There are many bird toys, blankets, and cage liners that are made with some type of fabric. You have probably visited a pet store and figured, since the item is being sold at a reputable establishment the fabric covering it must be safe, right? Unfortunately, that is not always the case. There are fabrics on the shelves that could harm or kill birds.
Birds may experience serious injuries or even be killed from strangulation, poisoning, or gastrointestinal blockage. It is important to understand what fabrics are safe for birds and what could be potentially harmful to them. You want your bird to live a long and healthy life, and this includes making sure they live and play in a safe environment.
Why Would a Fabric Not Be Safe? This List Explains Why.
Birds enjoy chewing, shredding, and destroying anything around them, including fabric liners, sheets, and toys. Keeping this in mind, only fabrics that will not choke, poison, or worse, kill your bird is an important factor when purchasing items for the bird’s cage. The following fabrics will be discussed as to how they are (nearly) safe for birds:
For a bird that enjoys tearing things apart, unfortunately, many different types of fabrics and fibers have been removed from the stomachs of birds, such as cotton, rope, and even human hair. Fabrics can also wrap around the beaks or feet of birds, causing entanglement, the cutting off of circulation, or even strangulation.
Birds love fabric in particular because it is flexible, soft, and easy to chew. Therefore, fabrics should probably not be left in a cage when a bird is unsupervised. However, there are pros and cons to the fabrics listed that need to be identified so that you do not potentially harm your beloved bird. Research should always be done on bird items.
There are three main issues to remember when deciding what type of fabric should be used safely for birds:
Birds will more than likely ingest the fabrics that surround them – will the buildup in their stomach over time and, worse, will they poison them? In addition, do certain fabrics fray or make small holes in which the bird can get stuck by the foot or neck and become strangled? These are the three main issues when deciding if a fabric is bird safe.
Is Cotton Safe for Birds?
Cotton is a common material used in bird toys, perches, and sleeping huts and, in these cases, is probably a safe fabric material when used to make these items. However, if you place a cotton sheet in a bird cage, it could actually be unsafe. This is because birds chew and shred materials and cotton shreds very easily and have risks if ingested.
If a bird shreds or chews cotton, it may be poisoned if the cotton has unregulated or unsafe dyes or bleaches in the fabric. A lot of cotton is grown using pesticides which, although probably safe to wear, are not safe to digest. A bird will more than likely ingest cotton if given the ability to shred it, which can bring the risk of chemical poisoning.
Cotton has been found to fray and unravel, posing the risk of entanglement or strangulation. Gastrointestinal blockage could also be caused by ingesting cotton and could end up killing the bird. This risk is usually not even diagnosed until after the bird has already died, but there are signs if you find shredded cotton in your bird’s cage:
- A sudden thirst and drinking more water than usual
- Difficulties with pooping or changes in their droppings
- Appetite reduction
- A lethargic manner
Is cotton ever safe for birds? If your bird toys, blankets, or ropes are made out of one-hundred percent edible cotton then yes. This type of cotton is unbleached, has unpolished threads, and pulls apart easily for the bird to play while avoiding safety risks. Besides that type, however, you should stay away from cotton and try other fabrics.
Leather is Safe as Long as it is Vegetable Tanned
Leather is a very safe material for birds to safely chew and play with as long as it is “vegetable tanned” leather. This is the only type of leather that should be given to birds; if you are not sure if it is vegetable tanned, it is better to be safe and not purchase a leather-based product. That being said, birds love to spend hours with leather toys.
Leathers that are not safe for birds and should be avoided include dyed leather and leather that has been colored or tanned with chemicals, such as formaldehyde or chromium. These types of leather products could be toxic to birds if ingested and should be avoided at all costs. This means refraining from giving birds items around the house:
- Old shoes and shoelaces
- Wearable accessories
More than likely, those items and other household objects that are made of leather for everyday use are not going to be vegetable tanned leather and unsafe for ingestion or play. Vegetable tanned leather should also be replaced if it gets wet or soiled because bacteria will thrive under these conditions and could also harm your bird’s health.
Birds like the texture of vegetable tanned leather, but if you are hanging toys that are made of vegetable leather, you should avoid leaving a long strand accessible between the cage and the toy due to possible strangulation. Leather toys should be tied as close to the cage as possible so that the fabric remains safe during rambunctious play.
Hemp is a Natural and Safe Choice for Fabric
Hemp fabrics are also safe for birds and hemp rope actually makes for a great and playful bird toy. Similar to leather, you just need to do your homework to make sure the hemp products you purchase are not treated with any harmful chemicals that could sicken or kill your bird. Reading the label should be easy to determine before using.
Untreated hemp fabrics are safe, durable, and fun for birds to use for hours. For example, there are ropes that are made of one-hundred percent hemp and are one-hundred percent safe for birds. Hemp ropes are softer than nylon, which could cut or cause serious injury because the strands are so strong, and are longer-lasting.
Birds like to eat hemp seeds and they have been used in retail bird-seed sold in stores for years. There is also hemp oil that helps reduce negative behaviors such as bird screaming and feather plucking, among other things. And a common myth that should be debunked is that birds will not get “high” over hemp seeds or hemp-based products.
Hemp fabrics are simply meant for birds to enjoy the flavor or amount of play in a safe and harmless manner. Numerous bird toys are made out of hemp, such as bird swings, bird kabobs, ropes, and climbing ladders. As long as you read the fine print to make sure it is not made with toxins, hemp fabric can be a perfect choice for your bird.
Sisal is Another Safe Option for Most Birds
You may not realize it, but if you have any ropes in your bird cages they may be made out of a fiber called sisal. Sisal fabric is actually better known for cats because it is seen as the best material for cat scratching posts. Yet, sisal is also used to make bird ropes because of its strength and refraining from retaining water and developing bacteria.
Sisal is a twisted and natural fiber that is both eco-friendly and bird-friendly because it does not have any chemicals and is perfect for outdoor nests because they are biodegradable or indoor for bird cages. Sisal is usually used to make ropes for birds to perch on or play with and have the strength to stay intact over long periods of time.
Because it does not retain water, sisal is a natural fiber that is recommended for bird nests. Sisal fabrics could also be cut into inch-wide strips for hours of play. That being said, sisal still needs to be monitored and if the rope begins to fray too much should be replaced since birds like to chew on ropes and the fibers that make the ropes.
Even if something is a natural fiber such as sisal, it may still cause problems if too much is ingested by a bird over long periods of time. Specific issues with ingesting sisal have been found in lorikeets and cockatiels, but other species of birds could be affected if they ingest too much. Too much of a good thing, even sisal, could be harmful over time.
Jute is a Natural Yet Unknown Option
Have you ever seen someone walking down the street with a burlap sack or bag and wondered what it was made out of to make it look so rustic? More than likely, they are made out of a natural fiber developed from plants called jute. Jute is actually second in production after cotton and has become a popular, and safe, product for bird ropes.
Jute is usually found in clothing, accessories, and household products, but it is also very popular for making rope. This fiber is a one-hundred percent natural bird-safe rope, making it ideal for natural fiber ropes that birds can chew, peck, and play with throughout the day. They are also other benefits to jute for bird toys and play:
- Stronger than other fabrics like cotton
- High tenacity
- Low thermal conductivity
- Both sound and heat insulation properties
Although jute is safe for the most part, there are some warnings if using this type of fabric. You still need to make sure a jute rope is both pesticide and oil free, and refrain from getting it wet. If it does get wet you will want to replace the jute because it will break down faster and become weaker.
Have You Ever Heard of Ramie?
Ramie is another plant fiber that is made naturally, is very strong and durable, and is extremely absorbent. In fact, Ramie is even more absorbent than cotton while also being non-toxic for birds. It can be harvested around six times a year and grows without toxic chemicals and fertilizers. This makes Ramie a really good, natural choice for birds.
Ramie is also bacteria-resistant, so it can sit in a bird’s cage for long periods of time without the worry of harmful bacteria growing and possibly making your bird sick. It is actually very similar to linen, as it is breathable and does not have elastic properties. The production process is also similar to linen and a fabric discussed earlier – hemp.
If you are looking for toys or blankets made from Ramie and coming up short that is because it does go by a few different names. Here are some other names that you may see and not realize it is the Ramie:
- Grass linen
- China grass
- China linen
- Grass cloth
The downside of purchasing something made from Ramie for your bird is that it is a more expensive fabric than help, sisal, cotton, and other fabrics available today. This is because of the production process of the product. If you want a cheaper alternative, you probably just want to stick to organic, non-toxic cotton over the more expensive Ramie.
Alpaca Wool Works for Nesting Material and Fun
Alpaca wool has been used by individuals who take care of the birds around their home safely by offering it to birds as nesting material. This type of natural wool can be bundled into a ball so that birds can either chew on the wool or take some (for outdoor birds) and build their nesting area for their little ones to sleep and grow.
For example, chickadees have been known to take some of the Alpaca wool back to their nests with ease. This type of fabric is perfect for the outdoors because of its water-repellent features that makes it dry very quickly. In fact, when left out in the rain a bird owner found it was light, fluffy, and more importantly, dry the next day.
This water resistance feature also makes alpaca wool ideal for indoor birds who may be sloppy with their water dishes throughout the day. Other benefits to Alpaca wool include:
- It is both anti-fungal and anti-microbial.
- Because it is dust mite resistant, it is perfect for a bird cage cover
- It is hypoallergenic and does not contain Lanolin, which causes allergies.
- It is environmentally friendly
- If your bird is outside or near a window, this type of wool will actually absorb ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
- It has pretty amazing thermoregulatory properties that can keep things warm while also protecting your bird from excessive heat.
And, alpaca is not the only type of wool that could be useful for nesting. Natural sheep’s wool is also a solid option for birds that want to stay warm and soft safely either outdoors or indoors (although sheep’s wool does contain Lanollin). Other types of wool that could be safe are camel and goat, but should be researched for toxicity.
Fleece is the Most Commonly Used Fabric and May be the Most Deadly
Fleece is probably the most common fabric used for making bird toys, blankets, hammocks, and huts. Similar to cotton, fleece is only safe if it is one-hundred percent WHAT. A bird owner will need to understand and identify what type of fleeces are unsafe for birds to chew, shred, and possibly ingest:
- Cotton/cotton-blended (the same safety issues as discussed with cotton above)
- Polyester (never safe!)
- Polar (non-Polar fleece is available and could be an option if monitored)
The polyester fleeces in particular are dangerous to digest, and polyester is found in a variety of fleece items, such as micro, polar, blended, and Sherpa fleece. All of these are dangerous to birds because they are made of polyester. Synthetic fleece fabrics are made of fine amounts of polyester fibers which can be easily separated and ingested.
Fleece can come apart easily, which a bird would enjoy during shredding but can become dangerous since the fabric shreds into micro hairs which, if ingested, could be deadly. For example, try taking any type of polyester fleece and rubbing it between your hands. You more than likely will see minute fleece fibers as a result.
Over time, your bird will continue to ingest these small pieces of fibers, which will then collect in its gastrointestinal tract. As the bird continues to play with the fleece and ingest the small fibers, it may cause obstruction, sickness, or death. Some birds can go years without being diagnosed, but once they are it is usually too late to save them.
Linen Could be a Common Option
If you have linen around the house, you may be able to rip it up into six-inch long pieces, tie them together, and let your bird chew, shred, and play with them. Just make sure the linen is undyed, unfinished, and pure since linens are prone to added chemicals for beauty and attraction.
Linen is similar to hemp in that it is woven from a plant called the flax plant. What makes linen safe for birds, though, is that it does not need pesticides, fertilizers, or irrigation when growing the fabric for use. However, you do want to be careful of strangulation. If linen is shredded too much and becomes loose, your bird’s neck or feet could get stuck.
If researching the safest linens for your birds is too confusing, you can stick with using natural fibers that you know will be toxic-free versus semi-synthetic and synthetic options (listed in alphabetical order):
|Natural Fabrics||Semi-Synthetic Fabrics||Synthetic Fabrics|
Remember that just because a fabric is natural does not mean it works best for your bird. Birds can still shred fabrics to the point of danger, so you always need to be aware when a fabric should be replaced to avoid strangulation.
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