Can domestic cats and pet birds happily coexist in a home?

My personal answer to the question in the title is no but that’s just me. The Spruce Pets website has quite a big article on this topic. They discuss the problems but they also suggest that you can make things work with patience. They are saying that domestic cats and pet birds can live together in the same home. I wonder whether anybody should bother trying.

Is it fair to say that pet birds and pet cats rarely coexist happily for the reasons stated on this page?
Is it fair to say that pet birds and pet cats rarely coexist happily for the reasons stated on this page? Image: Mikeb

It isn’t just that the cat is a keen predator and would want to attack the bird. The problem, as I see it, is that when the bird is protected by their cage and they see the cat their instinct would be to flee but they couldn’t. The cat would remain just outside the cage interested in the juicy prey inside and the bird would remain inside the cage with nowhere to go. That, to me, seems like a recipe for bird stress. This would be unfair on the bird. It would not be good bird caregiving as I see it. Wrong? Please tell me.

And the cat might become frustrated so it might be unfair on them as well but in this instance I’m more concerned about the bird.

You could keep the bird in a cage in a separate room where the cat is not allowed to enter which would solve the above problem. However, the cat might hear the bird and become frustrated. They might sit outside the door and try to get in. And the bird might be isolated. Doesn’t sound good to me.

I see it being problematic. I also see putting a bird in a cage as problematic. I just don’t see that as a good thing to do. Do we know how birds feel stuck in a cage the day after day or week after a week? Bored? Stressed? Desperate? It can’t be right.

I don’t see caged birds in any way being acceptable but that’s just my opinion. My conclusion is that if you’ve got a bird don’t get a cat and if you got a cat don’t get a bird.

There is an argument, on the same topic, as to whether you should get a cat if you feed birds in your backyard. It’s certainly a question worth asking. If you really love to see birds in your back garden and you feed them with pleasure, you might stress the birds if you introduce a cat into their environment. They can escape and therefore the stress levels will be pretty minimal but it wouldn’t be ideal.

RELATED: 8 ways to have an indoor/outdoor cat and feed birds without jeopardizing the birds

I have a cat and I feed the birds so I can’t criticise anybody. They find a peaceful coexistence because the pigeons can perch in a high place well away from my cat so they don’t feel frightened or stressed. If birds are allowed to move freely, they can cope very well with cats.

Some birds like magpies actually attack cats when a cat encroaches on their territory where they might have a nest with offspring. You’ll see lots of videos of magpies attacking peace-loving domestic cats, minding their own business and being thoroughly bemused by the attacking magpie.

P.S. You will see some remarkable friendships between domestic cats and birds. So, the classic relationship of predator against prey, cat against bird, is not universal when it comes to domestication of these animals. You see cats and birds that have been thoroughly socialised towards each other from when they were very young. They fully accept each other. They like each other. They are friends even. This can happen but it is unusual. Full socialisation between these pets would resolve all the issues mentioned.

Read about the story behind the picture below by clicking this link.

Mother hen incubates three kittens
Mother hen raises three kittens by incubating them as if they were eggs. Screenshot.

RELATED: Domestic cats don’t cause bird populations to decline says the RSPB

Ethics of keeping exotic pet birds

There are ethical issues in keeping birds – any species of bird that is considered to be suitable as a pet in a cage – as pets. Below is a a quote from a recently published study on pet birds dated 23 February 2021 and titled: The Sustainability of Keeping Birds as Pets: Should Any Be Kept? Link:

It is pretty damning on the pet bird industry. The reference to wild caught birds and their high levels or mortality brings to mind the capture of cubs of medium-sized and large wild cat species such as the caracal and cheetah to become pets in homes in the Middle East and in the US for example. The point is that it is bad for conservation.

This is the wider discussion. It is very relevant the discussion about putting pet birds in the home with domestic cats. Many pet birds are exotic animals such as parrots. For example, Scientific American has an article titled: Thousands of African Grey Parrots Stolen from the Wild Every Month. This is an illegal trade from the Congo. This is the unpleasant backstory.

At present, biodiversity and wild bird populations are being greatly harmed and many individual birds have poor welfare. Wild-caught birds should not be sold to the public as pets, or to breeding establishments for several reasons, including because 75–90% of wild-caught birds die before the point of sale and taking birds from the wild has negative effects on biodiversity. The housing provided for pet birds should meet the needs of birds of that species and allow good welfare, for example there should be no small cages but aviaries with space for each bird to exercise adequately, and social birds should be kept in social groups. At present, inadequate housing of many pet birds results in stereotypies and other indicators of poor welfare in birds. Owners should have knowledge of how to provide good nutrition and minimize the risk of disease.

Shawn Peng in The Sustainability of Keeping Birds as Pets: Should Any Be Kept?

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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.

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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