You are surrounded by potential allergens in your home and outside, but did you know that your pet bird may be the source of your discomfort? Allergic reactions to birds aren't that uncommon. In fact, even people that aren't allergic can develop symptoms of allergies after prolonged exposure to birds.
All birds produce dander, which are solid biological particles very similar to dust. They are very light, so they can be carried through the air and even inhaled in large quantities. Bird dander is particularly aggravating for humans and animals because birds constantly propagate it by flapping their wings, even if they cannot fly. Some dander particles are too small to see without a microscope, so a diagnosis of dander allergy by a doctor comes as a surprise to many bird owners.
Some bird species, including the often domesticated cockatiel, are "powder-producing" birds. These species constantly secret a powdery substance to coat their feathers with rather than the oily substance produced by the skin of other birds. This powder is different from dander, so it may produce an allergic reaction in people that aren't bothered by oil-producing birds. Long-term exposure to this powder can actually lead to life-threatening lung damage in humans and even other birds.
Symptoms of Bird Allergies
Bird owners, particularly those with powder-producing birds, should monitor their own health and the behavior of other pets and humans in the household. Dander and powder allergies produce cold-like symptoms, so they are easily confused with a microbial infection of the sinuses or lungs. Difficulty breathing is an important warning sign that must be addressed immediately. Long-term symptoms of exposure to bird allergens include lethargy, lack of appetite and muscle pain
If you, your family or your pets have severe allergic reactions to birds, you should consider giving the birds to a new home. While it is painful to say goodbye to your pet, it may ultimately be in your household's best interest to do so. If allergic reactions are infrequent or minor, there are other steps you can take to contain and remove allergens. Keep your birds in a well-ventilated cage or aviary to reduce the spread of dander and powder. Some aviaries have filtered air intakes to catch pollutants. Clean the entire house regularly to prevent allergens from building up on surfaces. Install air filtration modules in your HVAC system, or place stand-alone filters throughout the house to improve and maintain air quality.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.