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.
What Causes Bird Dust and Dander?
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. While preening, small bits of feathers break off and contribute to the problem.
Certain species of birds produce a finer form of dust and are known collectively as powder down birds. The Winged Wisdom e-zine lists cockatiels, cockatoos, and African Grey parrots as the most prevalent species of powder down birds.
The dust 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. To see how much dust just 2 parrots can produce check out this video:
Can Bird Dust Be Dangerous?
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. Pet Guardian Angels of America website gives a rundown of the problems that can occur.
- Bird dust and dander can cause respiratory issues for your pet bird. The fact that a bird’s air passages are small makes them easily obstructed by airborne particles. This can cause immediate breathing problems for the bird. Partial blockages in the air passages can become a prime location for infections to grow.
- Diseases can be spread by exposure to bacteria and viruses riding along on the larger dust particles.
- Humans can be negatively affected by new or aggravated respiratory problems. Allergic or asthmatic reactions can occur from being subjected to high concentrations of bird dust and dander. A form of hypersensitivity pneumonitis commonly known as bird breeder’s disease is a risk for those regularly exposed to this organic, airborne pollutant.
- Build up 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 Can I Limit 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 then follow some of the solutions offered below.
The first course of action should be to address your cleaning habits regarding the bird’s cage and its surrounding area. Ways to minimize the dust problem with cleaning are easily enacted with a little extra effort.
Wipe down the cage with a damp cloth to pick up the dust. Clean the bottom of the cage and replace liners or papers daily. Take care when removing the paper and try not to stir up any small particles that are down there. They are there even if not obvious to your eyes. For a more detailed guide to bird cage cleaning check out our entire guide here.
You’ll also want to consider bird sprays aimed at reducing bird dander such as this one listed below:
House your bird in a carpet-free area and use wooden flooring. This will prevent the build-up of particles in the carpet where they are difficult to remove. If you do not have this option, vacuum regularly to keep the area as dust free as possible. Use a damp cloth to wipe down all other surfaces that may come in contact with your bird.
When you can, offer your bird or parrot the opportunity to have a bath. This will help limit the amount of dander it has to spread around, as well as help in its general grooming. You should ensure they have an appropriate bath such as this one, which is listed in the image below:
Air Purifiers for Birds
If sprays and mists don’t work then you will want to look into air filtering.
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.
The Austin Air System listed above will be able to provide a top quality air cleaning system that is very effective and is specifically designed with pets in mind. An alternative system from Avari is also available here which is more of a general purpose air filter but will also work with pets as well.
Choosing low dander birds?
If you do not already have a pet bird, the dust and dander issue may need to be considered when choosing your avian companion. Those with a predisposition to allergies or other respiratory ailments should steer clear of powder down birds.
You may also want to think about limiting the number of birds you keep. This can be an issue for breeders and others who have many captive birds. More tips on how to reduce dander are listed in the video below: