Bathing Your Pet Bird


Talking BirdNew bird owners often have questions about the proper ways to bathe their birds. The truth is, there are few right answers. Bathing your pet bird is as important as bathing your dog or cat to keep your bird in good health.

Every bird is an individual, and as such, will display unique characteristics in regards to grooming behavior. Some birds love to play in the water, and relish their time in the bath. Some birds have not been conditioned to accept bathing, and resist contact with water, despite the fact that daily showers would be a part of their natural grooming activity in the wild.

In the wild, a bird gets dirty while foraging for food and from around-the-clock exposure to the elements. To keep clean, a bird may bathe during a rain shower, find a puddle, lake, or stream, or playfully hop through wet grasses and vegetation.

In your home, however, your pet bird faces much different challenges. A cage, for example, can quickly become more soiled than any nest in the wild. Your pet relies on you to keep it fresh. Also, the temperature-controlled environment your pet shares with you is likely to be much dryer than the one they would otherwise experience, especially if you have forced-air heat or an air conditioner.

Indoors, your bird’s skin can become very dry, making bathing or misting essential. Bathing birds is a natural and necessary part of their regular routines, just like good diets, fun toys and interaction with their human friends. Bathing maintains their plumage by helping to remove dust, extra oils, dander, loose feathers, and insect pests, while supplying supplemental moisture. Bathing also maintains the insulation properties of feathers, moistens the skin, and keeps their skin and feathers in tip-top shape. It’s also helpful during molting, for birds with respiratory ailments, hyperactive birds, pluckers and those easily bored.

Most birds need little, if any, encouragement to bathe. Simply providing the means does the job. But it may take a bit of experimentation and observation to learn your bird’s preferences.

Just as birds vary in personality, so do they vary in how they prefer to bathe. So why do so many people rarely bathe their birds, or say their bird “hates” a bath? What constitutes an effective bird bath?

An effective bird bath is a good, freshwater rinse or a misting from a spray bottle, or regular use of commercial sprays. Because soap removes the natural oils from feathers, over dries the skin and feathers, and is difficult to rinse off, it should be avoided altogether. If your bird gets into any substance that won’t easily rinse away with water or spray, contact your veterinarian for assistance. Because water streams can be powerful, and temperature extremes can be dangerous, bathing must be handled with care. Birds should always be supervised when bathing. And you should never force your bird to bathe. Resistance may be a sign of illness or just plain fear. Birds know when they aren’t in shape for a soaking.

Many birds enjoy bathing every day, while others only bathe occasionally. Start by offering a bath to your bird once or twice weekly. You will quickly learn the bird’s preferences. You should also increase bathing during molting to help pin feathers come through, reduce their itch, and soften the keratin for easy removal.

How do you bathe your bird?

There are so many options! Take him in the shower with you! You can purchase a special shower perch that easily attaches to your shower door! You can also use a spray nozzle with the bird in the sink, plant misters or bowls of shallow water. Please be sure the water is NOT HOT! If you mist your bird with a spray bottle, spray your hand first and be sure the water is lukewarm.

Keep everything in moderation.

Birds have a body temperature of about 105 degrees, maintained in large part by their feathers. To avoid chilling your bird, use lukewarm to moderately cool water for baths. During the bath, and while the bird is drying, be sure that the room is warm and that there are no drafts. Try to bathe your bird early in the day so that she will be completely dry before it goes to sleep.

Some larger birds will allow you to help dry them. Try wrapping your parrot or cockatiel, for example, in a towel and gently stroking her body in the direction that the feathers lay. Most parrots enjoy being cuddled in a towel post-bath, which soaks up excess moisture. This also fosters trust and helps birds get used to toweling as a gentle, positive experience. Never use an electric hair dryer. It can seriously and quickly burn your bird, and may even emit toxic fumes. Many hair dryers (especially new ones) have a Teflon coating which, when very hot, emit the same toxic fumes as non-stick cookware and is deadly to birds.

After a healthy bath, you may notice your bird’s chest muscles shivering. This behavior is not due to the cold, but rather the result of muscles contracting and expanding to generate body heat and help dry the feathers.

Where to bathe?

Owners of small birds usually find it convenient to make arrangements for in-cage bathing.

Owners of larger birds have more out-of-cage options. Choosing the right option will reduce hassles and make bathing enjoyable for you and your bird:

In-cage bathing options

For in-cage bathing, select a short, heavy, and stable bowl or cooking dish, and fill it with water one to two inches deep. The low height is beneficial for perching and helps reduce tipping. In their exuberance, however, birds may splash water over the rim, wetting the bedding below. To avoid creating a breeding ground for bacteria, fungus, and mold, be sure to replace the bedding any time it becomes over-saturated.

Cage-mounted bath

Well-designed baths can be temporarily attached to the side of the cage. These are fun for the bird, can be removed for easy cleaning, and help keep moisture away from the cage floor. Some birds will bathe themselves by rubbing their feathers against moistened greens placed in their cage. In addition to promoting cleanliness, the greens also help round out your bird’s diet.

Out-of-cage options

If you have a large bird, you can position a shower perch where she can be an observer, a splashee, or directly in-stream. Most showering birds can tolerate only a gentle spray. Avoid full-blast, hard sprays and be sure the water is not hot. In time, your bird will let you know how much water she prefers.

Kitchen sink, bath, or laundry room tub – Your bird may enjoy the spray attachment on your sink or tub. Be sure to control the strength of the water coming out of the nozzle, and never point it directly in your bird’s face.

How often should you bathe your bird?

Bathing should be done daily, year-round and early in the day so your bird dries thoroughly before bedtime. If you can’t bathe your bird daily, then be sure to at least bathe or mist her 2-3 times a week. Feather pluckers and moulting birds need baths as often as possible.

Tips you can try for the reluctant bird:

1. Sometimes even the vacuum cleaner can stimulate a bird to bathe. If you notice every time you turn on the vacuum, your bird bathes in his water dish, try bathing or showering with the vacuum on in the background

2. Birds love toys! Put a rubber toy in a bowl and let your bird play with it…he’ll get the idea!

3. Birds are incredibly intelligent! Show your bird how you laugh and have fun in the shower! Spray yourself, laugh and have fun!

4. Try little mini baths at first and pay attention to what your bird is enjoying. And use lots of praise and encouraging words!

Because birds are sensitive to fumes and susceptible to germs, you should clean sinks and tubs with water and mild, unscented dish soap, and then rinse thoroughly, before bathing. And as a measure of protection for you and your family, clean the bath area thoroughly afterward.

Summary Tips

  • Bathe your bird in lukewarm to moderately cool water
  • Fill bathing bowls only one to two inches deep
  • Never spray directly into your bird’s face
  • Never expose your wet bird to the cold or drafts
  • Never use soap
  • Bathe your bird early in the day to allow adequate drying time
  • Never force your bird to bathe
  • Never use an electric blow dryer on your bird
  • Consult you veterinarian if your bird becomes soiled with a substance that is difficult to remove.