One is a predator, and the other one is a prey animal. Anyone who has watched Sylvester and Tweety knows which one is which, and knows why it can sometimes be difficult to keep both cats and birds in the same house. However, as challenging as it can sometime be, it's not impossible. For those like me who love both species (or if you're in a cat-person/bird-person relationship), you don't have to choose one type of pet or the other. If you take the proper precautions to keep your animal friends safe, you can absolutely keep cats and birds together.
Why keeping both cats and birds can be tricky
Most people know the big reason why cats can be a danger to birds. Cats are natural hunters, and when they see a bird flying by, instinct tells them to attack. Stalking and pouncing are reflex actions for cats. Don't think a bird is safe just because he can fly - anybody who has dangled a string toy in front of a playful kitty knows that cats can jump, swat, and grab airborne prey. A lesser known danger from cats is the pasteurella bacteria they carry in their saliva. This bacteria is mostly harmless to cats (though it can sometimes cause respiratory infections or abscesses), but it's deadly to birds if not treated quickly.
If you have a larger parrot, the danger can go both ways. Macaw and cockatoo bites can be severe enough to send a human to the hospital, so they can seriously injure your cat. Even smaller parrots can break enough skin to require stitches.
Then how can you keep both pets safe?
Start with a high-quality birdcage
Many cats are adept at knocking cheaper birdcages over, and even if the door remains closed, your bird could easily be banged around, and will almost certainly be stressed. Therefore, the first thing to do is buy a heavy, sturdy cage, preferably with a good stand. Make sure there are no sliding doors that can easily be opened with a beak or a paw (when I was a teenager, I lost a budgie when our new kitten figured out how to open the door and get himself partially inside the cage). If you already have a cage and there are such doors,securing them with bird safe vet wrap or wooden clothes pins usually works for smaller birds. For larger birds, cage locks can be purchased (you sometimes even need these for smaller birds who are skilled at puzzle solving). It's best to place the cage against the wall. Not only does this make the bird feel more secure, it also makes the cage less likely to be knocked over.
Let the cat and bird get to know each other
Some people are completely against even introducing birds to cats and insist on keeping their pets in separate areas of the house, and some give the animals free reign with each other. Others, like me, choose something in between. In many cases, letting the animals see each other is a good thing, because then your cat is more likely to learn that the bird is a "friend, not food." No matter how careful you are about keeping the cat out of the bird room, she may eventually sneak in. If this happens while your bird is getting some out-of-cage time and your cat still sees the bird as prey ... well, I don't think I need to explain why this could lead to tragedy if you don't notice the cat's presence soon enough.
Start off slow, and let your pets see each other from a distance while your bird is in the cage or a carrier. If your bird appears curious or relaxed, allow your cat to approach the cage and take a closer look. However, if your bird seems stressed, make sure the cat remains a few feet away, and try again later. If your cat tries to jump on the cage or push her paw between the bars, say "no" in a firm voice or squirt her with a water bottle - use whatever training method you normally use to get her to stop doing something she shouldn't. Keep the first few sessions to 10 minutes or so. As your pets become more comfortable, you can extend the sessions, and maybe even take your bird out of the cage in the presence of the cat. ONLY move to this step if there are absolutely NO signs of the cat going into "predator mode" while seeing the bird in the cage or carrier. If your cat crouches as if she's getting ready to pounce or her eyes go wide when she sees the bird, do NOT take the bird out yet.
Once both animals are ready, hold your bird while he's out of the cage and keep a very close eye on both pets, and be ready in react quickly if it looks like one is going to jump on the other. It would be a good idea to recruit a second person to help - one person can handle the bird while the other can hold the cat (or be ready to block the cat from pouncing). My rescue cockatiel, Buzzy, likes to sit on my shoulder and watch the cat from across the room, but that's as close as they get, and it took a few months to build up to that.
Some people like to let their cats and birds cuddle and play, but I advise caution in this. A cat shouldn't be allowed to groom a bird due to the pasteurella bacteria in her saliva, and of course, you must watch out for claws, teeth, and beaks. Occasionally it works out and all pets are happy, but I personally wouldn't risk it.
Supervise, supervise, supervise.
If you're leaving the house or otherwise can't supervise, please don't leave your bird out of the cage in the presence of the cat. Instinct can take over in even the most mild-mannered animals, which can lead to somebody getting hurt, or even killed. Also, a cat can swat at a bird and cause a scratch too tiny to see, but big enough to give your bird a lethal infection. If you think your bird might have been nicked or scratched, call your avian veterinarian immediately. Scratches and bites need to be treated with antibiotics, and they need to be started right away.
Just like people, animals have different personalities. Cats and birds may sometimes become the best of friends, but it doesn't always work out that way. Some cats can never be trusted around a bird no matter how much you try to train them (in those instances, keeping your animals in separate parts of the house while making sure to give them equal attention is best). Some birds will always be wary of cats, and sometimes you'll even find a cat who's scared of the bird. Your main goal is to get both animals to tolerate each other, and to recognize that they are all important members of the family.
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