Playing it Safe with Bird Toys

We love to give our birds toys. They are intelligent, curious creatures. Add a toy to their cage, and they will amuse and delight us. Toys keep them happy and involved.  Behaviorists often advise owners with a bird who plucks his feathers to make sure they give their pet plenty of toys and rotate them regularly to prevent boredom.  Wooden toys can keep beaks trimmed and prevent your favorite dining room chair from becoming the chew toy of choice.  However, many toys contain hidden dangers. If these toys are used improperly or without appropriate supervision, they can cause injuries and even kill your pet birds.

Bird Safe! Veterinarian Approved!

If a toy’s label says it is safe and approved by bird experts, it must be absolutely safe. Right? Wrong.  Many toys with these labels have proven to be dangerous.  The number one issue seems to be picking a toy that is appropriate for your bird’s size.  Chain toys can be extremely dangerous if the links are large enough for a bird’s head.  A trapped bird will quickly panic.  Toys with hanging ropes and strings can easily become nooses for birds.  They should be trimmed short so they cannot get their head in any length of rope.  Loose strings on rope toys and rope perches can also entrap a bird’s foot.  A panicking bird will go as far as to chew off its own toes to free itself from this trap.  One of the solutions is to allow your bird to use these risky toys only while you can supervise their play.

Happy Huts or other fabric-covered sleep tents for birds are generally quite safe. However, some birds develop a taste for this fabric and will eat the fuzzy coverings.  If fluff appears to be disappearing from your Happy Hut, remove it.  This material can cause obstructions and death.  On necropsy, such birds have been found to have large amounts of the fluffy material in their digestive tract.

The clip used to attach a toy to the bird’s cage can also cause problems. Make sure the clip contains no zinc.  It is also advisable to replace lanyard clips with quick link type connectors.  The latter are more difficult for a bird to open.  Lanyard clips can get trapped on a small bird’s beak.   Larger birds can loosen “S” hooks that have been pinched shut with pliers. They can get their beaks caught in them.  While this might not seem that dangerous, a panicking bird can seriously injure itself and severely damage its beak.

Fruit-flavored blocks of wood have become very popular toys.  Be sure that your bird is merely chewing these toys and not ingesting the wood.  The fruit flavoring may encourage them to actually swallow the wood pieces, which may be too sharp for the digestive tract and cause perforations.

It is important to emphasize that the size of the bird often determines which toys are appropriate.  If you give an amazon parrot a toy intended for a cockatiel, the amazon could end up swallowing the small parts.  Certain plastic toys will be easily broken by the large beaks of  cockatoos and macaws, which could result in damage to their gizzard or digestive tract if they swallow the broken bits.

Consumers have also become aware recently of the dangers of PVC in toys.  Toy companies have discontinued many baby toys that use polyvinyl chloride.  If you have bought children’s toys for your birds, make sure they do not contain PVC.

The best way to gauge a toy’s level of safety is to monitor your bird with the toy for the first few days.  Remove the toy when you go out and put it back in the cage when you are home.  With certain toys, it is best to always remove them when you are not supervising the bird.  Use common sense when deciding which toys are safe for your pet, and if you have any doubts about a toy’s safety, remove it immediately.  If your bird ever does have an incident in which he is injured while playing with a toy, it is important to document the injury and notify the manufacturer.  Bird toy companies have proliferated with the rising popularity of birds as pets.  Many of these companies need feedback on which of their toys could pose a danger to companion birds.