to Keep Bird Dander Down
- Use an air purifier for birds that will clean the bird room air and reduce your allergy symptoms.
- Clean your room using a specially made vacuum cleaner that’s designed to prevent allergies. Vacuum regularly to keep the area as dust free as possible.
- Implement better and more frequent bird cage cleaning habits such as the wiping of surfaces, replacing bird cage liners and more.
- Choose bird rooms in your house that have floorboards and not carpets because floorboards are easier to clean. This will prevent the build-up of particles in the carpet where they are difficult to remove.
- Change the types of furniture and decorations that you use. Leather sofas are easier to clean than ones with fabric, plastic curtains or blinds are also easier to clean plus you should use vertical and not horizontal blinds so the dander has fewer places to build up.
- Provide parrot baths in your cage so your bird can wash themselves, plus also provide other bathing opportunities.
- Limit the number of birds you keep. This can be an issue for breeders and others who have many captive birds.
- Consider using a dander remover spray.
- If sensitive, wear a face mask whilst cleaning.
- If already using a air purifier, then ensure it is built to a HEPA standard and that filter is regularly replaced.
1. Best Air Purifiers for Bird Dander
What to look for in an air purifier for birds?
- Must have a HEPA filter, this means high-efficiency particulate air and it is a type of filter that is designed up to a medical standard. According to the United States Department of Energy, this means it can remove 99.97% of airborne particles that are as small as 0.3 micrometers in diameter.
- Should be correctly sized for the room, smaller units may be insufficient for larger rooms.
- The purifier must not produce ozone, so you don’t want it to have an Ionizer (these should not be used indoors and can be hazardous according to a recent paper). If the purifier comes with an ionizer, then make sure it is an option that can be switched on and off.
- Check how efficient the fan and motor are, so that the noise levels are not too high.
HEPA filtering systems are special air purifiers that remove suspended particles from the air and are your best choice to protect you and your bird from excess dust and dander – although they are an expensive option. Many systems are available, but caution should be taken when choosing one for your bird’s room. You want to make sure it is quiet and as unobtrusive as possible so as not to introduce a source of undue stress to your winged pet.
Out of the options listed above, the Austin Air System listed above is one of the best air purifiers for bird owners available and is specifically designed with pets in mind. An alternative system is the Oransi Max is also available here and is aimed at people with larger sized rooms and so has ramped up power.
Here again is the list of air purifiers for bird dander:
2. Best Vacuum Cleaner for Allergies
The Shark Navigator Vacuum Cleaner is designed specifically with allergies in mind and comes with a HEPA filter and pet adapter. Like air purifiers, HEPA filters are needed to pick up the micro particles that normal filters aren’t able to. Using a normal vacuum still works ok, but it won’t be as effective as one that is built to a HEPA standard. Bird dander and dust can end up all around your home, on carpets, furniture, curtains and walls – cleaning this off with a vacuum cleaner will make your cleaning chores much easier.
3. Parrot Baths
Birds should be given the opportunity to bathe themselves as it will help to reduce dander, as well as help with a bird’s general grooming. There are 2 ways of doing this:
- A. Regularly take your parrots out of the cage and provide them with bathing opportunities using a sink or in your own shower as seen in our guide here where they use shower perches.
- B. Provide your parrots with a bathing opportunity within their cage. Smaller birds will be able to use a smaller type of bath like this whereas larger parrots will want something like this.
4. Pet Dander Sprays
You can use this spray when you’re cleaning a bird cage or the furniture of the room that your parrots are in. The liquid used in the spray has natural enzymes that are designed to eliminate dander, odors and alleviate allergies. Use a damp cloth along with this spray to wipe down all other surfaces that bird dander appears on. This spray is best used in combination with the other solutions available.
If you’re still unsure about how to reduce bird dander (and you have the allergy symptoms) then I would simplify things to the 2 most effective steps:
- Get an HEPA air purifier that’s aimed at pet owners, like the ones seen here.
- Implement effective cleaning habits, like those laid out in the guide here.
Doing this will solve the majority of bird dander problems and allow you to live a happy and healthy life with your birds.