The dangers of cotton and fabric toys to birds
Cotton is a material that we commonly use in our daily lives - from the fabric of the clothes we wear to the bed linens that we sleep on every night. As bird owners, we can easily find cotton perches, cotton bird toys, cotton hammocks and furry sleeping huts for our birds as well.
But did you know that although cotton perches, toys, hammocks and huts are marketed for birds, they are actually unsafe for birds because of the ways birds interact with the material?
Because parrots love to shred, chew, preen using their beaks, cotton and fabric poses significant risks of chemical poisoning, strangulation, entanglement and developing a gastrointestinal blockage.
What can make such a soft and seemingly harmless material dangerous for our birds?
Risk of chemical poisoning
Many mass manufacturers of bird toys use unsafe and unregulated dyes, bleaches in the production of cotton toys to lower costs. Also, cotton is a very pesticide-intensive crop and many unsafe chemicals are used in growing cotton. Studies have shown that cotton production is very harmful for workers and wildlife.
Since birds love to chew their toys, they will occasionally ingest some fibers or pieces of cotton based material and are at a risk of chemical poisoning. A bird owner shared that her bird developed a tumor in its crop which could possibly have caused by these chemicals.
Risk of strangulation and entanglement
When a piece of cotton rope or fabric gets chewed and broken down, it frays and unravels into smaller threads. These thin threads easily tangle around birds’ feet or neck, resulting in injury or in countless cases even death.
Risk of developing a gastrointestinal blockage
When small cotton fibres are ingested, it is accumulated in their crop (a pocket-like tract in their lower throat), stomachs or intestines over months and years leading to an eventual obstruction and a swift death. Vets have also mentioned that many times, the cause can only be diagnosed in a post mortem autopsy.
- Cotton fibre obstruction from crop, esophagus to stomach
- Fibre mass in the crop of a cockatiel visible through the skin
- Cotton fibre obstruction surgically removed from the crop of a cockatiel
- Surgically removing a cotton fibre obstruction from a budgie
- This budgie free ranging in the house chewed on some fibres in the carpet
- Cotton fibre obstruction from rope perches: Two impactions that were removed upon autopsy (post-death)
- Cotton fibre obstruction from cotton rope swings: This toy caused the death of a cockatiel
- Cotton fibre obstruction in the gizzard of a rainbow lorikeet who later died
- Numerous cotton fibre obstructions removed by surgery from birds
- Cotton fibre mass removed from a cockatiel
- Size of the cotton fibre obstruction furball in relation to a pen surgically removed from the crop of a cockatiel
- Cotton fibre obstruction was taken from a bird’s crop. It had become calcified over a period of time
- 52g cotton fibre obstruction surgically removed from the crop of a sun conure
- Cotton fibre mass removed from the gizzard of a rainbow lorikeet who later died
- Cotton fibre obstruction in a cockatiel's crop: This cockatiel had 2 fibre impactions. This is an impaction in his crop that could have been surgically removed but the second large impaction in his stomach was inoperable
- 52g cotton fibre obstruction in the crop of a 100g sun conure before surgery
Click here to read a real story of Peanut the conure who died from internal blockage from his happy hut and rope toys.
Symptoms of gastrointestinal obstruction:
- Difficulty pooping, differences in droppings
- Suddenly drinking a lot of water
- Reduction in appetite
- Yeast in crop
- Constant vomiting
- Feather destructive behaviors
Myth 1: My birds have cotton toys for a long time and there are no signs of them being sick, it should be safe right?
Gastrointestinal obstruction takes months to years of small cotton fibres accumulating in the crop, stomachs or intestines, leading to an eventual obstruction and a swift death. Birds can behave normally even while the fibres are building up over the months and years. When symptoms finally start to show, birds are close to death. Most of the time, bird owners only discover the fibre blockages of the bowel and stomach on post mortem examination.
Myth 2: I've never seen my birds chew on their cotton rope perch and toys, so it should be safe in my case right?
Parrots won’t necessarily chew these items in front of you and often the changes that occur to these items are very subtle as individual cotton fibres are quite small. Cotton rope perches can still fray over time and trap your bird’s claws.
Myth 3: My bird loves his/her fabric snuggle hut and hammock so it should be safe for them right?
Lots of parrots love fabric huts, tents and hammocks for the same reasons why we humans love our beds - because they are comfortable, soft and alluring. However, despite how much parrots like them, fabric snuggle huts, hammocks and tents are NOT safe for parrots because of how they interact with them. Birds love fabric because it’s soft and pliable. In a bird’s mind, chewing on fabric makes it fluffy and plump - which increases the dangers.
Myth 4: If I make sure I continually trim the loose threads and frayed cotton, it should be safe for my birds right?
No, because of 3 reasons:
- You cannot control what happens when your birds are in their cage unsupervised. Dangerous fraying can occur in a single afternoon while you are away.
- Birds usually chew their snuggle huts and tents from the inside, making small and unnoticeable holes in the lining where the stitches are where they can get entangled between the threads on the fabric.
- Loose threads and frayed cotton means that the birds have been chewing and ingesting the cotton fibres - the risks of chemical poisoning and gastrointestinal obstruction from cotton fibre are still significant.
Myth 5: Since many bird toy manufacturers use cotton rope and fabric to make toys and many bird owners also use them for their birds, it should be safe right?
Many bird toy manufacturers use cotton rope to make toys and perches because they are easily obtainable, cheap and makes “durable” bird toys. The threads of cotton rope are extremely strong and difficult to chew through, which is exactly why cotton rope poses serious entanglement and strangulation risks to birds.
Unfortunately, although these products are marketed for birds, it does not mean that they are safe for birds. There are many commercially produced toys that are poorly constructed, unsafe and inappropriate for birds. According to Currumbin Valley Vets in Queensland, Australia, they have had many birds presented suffering from fibre impaction as a result of chewing on tasselly, rope toys and woven rope perches that have been sold as “bird friendly”.
Myth 6: If I supervise my birds, I can quickly cut them free if they get entangled in cotton threads and it should be fine right?
Birds have died instantly by strangulation when they get their necks tangled. There have been cases of birds separating the strands on braided ropes, inserting their heads, and strangling themselves as a result. Some birds have even died of heart attacks due to anxiety.
Birds can also chew a hole inside the lining of fabric huts and end up becoming trapped inside the lining and suffocate.
What can you do?
- Remove all the sources of cotton fibre from your bird's cage. This means rope toys, perches, boings, hammocks, happy huts and snuggle tents.
- Don’t buy any toys with rope, chord or tassels
- Do not allow your bird to chew on or pick at carpets, curtains, upholstery and clothes
- Avoid using towels or cloths with loose threads as cage covers
- Provide plenty of healthy, natural alternatives for your bird to chew
- Perches and boings: Use natural wood perches, perches and boings wrapped with natural bird-safe rope such as sisal, hemp and jute rope. Make sure that these ropes are oil and pesticide free.
- Bird toys: If the toy comes threaded with cotton rope, cut away and replace the cotton rope with natural bird-safe rope such as sisal, hemp, jute and vegetable tanned leather. If the toy comes with fabric strips or cotton threads marketed as a preening toy, cut away the fabric strips and cotton parts.
- Hammocks, happy huts and snuggle tents: We would generally recommend to remove sleeping huts and cover the cage with a black-out cage cover instead because sleeping huts encourage hormonal and nesty behaviour especially among female birds. If you choose to give your bird a sleeping hut or hammock, choose natural materials such as seagrass and vegetable tanned leather.
At Parrot Funhouse, we strongly believe that the toys that our beloved birds play with should be fun AND safe. All our bird toys are FREE FROM cotton rope or fabric materials. Shop our range of safe bird toys here.