Why doctors should be prescribing pet birds

Why doctors should be prescribing pet birds

Today its email, or you are pinned – tweeted – snapchatted – facebooked and plussed 

Back in the day some announcer would say “keep those cards and letters coming” 

I miss those days  – you knew where your bread was buttered and you only had white, wheat or rye. Shopping was easy. 

 so I get this email

We have had our 22 or 23 year old loved blue gold macaw since she was about 10 months old. Unfortunately, I have been diagnosed with interstitial lung disease.

My pulmonologist has indicated that having our Bird Enki is increasing the deterioration of my lungs. We would like to find Enki a good home. She has a zoo quality cage which she can take with her.

 woman hold blue and gold macaw on right arm face to face

from Wikipedia we learn:

Pulmonology is a medical specialty that deals with diseases involving the respiratory tract.The term is derived from the Latin word pulmo, pulmonis (“lung”) and the Greek -????a, -logia. Pulmonology is synonymous with pneumology, respirology and respiratory medicine. 

Find all our higgins bird food here

Pulmonology is known as chest medicine and respiratory medicine in some countries and areas. Pulmonologists are specially trained in diseases and conditions of the chest, particularly pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema, and complicated chest infections.

I’d like to point out how inefficient mammalian lungs are:

look at this mess

diagram human respiratory system

and when you watch them work

you really have to wonder how we are all still standing upright

some of you may remember Emma’s brilliant video on avian respiration

 I had dinner last night at the new restaurant on the moon my Yelp review reads: “great food – but no atmosphere” 

Being the cantankerous old guy that I am I wrote the following response:

sorry to hear of your demise –

I mean no disrespect with what I am about to say.

find all our hagen bird food here too

Enki’s lungs (and nine air sacs) are 100 times more sensitive than yours on a good day. She’s a South American bird so she has little dander. Theoretically she should molt once a year.

If her cage is kept clean by changing the paper in the bottom of it whenever she poops you can avoid fecal matter particulate in the air. A pellet diet or a blended diet like Tropimix from Hagen would eliminate the seed mess as all Tropimix seeds are hull free.

Add a HEPA (non-ionizing) air filter and the only thing the three of you would be missing is the sadness of not having her in your lives should she get re-homed.

Birds are nature’s first responders to declines in air quality.

What your pulmonologist advocated was to “remove the canary from the coal mine”.

coal miner holding canary in small cage

are you here in Chicago? I believe Suzie from Animal House mentioned your situation.

Please let me know your ZIP Code if you want to move forward in the rehoming process


 caveat: the words the resonate in my head are “We don’t have a cure for your disease so you’re demise is inevitable but we want you to take one of the most cherished living breathing things in your life away. It’s for the best”

 I’m struggling here people

 if you shop for air filters on the Internet you’ll see words like this:

“There are many reasons the GermGuardian 3-n-1 Air Cleaning System is Amazon’s Top Selling Air Purifier.

Aside from capturing 99.97% of allergens with its True HEPA filtration that gets dust mites, pet dander, pollen and more, it also reduces the odors that can filter throughout a home like pets, cooking and even smoking”.

Thus is it is opaque to me how this bird is going to make this individual’s health decline. I’ve seen cockatoo dander but I’ve also lived in Chicago for the better part of six decades and the dust is measurable on horizontal services with all the windows closed in the middle of winter and far exceeds the degradation of air quaility the flakes falling off those Australian species of parrots.

 I understand that I don’t have a medical degree. I respect medical degrees and understand my Google searches will never trump a medical (or veterinary) degree but I’m trying to wrap my head around this.

So I began to work the problem backwards. Can birds cause cancer – maybe it’s a real fear?

Excerpt from a letter in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 202(9):1345 (May 1, 1993), headed:

Question link between human lung cancer and pet bird exposure

by Frederick J. Angulo DVM MPVM, Robert C. Millikan DVM MPH, and Robert Malmgren PhD.

Determining whether an exposure causes a disease in an individual is difficult, but such determination can be supported by demonstrating biological plausibility.

Unfortunately, the mechanisms suggested by Kohlmeier et al. are not consistent with all available information.  

Although inhalation of avian antigens may cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis, neither hypersensitivity pneumonitis nor pulmonary fibrosis, which occasionally results, is associated with lung cancer. 

In addition, avian particulates, owing to their size, are not likely to reach the alveoli, nor have they been proven to be carcinogenic.

Finally a mycologic pathway is unlikely, given that pet birds seldom are a source of Cryptococcus neoformans, even among immunosuppressed individuals, because few birds shed this organism and there is little aerosolization from feces.

 african grey parrot wearing surgical mask

nope birds don’t cause cancer – not in the US – not in Europe

Lung Cancer. 2002 Jul;37(1):29-34.

Pet birds and risk of lung cancer in North-Western Germany.

Jöckel KH1, Pohlabeln H, Bromen K, Ahrens W, Jahn I.

Author information Abstract

 In a case-control study on lung cancer and occupational exposures, a subgroup of 144 cases and 253 population-based controls interviewed in the last 16 months of the study, were additionally asked about their exposure to pet birds and other pets. We used the same questionnaire as a previous German study that found a positive association between pet bird keeping and lung cancer.

Odds ratios were calculated for lifetime and adulthood exposure respectively. The adjusted odds ratio for ever keeping pet birds was 0.85 (95% CI: 0.53-1.35), and 0.87 (95% CI: 0.56-1.36) for adulthood exposure. There was no evidence of a trend for increasing lung cancer risk with duration of pet bird keeping.

With decreasing age at diagnosis, an apparent risk emerged, yielding an odds ratio of 7.62 (95% CI: 2.15-26.95) for ever versus never in the youngest age group (< or =55 years). This odds ratio was reduced to 3.82 (95% CI: 0.98-14.92) after adjustment for smoking and was only 1.39 (95% CI: 0.49-3.95) for adulthood exposure.

 In general, our results indicate that pet bird keeping does not seem to increase the risk of lung cancer.

 The divergent findings at younger ages may be explained by age-related recall bias, but should be investigated in future studies.

 If I had lung cancer I would want to know how dangerous my house – Turns out scientists in lab coats will come to your home and tell you how polluted the air you breathe in your how is or is not.


but no the doctor said “get rid of the bird”

 did the doctor say “get your air ducts cleaned” “test for mold” “install high functioning air filters” no he said “get rid of the bird” <-red flag

So I did a little more drilling on how birds can negatively impact the human respiratory system

which is easy if I borrow from Wikipedia:

Bird fancier’s lung is a type of hypersensitivity pneumonitis caused by bird droppings. The lungs become inflamed with granuloma formation

benefits of Himalayan salt lampsAre Himalayan Salt Lamps to Parrots
what Coal Mines Were to Canaries?

 Bird fancier’s lung (BFL), also called bird-breeder’s lung and pigeon-breeder’s lung, is a subset of hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP). This disease is caused by the exposure to avian proteins present in the dry dust of the droppings and sometimes in the feathers of a variety of birds. Birds such as pigeons, parakeets, cockatiels, shell parakeets (budgerigars), parrots, turtle doves, turkeys and chickens have been implicated. 

 Getting back to the original diagnosis – I found this tidbit on Web M.D. Bacteria, viruses, and fungi are known to cause interstitial pneumonias. Regular exposures to inhaled irritants at work or during hobbies can also cause some interstitial lung disease. These irritants include: Asbestos Silica dust Talc Coal dust, or various other metal dusts from working in mining Grain dust from farming Bird proteins (such as from exotic birds, chickens, or pigeons)

 My suspicion is the doctor is following protocol – unfortunately it is not to scale because I think protocol refers to scenarios similar to this:

 People who work with birds or own many birds are at risk. Bird hobbyists and pet store workers may also be at risk.


I’ve never been to a poultry farm but I have been in a racing pigeon coop with about to 50 birds. This was also a problem during World War II when the Army had close to 1/2 million pigeons in the signal corps.

The Army eventually learned that several designs of coops had to be used based upon geography and more importantly they learned about the placement of the coops would help ensure the wind naturally take much of the avian protein particulate away naturally.

All bird coops have one or two doors – do you know why that is?

 Because if they had four doors they would be bird sedans.

 Is there anyone out there that can either back me up or dispute me on this?

If I was a pulmonologist I would have all of my patients rescue a pet bird and keep them in the house under the conditions I stated above.

There is no better first responder for the degradation of air quality than a pet bird

We know that Teflon can be lethal to birds but from the research I have done Teflon has never killed a human. It can in fact cause Polymer fume fever or fluoropolymer fever, also informally called Teflon flu June generating extreme flu like symptoms about six hours after exposure to the Teflon.

 BTW – once you scratch a Teflon pan particles degrade and end up in your food – nasty stuff

Don’t take it from me I was surprised to see that http://www.motherjones.com/ was not only still around but fully digital.

“DuPont has always known more about Teflon than it let on. Two years ago (2005)the EPA fined the company $16.5 million—the largest administrative fine in the agency’s history—for covering up decades’ worth of studies indicating that PFOA could cause health problems such as cancer, birth defects, and liver damage”. more here

 moral of this tail?

 not all doctors are named “Doolittle”

 written by mitch rezman
approved by catherine tobsing

your zygodactyl foot note


Mitch Rezman

He's handled a 1000 birds of numerous species when they visited monthly birdie brunches in the old Portage Park (Chicago, IL) facility. The one with the parrot playground. Mitch has written and published more than 1100 articles on captive bird care. He's met with the majority of  CEO's and business owners for most brands in the pet bird space and does so on a regular basis. He also constantly interacts with avian veterinarians and influencers globally.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. It breaks my heart to hear of people who are ill, being forced to get rid of (or euthanize) beloved family pets….they are RARELY the reason. Many years ago, my aunt — who had “allergies” — was told to get rid of her 12 year old (perfectly healthy) and beloved pet cat. He was too old to be rehomed, so she had the vet put him down (thank god, vets rarely will do this today to a healthy animal). The result? it has zero effect on her allergies — ZERO. She still sniffled, had allergy shots and inhalers for the next…45 years. It turned out after PUTTING HER HEALTHY BELOVED CAT TO SLEEP…she was really allergic to dust mites.

    The cat never made any difference at all.

    I suggest to the person with the parrot, that before rehoming him…at least have a friend take him for two weeks or board him….and see if it makes ANY DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER in your breathing or COPD. My guess is that it won’t matter at all, so you might as well keep your beloved pet and ignore the doctor!

    I’d never give up my pets. Everybody has to die sometime; I prefer to it WITH my pets and not alone.

    1. I so agree with you. My story on this is fairly trivial in comparison to this one, but about 30 years ago when I was being diagnosed for allergies, my one pet at the moment was a budgie with liver disease. The allergy doc had no perceptible sense of humor, and on his list of orders appeared “trial without bird for one month.” I said, “This bird has liver disease and has to be given medication twice a day. Would YOU like to take her home for me for a month?” Our eyes locked for about 10 seconds, and he didn’t bring that up again. It might take more than two weeks to evaluate a separation in this case, and I agree that it’s unlikely the problem anyway, but for sure try the separation before re-homing if you can.


  2. My husband died almost a year ago from lung cancer. At no point during diagnosis and treatment, did our pulmonologist or oncologist suggest that we needed to remove our three birds, two dogs or cat from our home. Lucky to have knowledgeable medical care, but had we had a different answer, never would we have taken that advice without reaching out to many other experts in the pulmonary/cancer field.

    A related question. I’ve made provisions in my will for my companion animals care, but does anyone have a suggestion to find a parrot re-home, and how to leave instructions in my will for non-parrot people?

    1. I help a friend in the PA-NJ-NY area post adoptions for birds. We get notices on Adopt-A-Pet – through that network are rescues and fosters for birds. My suggestion is to check out the Adopt-A-Pet site and click on for birds, specific to your location – you should find several rescue groups in your general area that you can contact about future plans for your birds. That is what I plan to do myself.

  3. I have ha allergies for years.. We got our birds Nine years ago.. I sat with all kinds of birds to see if I would have a reaction to them.. I did not… The older I have gotten the worse my allergies have gotten so….I went to the doctor and he sent me to a very good Pulmonologist he asked all kinds of questions about an hour and a half worth… When he heard we had birds he said that birds can cause diseases that effect our lungs Bird handlers Disease was brought up. He said Cockatiels were bad for it… Then we said we have one and a Senegal.. OOOOOO that was bad….. I had all kinds of tests CTscan and nothing that I have did the birds cause. He said I might have to give up the birds.. WELL I thought it over and Said to everyone ” I have had a good run. I am 66 years old. I would not be happy if I had to give them up and I know they would not be happy either… ” My test came back good and I have allergies to other things no one can control. My doctor did not even mention my birds… I hope you decide what is best for you..I will send you Prayers…

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