Cage Hygiene in Birds

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

Because birds both eat and defecate in their cages, it is essential to keep their cages as clean as possible. Dirt, dust, fecal matter, bits of food, and feather dander constantly accumulate on the cage and everything in it.

What should I line my bird’s cage with?

The bottom of the cage should be lined with disposable paper such as newspaper or paper towels that can be thrown away every day. Newsprint is now free of lead, so it is non-toxic to birds, even if they chew on it. White birds that insist on playing in the newspaper may get grey newsprint on their feathers, but this is easily washed off. The sandpaper cage liners sold in the pet stores should not be used, as birds may pick off the sand and ingest it, possibly causing gastrointestinal tract obstructions.

"Newsprint is now free of lead, so it is non-toxic to birds, even if they chew on it."

Wood chips and shavings, clay, cat litter, shredded or recycled paper, and corncob bedding are not recommended for many reasons:

  • They are not digestible and can cause impaction or obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract if ingested by your bird.
  • Dust from these types of bedding can be potential respiratory irritants, especially from aromatic pines and cedars.
  • Many owners neglect to change the cage daily with these products because it becomes expensive to throw out and replace every day, resulting in the accumulation of stool and food waste on the bottom of the cage. Fungus grows on old fecal material and wet bedding, which can lead to very serious respiratory health issues.
  • It is virtually impossible with these particulate cage bottom coverings to monitor the color, consistency, and wetness of the feces, all of which can be important reflections of a bird’s health.

How do I clean my bird’s cage?

The entire cage should be sprayed down, washed, or scrubbed down at least once weekly with a non-toxic disinfectant soap and hot water. Most disinfectants should sit on the surface for 15 minutes, followed by thorough brushing. Rinsing with fresh water is essential after the application of any soap or disinfectant.

Food and water dishes should be cleaned in the same fashion on a daily basis. All chemical residues should be washed off the cage, accessories, and feeding utensils before your bird is exposed to them. Ceramic, metal, and most thick plastic dishes may be washed in the dishwasher.

Wood, wicker, and bamboo are porous materials and are impossible to effectively clean and sterilize. Dirt and bacteria can deeply penetrate these items, so it is best to replace them (including perches) every 6 -12 months.

"Wood, wicker, and bamboo are porous materials and are impossible to effectively clean and sterilize."

Toys made of rawhide, rope, or fabric should be replaced every two to six months. Rope toys or toys containing fabric need to be checked daily to make sure there are no loose strings that your bird’s body parts can get caught in. Thorough cleaning and disinfection of these items should also be done weekly or as needed, as described above.

Which disinfectants are safe to use?

Several commercially available disinfectants are safe for birds. One cup of household chlorine bleach in one gallon of water is effective against many disease-causing organisms. To be most effective, disinfectants should be applied to a wet surface. A high-quality liquid dish soap is also useful for cleaning cages, bowls, and perches. For aviary or flock situations, a disinfectant with broader antimicrobial properties may be more beneficial.

Many disinfectants, including bleach, need to be used with great care and may release toxic fumes. They must be used with proper ventilation, and your bird should not be in the room while they are being used. Remember to rinse well after you use any disinfectant so no residue is left on the cage or its contents.

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