Can domestic cats live with birds in cages?

Yes, is the answer to the question in the title but is it a good idea and how does the bird feel? It seems that I have to apply lashings of common sense in answering the question in the title because that’s what it comes down to. The Internet articles on the topic simply state the obvious. There may, however, be some less obvious issues to deal with.

F1 Savannah kitten eyes up a bird in a cage
F1 Savannah kitten eyes up a bird in a cage. How stressed are the birds? Photo: MikeB.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The first problem is that if you have a domestic cat or domestic cats in the home where there are birds in cages you have placed a top predator in the same confined environment as a prey animal of the domestic cat.

Obviously, the cat can’t get at the bird in a cage but the big issue, as I understand it, is whether the bird is stressed by the presence of a domestic cat. I’ve never tried it but a domestic cat is going to be interested in a bird such as a budgerigar in a cage. They will approach the cage. The bird wants to escape but they can’t. Is that a recipe for a stressed budgerigar or other species of caged bird? I think it is.

It is all very well physically separating bird and predator but there may be a hidden consequence of placing prey and predator in the same location namely the psychological effect that it has on the prey animal. No doubt a bird in a cage will entertain a domestic cat but this isn’t the point.

The point is that as a companion animal caregiver you have to maximise the welfare of both animals i.e. prey animal and predator in a confined space, which I don’t believe is truly possible except under rare circumstances. I’ve not seen this mentioned online. However, I think it is a genuine point to make.

And it seems to me that you have to supervise your cat under these unusual (and unnatural) circumstances. You don’t want your cat jumping up at a cage, knocking it over and who knows what might happen? Don’t you think that it would be wiser to curb the desire to have a domestic cat and a domestic bird in a cage? Perhaps life would be easier for humans and the animals if such an unnatural arrangement is avoided?

There may be occasions when a cat needs to be trained to avoid the caged bird. This would require positive reinforcement training. Negative reinforcement training such as squirting a cat with a jet of water is unacceptable. This is punishment and you can’t punish a cat for doing something which is instinctively natural.

There is a strong argument to keep a caged bird in a different part of the home than the domestic cat. This would help to avoid any possible stresses that may build up in the bird. This is going to require human-management.

And I think this is the problem with having prey and predator in the same place. You are going to have to supervise if they are in the same room. Do you want that demand placed upon you 24/7?

Occasionally you see some extraordinary videos of domestic cats getting along in a close friendship with a bird or other species of animal. These are rare situations and they come about because a cat was raised with a bird so that they become fully socialised to a different species of animal. This totally suppresses the cat’s natural instinct to prey on the animal. Instead, they become friends. You might be lucky enough to be in this situation but it is unlikely. I certainly wouldn’t try and ensure that your pet bird and pet cat become friends! Although it might be possible 🤞.

And if you have a parrot species, for example, which is allowed the freedom of the home as opposed to being in a cage, I don’t think you can assume that they are safe just because they can fly. Many small wild cat species including the domestic cat can jump high enough from a standing start to catch birds in flight.

And if you keep a large parrot in the home, they might harm a cat. Macaws and cockatoos can cause an injury with their bite which is severe enough for a hospital visit.

Apparently, the Passarella bacteria which is carried in the saliva of domestic cats can be deadly to birds if not treated quickly.

The sort of cage that a bird is kept in is important. They need to be sturdy and of a high quality to avoid it being opened if and when it is knocked over by a domestic cat. Domestic cats are very good at learning how to open doors. Normally they are internal doors in the home. Sometimes you see domestic cat opening fridge doors. No doubt they can also, on occasions, open the doors to birdcages. You can buy cage locks to avoid this happening.

Cat and caged bird
Cat and caged bird. Photo: Pixabay.

It’s probable that people are split on the acceptability of keeping both domestic cats and birds. Personally, I’m against the idea as you can see. I don’t think it is sensible to place a predator and their prey in the same place unless they’ve been fully socialised, which is unlikely.

Technically, and probably practically, it is possible to introduce a domestic cat to a new pet bird. It would take a lot of care and knowledge to make it work. The emotional state of the bird needs to be taken fully into account. That is difficult to measure because we don’t know the emotional processes of companion animals particularly of birds when they are under the stress of the presence of a predator.

They say that supervision is the key to making a bird/domestic cat relationship work. I would think that supervision plus knowledge and patience might make it work satisfactory. My gut feeling is that this is an occasion when humans need to curb their natural instinct to indulge themselves in keeping both birds and cats. Surely it would be easier to decide to keep one of the other?

Clearly, I can only state my personal views on this matter. There would be many people who disagree with me. That’s fine. If you disagree, please comment. I always welcome comments.

Some posts on cats preying on birds:

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