Smoking Around Your Birds

Smoking Around Your Birds

 September 3rd, 2009
Posted By:

Blue and Gold Macaws

If you choose to smoke, that’s your business and your right.  This post is about secondhand smoke, and how smoking around your birds affects affects their health.

What is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke is the smoke that is emitted from a cigarette, from either the burning end or the filtered end.  It contains thousands of different chemicals that fill the air as either gases or particulates.  Following are facts about secondhand smoke by the National Cancer Institute and the EPA:

  • “Secondhand smoke contains over 4000 chemicals, including 69 compounds that are known to cause cancer.  Anyone who breathes secondhand smoke is breathing in formaldehyde, ammonia, cyanide, arsenic, carbon monoxide, methane and thousands of other chemicals.  The concentration of these carcinogenic chemicals is actually higher in secondhand smoke than in the fumes directly inhaled by smokers.”
  • “Secondhand smoke is classified as a class-A carcinogen, the same classification given to asbestos.”

Congo African Grey Parrot

Your parrot’s respiratory system

Your parrot has a very sensitive and intricate respiratory system.  It is quite unlike ours.  Here are some avian respiratory facts:

  • Birds have lungs, which are not lobed like our own. They also have air sacs (either 7 or 9, depending on species) which extend into their bones, which are hollow. This fact makes them lightweight and enables flight.
  • Birds do not have a diaphragm.  Air is drawn in and expelled by the contraction of muscles.  Because there is no diaphragm, and the air sacs extend into the bones, respiratory infections also can extend to the abdominal cavity and the bones.
  • A bird’s respiration is slower than in mammals of similar size.
  • It actually takes two breaths to complete a single respiration cycle and move air through the entire respiratory system.  The second breath pushes the first through to the end of it’s cycle.
  • The respiratory system of a bird is more efficient than ours in transferring oxygen.  This means that toxins inhaled are delivered equally as well.   Because of this efficiency, a parrot will succumb to the same level of toxic fumes that would be tolerated by a mammal.

Congo African Grey Parrot

Feather destruction and plucking can result from smoking around your birds

So the math involved here is not hard – the combination of toxic particulates and gases in the air and a dynamic respiratory system are not a good match.  But there’s more, as if that’s not enough… it has been found to be a source of feather destruction and plucking.

Cigarette smoke rises into the air because it’s heated.  When it’s cools, gravity brings it back down.  It lands on your birds, their perches, their cage bars, toys AND food.  If your hands are coated with chemicals from holding the cigarette, it is easily transferred to your bird.  I know of an extreme case where an amazon,  who turned out to be very sensitive to chemical exposure, began mutilating his feet before they determined the cause to be his perches that were covered with residue from cigarette smoke.


When you bathe a parrot that lives in the house with a smoker, the water that rinses off them is often a brownish-yellow color.  Their feathers will pick up the odor and it often stays with them until all feathers have been molted.  A friend who rehomed an african grey from a smoker’s house says that after a year, she is still able to smell the smoke on her parrot, especially when he’s wet.  Other parrots will simply remove the tainted feathers on their own, a habit they may not be able to kick.

Another concern is that where there are smokers, there are nicotine products.  Nicotine poisoning can occur when your parrot finds and chews apart a cigarette like a shredder toy.  The butt of a cigarette alone contains 25% of the nicotine of the original cigarette.  Signs of nicotine poisoning include: twitching, excitedness, panting, salivation, vomiting, increased heartrate, collapse, coma and cardiac arrest.

If you do smoke, please do it outside where the fumes and residue will not affect your parrots or other members of your household, and remember to wash you hands before you interact with them or their belongings.

Outdoor aviaries for your birds will help to alleviate some of the problems and give them plenty of fresh air and natural light.  Covering their cages and playstands while they are outside will help to keep harmful residue from settling on surfaces where they spend their time. Frequent bathing is a must for your parrot if you are a smoker, and adding a product like George’s Aloe to a spray bottle will help in maintaining feather condition.

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30 Comments on “Smoking Around Your Birds”

Mike  09/03/2009 3:18 pm

That is absolutely disgusting! I cannot imagine a parrot living in that kind of an environment and I would not hesitate to call that animal abuse (especially after reading the details you outlined).

I don’t smoke but I never take my parrot into a smoker’s home and I don’t let smokers touch my bird. The thought of exposing her to that is disturbing. I get very frustrated if I am walking outside with my bird in the carrier and someone walks by with a cigarette because they hold it at the same height my carrier goes. I try my best to keep her far away from this poison.

Mary  09/03/2009 11:07 pm

Sorry, I don’t think it is anyone’s right to keep a captive bird AND smoke. It is animal abuse, pure and simple.

If you are guardian to birds, you are living with animals that are so acutely sensitive to what they breathe, that you are actively harming them if you smoke. And you know it.

Do you know any smoker who would be so careful as to remove all the secondhand smoke, such as by always stepping outside? You have a right to your opinion. But I do think “owning” a bird implies that you must not live in contradiction to the birds most basic–most basic–need.

However, I applaud your article and am really grateful for it. Thank you.

Mike  09/04/2009 12:10 am

Good point Mary. I think giving up smoking for a bird owner is just as vital as giving up teflon, avacado, and other bird dangerous household items. Birds and smokers do not belong under one roof under any circumstances. No matter how nice of an owner the person may be otherwise, the smoke is killing the bird.

To any bird owning smokers out there, consider your bird’s life a damn good reason to quit! It’s healthier for yourself anyway.

Patty  09/05/2009 1:10 pm

Hi Mary,
I agree with you that smoking around your birds is abuse. I feel that people who smoke indoors should not keep birds, but I know of several who do and have no intention of giving up either the birds or the cigarettes. Smokers are addicted and it is difficult for them to quit. Keeping that in mind, it seems a better idea to explain the risks and offer solutions to the problem at hand.

Tug B.  09/08/2009 1:04 pm

I am a smoker and I have 2 wonderful birds. A Nanday Conure and Green Cheek Conure. My Nanday spends a lot of time on my shoulder except for the time when I put him back in his cage so I can have a smoke break.
I have talked to my vet who says that I should avoid having him in direct contact with the smoke but it is ok if the location is airy and fresh air is constantly circulating

nouman  09/09/2009 2:48 am

Hi Mary,

Good point Mary. I think giving up smoking for a bird owner is just as vital as giving up teflon, avacado, and other bird dangerous household items. Birds and smokers do not belong under one roof under any circumstances. No matter how nice of an owner the person may be otherwise, the smoke is killing the bird.

To any bird owning smokers out there, consider your bird’s life a damn good reason to quit! It’s healthier for yourself anyway.

aletha hadwen  09/09/2009 1:44 pm

Hi Chet, I quit smoking before I got my bird as a gift. I am so thankful for that but also for not smoking anymore. I can’t tell you how good I feel and that I am glad I will be around alot longer to be with my bird. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to not have Ollie in my life, my world. If everyone that smoked could stop for thier birds it would be great, unfortunately it’s alot harder than you think. Ask for HELP, Get healthy for yourself and all your animals no matter what they are, birds, cats, dogs,etc. I have a quaker parrot Ollie, four dogs, one cat, and of course my husband and, they are all glad that I don’t smoke anymore. Thanks for the info Chet, maybe people that smoke will be more informed on the risks of smoking all around and do something about it. aletha hadwen

Beckie  11/30/2009 11:45 am

I have just taken a beautiful bird in called kezz, his previous owners had to rehome him so they gave him to me. When my husband picked kezz up from the previous owners and brought him home i was disgusted at what state he was in. THEY are heavy smokers and his cage was so dirty from nicotene, i tryed my best to clean it but it made me feel sick. So we went out this morning and bought him a new cage with new toys. Also they were just feeding him on seeds and he had no water. I felt so sorry for him but i know that he will be alot healthier now hes with us. Smoking around any animal is just wrong!!!!

Patty  11/30/2009 12:47 pm

Hi Becky,
Good job! Thanks to you, Kezz will have a happy and healthy life now.

Kiki  04/05/2010 9:48 pm

You are all making smokers out to be bad bird owners, like we can’t possibly be good for birds because we all smoke around our birds and don’t take into consideration their delicate respitory system. I myself am a smoker and I own a green cheek conure. I don’t smoke inside my home in the first place and I always wash my hands with hot water and dish soap before I handle my bird. I am very aware of him when he’s around me and am very careful not to put my little guy in harms way. My little dude visits the vet every six months for regular check ups and has always had a clean bill of health! So please, just because you may picture smokers as some horrible “animal abusers” it doesn’t mean that we actually are and I think it’s pretty rude to stereotype people.

Debbie  11/08/2010 12:43 pm

an ex-smoker sez thank-you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Marie M. Nicholson  11/08/2010 3:55 pm

I took a Goffin Cocktoo from my gandson, it’s beak was over grown, he could not close his
beak all the way. I felt so sorry for this bird, he was beautiful but they rarely held him or taught
him to play. His cage was in my grandson’s ‘office’ a room about 10 X12′. My grandson
smoked in that room with the door closed. There was a TV in the room by the cage and it
ran at about 18 volume, 24/7. A nine year old was given the duty of taking care of the bird.
Because the bird tossed his seeds out they put an 8″ cast iron skillet in his cage for his
food. The nine year old would each day put a scoop of seeds from WalMart in the skillet
The skillet was the left front corner of the cage and that is where the bird clung to the bars
of the cage so that he could see people come and go to the other rooms. When he pooped
too much of it went into the skillet. His water was rarely changed. The bird would not only
pluck his feathers he would actually bite his skin until it bled. I brought the bird home with
me, it cost me almost $1,000. in vet bills. I could no longer afford him and had to find
him a new home. His new human family does not smoke and the man works in my vets
office so I know he will have a great home and is being loved and trained. He is a true
part of the family.

Please tell your bird friends the importance of the lack of noise and light so the bird can
get 10 hours of sleep each night.

Brenda Denysschen  11/09/2010 8:10 am

We left out Cuckatoo at a bird friendly boarding for a couple of days
when we went to fetch Gambit he stank of cigarette smoke and it
took days for the smell to dissapear. Unfortuneately the boarding here in South Africa for birds
are very rare and few let the birds out of the cage. There should be a law prohibiting pet board
to allow smoking in their habitat. Do you think that a few days would make a difference.

Patty  11/09/2010 9:23 pm

Hi Brenda,
I agree that smoking should be prohibited by professional boarders. A few days will not have hurt him though.

Ellen  01/28/2011 12:12 am

That’s funny. I’m routinely told that I’m ridiculous when I ask smokers to go downwind from my house and my birds’ room. I was beginning to think that I was just being silly, but I guess not!

Thanks for the article.

Donna  01/28/2011 9:15 pm

@Mary – No one has the RIGHT to keep a bird in captivity in the first place, smoker or non-smoker. They are wild animals meant to live free and fly free. You may clip your birds wings or have it confined to a small indoor cage, who knows, but that comment is ridiculous and i am sure you do not know everything about keeping wild birds as pets. Not everyone knows exactly what is right for our animals and I am sure everyone out there is doing something wrong, they are just not aware of it. Look at what goes on in our world, there are much worse cases of abuse amongst animals and humans alike. If people love their pets and their pets are happy and healthy then good luck to them.
@ patty – Great artice very informative thank you 😉

Matt  01/29/2011 5:54 am

I used to own a budgie ‘Jake’ who lived for a year with me in a house that was always filled with noise. It had 4 cats, 3 dogs, 1 child & 6 – 7 smokers. I am a Hairdresser & Nail Technician who used to occasionally do colors & acrylic nails near his cage. I have always used products with airborne contaminants in a house with Jake in it. I admit that I was young, less informed & educated than i am now.
It may surprise some to hear that I had ‘Jake’ until he was 11 years old. Pretty damn good for a budgie! He survived the smoke, noise, predators, kids & chemicals. He simply passed on from old age.
I now own an extremely healthy & active lovebird named ‘Pacy’. I am aware of the contaminants around his environment & do what I can to minamise his exposure as I do for myself.

I see both sides of the argument & am respectful of all views. Responsible behavior falls upon us all. Please respect the amazing creatures we are blessed to care for. Just remember healthy living is good for us all but there are always exceptions.

As we all know smoking is not a pleasant habit but some people enjoy it. That doesn’t mean your bird does!

June  01/29/2011 11:02 am

How about smoke that comes from a fireplace?

Shannon  01/29/2011 11:43 am

I am a smoker, and I have parrots that I love more than anything in the world. I too, have issues with people that smoke in their homes – I have never smoked in my house. Not only for my parrots well being, but because of the second hand smell. Walls, clothes, carpeting, furniture, constantly stink.

Although I am a smoker, I do not smoke around my birds. My Grey knows when I’m going – she asks “Going for a smoke?” when she sees me put on my jacket! Even outside – if they are with me, there is no smoking. I view them as my children, and I feel strongly against smoking around someone that does not have the ability to voice their concerns, or to move away from the toxins.

Smoking is a bad habit, and there are many days that I wish I never picked up that first stick! Why should I force my habit onto someone who has not chosen that path!

Great story, and I hope that the smokers out there will realize the harm they are doing to their parrots, and other people who come into their home, as sometimes, it is difficult to point this out to other smokers. I have tried, and I have always had the same answer “There’s nothing wrong with my birds, they aren’t bothered by it.” If they only knew! I don’t think I could live with myself if I caused harm to my parrots because of a disgusting habit I had!

Dot Lohnes  01/29/2011 1:05 pm

I absoutely agree .I don’t let anybody around my birds that smoke. I did years ago before I even had birds now I suffer for being a smoker myself and that was a long time ago.

delysmarye  01/29/2011 7:58 pm

omg i am a smoker and i have a bird!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i feel bad now i didn’t know that
🙁 you think i should take my bird to the hospital immediate?? just to check if she’s okay? I seriously take care of here but after reading this now i am concern about the health of my bird ..

abdullah  01/30/2011 7:51 am

my god
i think i should stop smocking


Dru  08/03/2012 6:34 am

There is ways for smokers to keep the parrot safe while smoking indoors, one is to keep a fan beside an open window and an air purifier beside the cage. I also believe we as bird keepers get a bit paranoid about second hand smoke, of course we shouldnt be smoking around the bird, but i know a few people that would rather have the bird away from company as they are smoking. my thoughts on this is that if there is ample air movement and your not in a samll room let the bird keep a safe but comfortbale distance from any smokers. as we know these animals are very socialable, we should always make them as comfortable as possible, as i say comapny when they come into my home, dont smoke around my kids or my bird, if you want to smoke go outside, but go see the bird first!

kevin  11/13/2013 10:37 pm

I feel terrible about my smoking around my african grey. he has never plucked his feathers and is now fifteen years old. i hope he can survive another 15

Madonna  11/25/2013 3:18 pm

First off I want to say superb blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing.
I’ve had a hard time clearing my mind in getting my thoughts
out. I do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like
the first 10 to 15 minutes are lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin.
Any suggestions or tips? Thanks!

v2 cigs juice  12/26/2014 6:41 pm

After making use of an E-Cig or PV (Personal Vaporizer) for four weeks, we stop burning up cigarette in every kinds (Cigarettes,
Cigars, & Pipes) on 8/8/2009.

Linda Miller  04/21/2015 12:39 am

I’m so hurt right now. I had 2 small love birds & no knowledge about caring for them other than feeding them, keeping cage cleaned & fresh water. I smoke & I keep windows open for ventilation. To my surprise I found both of my birds dead!

[…]  Pets birds allergic to cigarette smoke  and (dogs and cats) […]

Jett  12/06/2017 10:44 pm

Stop smoking period! Don’t get a pet if you see a smoker. Even e-sign could be bad. Stupid brainless people smoke. They want to be cool but only look like assholes

Jett  12/06/2017 10:47 pm

Stupid people smoke. Stupid people brag that they smoke especially around d their pets. Sorry pets for having devil’s as parents.