Saliva Is Dangerous For Parrots

Saliva Is Dangerous For Parrots

 January 3rd, 2013
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Photo from

There has been a video circulating for a couple of years that depicts a parrot on a counter top feeding long strands of pasta to a large dog waiting below. It is an adorable video of an interaction between two species that are not naturally seen together. While it is touching and sweet, I cringe every time I see it.

There are two parts to my discomfort. First, there is the idea of a prey animal and a predator interacting. I can’t tell you how many stories I have heard over the years about the family pet attacking the bird.

Years ago, I thought nothing of keeping my cat and dog together with my birds. They had all been raised together and I carried on with the false impression that the cat and dog “understood“ that the birds were strictly off limits. They all got along well and without incident.

Then one day, my cat captured and killed a wild bird and brought it to me as a present. I was horrified that my cat would harm a bird and had to rethink the way I was letting them all interact. Even though they are domesticated, cats are cats and hunting is a big part of their intrinsic nature. Some common and popular dog breeds have qualities bred into them that specifically increase their interest in birds.

Should there be an attack, we would never be able to sprint into action fast enough to save our birds when something triggers the hunting instincts in our cat or dog, and the dangers double when food is involved like it was in the video.

Saliva is dangerous for parrots. Photo from

The second concern of that video is less well known to many bird owners and the topic of this post: the dangers of mammalian saliva.

Cats, dogs gerbils, humans…all mammals… carry a type of bacteria in their bodies that is referred to as “gram negative” bacteria. It is present in our body fluids and we are equipped to deal with it in normal amounts. Birds, however, do not carry gram negative bacteria in their bodies and are not prepared to battle it.

Saliva is the most common way to transmit gram negative bacteria to parrots (who, hopefully, do not have access to any other body fluids from ourselves or our pets.) This means we should be careful when we kiss our birds and we should never let them eat from our mouths or our utensils.

The claws of mammals are often coated with gram negative bacteria. That means that if there is an attack, it isn’t only the bite that is dangerous to a bird. Any scratch, no matter how superficial it seems, must be tended to by a veterinarian immediately.

To test for gram negative bacteria in an ill bird, your vet will use a process called gram staining which separates the gram negative cells from the gram positive cells. A purple dye is introduced to a sample taken from your bird which will leave the thinner cell walls of gram negative bacteria a pink color and the thicker walled cells of gram positive bacteria purple. Your vet can then make an assessment as to the degree of gram negative invasion and medicate appropriately.

Photo of gram stain from

Parrots are entirely different from mammals physiologically and it is beneficial for us to keep their environment as separate from our own, and that of our other pets, as possible.

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6 Comments on “Saliva Is Dangerous For Parrots”

Chantelle  01/05/2013 11:15 am

My Galah recently had to spend time in a box with a nebuliser blowing warm air in to clear up her sinusitis. The avian vet told me that it is due to bacteria in my mouth that she probably got sick from. Since then she only gets dry kisses, no lip eating!

Ariana  01/05/2013 11:34 am

I was aware of this before, but it’s good to have a reminder. I always make sure to only give my bird dry kisses and I don’t feed him from my mouth even when he tried to force his head through to get the apples I’m eating lol. Great article.

Karen Grotts  01/05/2013 3:23 pm

WOW!!! Oscar… my blue & gold Macaw has kissed me and ate bites of food all his life. He is 20 yrs old. He has never been ill, THAN GOD. hE LOVES TO EAT FOOD FROM ME. i FEEL REALLY BAD THAT i COULD HAVE MADE HIM SICK. I will stop feeding him that way. Thanks for the tip.

Nalin  07/12/2013 4:49 pm

This information is an eye-opener. Changes the way I’m planning interaction of my 2 dogs (18 month Cocker Spaniel and 2.5 year old Chihuahua) with my 3 month old African Grey. Thanks for all the inputs here.

BirdieTwo  09/12/2015 5:44 pm

Gram-negative bacteria is in everything–on our tables, floors, and even the dirt. Avoiding it is impossible, and in high numbers in the incorrect place of our bodies–they can be deadly for us as well. Birds DO have gram-negative bacteria in their bodies, just in low numbers. Like us, if they get too many they get sick.

“..Gram-negative bacteria may be present in very low numbers in clinically normal birds. When present in large numbers however, they are frequently associated with disease. Enterobacter, Escherichia coli, Proteus, Klebsiella and Pseudomonas are disease causing gram negative bacteria….”

michael  10/26/2016 11:30 am

so, what happens when birds, lets say a hawk eats a mouse, or vultures eat a dead dear? As, they are birds and they will be ingesting this bacteria, and it is a common occurrence?