Given sufficient space in a suitable corner of your home, budgies will settle in very quickly. As with any new residence, however, there are neighbours to consider. Other pets may take an interest in the bird, and not all of them will have innocent intentions. The same applies to any small children who may be interacting with your birds.
The most important rule, no matter which animal is outside the cage, is to make sure the budgie is secure. The cage needs to be out of reach (ideally; although any self-respecting cat knows that nothing’s really out of reach!), and safe from dexterous fingers and paws. Hiding the cage from other pets isn’t a great idea, as they’ll be aware of the animal through their keen senses of smell and hearing, and will make it their mission to seek out the mystery creature at the first opportunity.
Budgies Home Alone
If you don’t replenish your budgie’s food and water supply for a day, he won’t keel over and die. Similarly, a budgie left in an empty house for 24 hours will survive. Indeed, you would be very unlucky to meet any problems in 48 hours home alone time.
Leaving him for more than a day is still pushing it, though, and you shouldn’t take the risk. The main issues are food and water. A single budgie or a pair might get by on dried food for 48 hours, but it will depend on your cage set-up. A seed hopper replenishes as the birds feed; but it might become blocked due to a damp patch. Water might become contaminated with droppings. If you keep several birds in an aviary or large cage, do you actually know how much they eat? You will have been putting fresh food out every day, but won’t necessarily know if the bowls and feeding stations can last 48 hours if unreplenished.
There are other reasons why indoor birds should not be left alone. For example, you might cover them at night, or at the very least they might rely on the opening and drawing of curtains to define their day. And a single budgie will pine for interaction after just a few hours, as budgies crave company.
Budgie Holiday Care
If you’re away for more than a single day, you’ll need to get someone to feed the birds. This could be a family member, friend or neighbour who calls in to change the birds’ food and water, or it could be someone willing to take in the bird for the duration of your holiday.
If it’s a single budgie, you should send him on holiday to someone else’s house, otherwise he’ll get too lonely in your deserted home. The environment you intend moving him to for this period will need checking out for the usual pitfalls of location, pets, children, etc.
There are also small animal boarding houses that specialise in birds – you’ll need to check your local phone or business directory to find out where they are.
Budgies and Other Pets
Budgies are able to live with some other small birds (see Keeping budgies with other birds, above), and will usually be happy with larger birds such as parrots in the vicinity, as long as these are not allowed to perch too close to, or on top of, the budgie cage.
Non-carnivorous pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and chickens do not pose a threat to budgies (unless you have a territorial male with a mean streak). Watch the animals carefully when they are free-roaming in the same room. In the same way as an outdoor pet will often ignore wild birds, the mammals (and the chickens) will probably ignore the budgie. The complication lies in the world ‘probably’, as all animals have different personalities, and a cheeky budgie who nibbles a placid rabbit’s ear may be in for a nasty surprise.
Placid pets together in a confined space tend to find their own balance. It’s very rewarding as an owner when all your pets seem to get on just fine, but you can never take the equilibrium for granted, so be vigilant and be prepared to scoop your budgie to safety if necessary.
Budgies and Dogs
The relationship between budgie and dog is usually an easy-going one, with the proviso that some breeds will never be able to curb their chase-and-kill instincts. Dogs will show a natural interest in the budgies, and the trick here is to minimise anxiety for the birds while making sure the dog is able to check out the newcomer (and the same applies if the birds were installed before the dog).
When introducing the animals, make sure you have the dog under control, and allow him to have a good sniff at the cage. Let him watch the budgie moving around. If he begins to bark or jump up so that he knocks the cage, calm him down and make it clear that he’s welcome to watch and sniff, but not to play with the cage or bark at it.
The budgie will remain a novelty for a week or so, after which your dog will probably lose interest, and barely raise his head even when the budgie is enjoying a cage-rattling flap-and-squawk. The point at which this disinterest takes over will depend on the breed of dog; but many well-trained dogs will soon get the message that they must leave the bird alone.
If your dog is well-behaved and not knocking the cage, your budgie will simply view it as another element of the room and get used to it. The birds’ ability to ignore a large, barking animal can be surprising, and it will be the four-legged pet rather than the two-legged one that has to deal with the excitement. If you’re bringing a new dog into an established budgie household, the bird will probably be even more placid and unruffled. He won’t enjoy having his cage pushed about, but he will treat the presence of the dog in the same way as he would treat any newcomer – with business-as-usual indifference.
It’s possible to take this passive budgie/dog relationship further by allowing the animals to interact when the bird is outside the cage. This peaceable set-up is not going to happen automatically, though, even between a budgie and a dog who no longer gets over-excited by the cage and its occupant. A free-flying budgie is a different proposition altogether, and most dogs will instinctively chase and bite.
Many breeds are unable to learn that the budgie is anything other than prey. Jack Russells and other terriers, for example, have been bred to find and kill small animals. You can’t expect them to ignore hundreds of years of selective breeding just because you happen to have brought a budgerigar home.
The key to an out-of-cage relationship is always the dog. If he’s a non-hunting breed, extremely well trained and passive, you’ll be able to perch the budgie on or near him without reaction, in the same way as you can (with a very well-trained dog) put food close to his nose without him eating it, until you give the word of command. If he’s not that well trained, don’t let dog and bird meet face to face. And never allow your dog to lick the budgie – the birds are prone to catching diseases through other animals’ (including humans’) saliva.
Budgies and Cats
Don’t be fooled by all the cute photos of budgies perched on cats’ heads! This is not a natural relationship, and it requires a very placid, friendly cat to achieve it. Any feline who spends most of her time outdoors controlling the rodent and garden bird population and runs a mile at the sight of a stranger in the house will never form a friendly relationship with a pet budgie.
Even a cuddly cat who likes to spend her day curled up in your lap or draping herself across the shoulders of house guests will instinctively know that the small feathered thing is an item of food, and will need to be trained to think otherwise. It’s slightly different with a larger and more intimidating pet bird such as a parrot, or even a cockatiel, but budgies are small and mouth-sized, so always beware.
If you’re confident that your laid-back cat isn’t going to enter killer mode – and only you, as the owner, can judge – introduce your budgie via your finger. Watch out for any signs that your cat might lash out or pounce, and reprimand her with a firm “No!”, or whatever other word of dissuasion you use. You don’t want to shriek at her, though, as that will panic the budgie. Allow the cat to watch and sniff the bird. If it’s on your finger, she’ll associate it with you, and will come to treat it with the respect and affection she shows you.
You’re not entirely in control of these introductory sessions. The budgie might decide to fly from your finger, and the proximity of a fluffy cat’s head might inspire him to hop aboard. A flapping bird might bring out the cat’s hunting instincts, so you can’t afford to take your eye off the game for a moment. Some cats ‘get it’ straight away. The bird is an appendage of your finger, or a fellow member of the mixed-species household, and she’ll accept it with a purr and a yawn. But you should still never leave the animals alone, and should always exercise a certain amount of caution and vigilance.
If in doubt, don’t. Cats and budgies do not have to form relationships, and you can simply bar the cat from the room during free-flying sessions. That is without doubt the safest option; but there is still a chance that the cat might make a sudden appearance, which is where a familiarity between the two animals becomes a potential life-saver. Someone opening a door unexpectedly could let other pets in too, so you really do have to make sure everyone knows the budgie is out and about, and that closed doors must remain closed.
Budgies and Puppies and Kittens
Young dogs and cats will want to play with your other pets rather than hunt or attack them. However, with a bird as small as a budgie, an innocent romp with a young animal can result in broken legs, wings or necks; and scratches and bites that would glance off a fellow kitten/puppy or large parrot can hurt a budgie and lead to infection.
So, unlike adult cats and dogs, puppies and kittens should not be allowed to interact with budgies outside the cage. Once they are older they will be accustomed to the bird, and you can then consider introducing them beak to nose.
Budgies and Disease
Catching diseases from caged birds is not a common occurrence, and if keeping budgies you do not need to exercise more than the standard precautions – i.e. keeping everything, including your hands, clean. However, at-risk groups with weak immune systems (infants, the elderly, the sick) should be far more cautious, and avoid handling budgies altogether.
Can Humans Catch Diseases From Budgies?
In brief, yes. But not very often!
Parrot fever or psittacosis is a bronchial disease commonly found in parrots. It is a common ailment, known as Chlamydiosis in general, or ornithosis when relating to birds. The disease usually lies dormant, without provoking symptoms in the bird, but can still be passed on via droppings or saliva and other bodily fluids, or in body dust (dander) shaken from the feathers. In humans, ingesting or inhaling a dose of the Chlamydiophila psittaci bacteria responsible for the disease can, if you’re unlucky, lead to illness.
The word ‘unlucky’ is very appropriate, as many people work with birds all their lives without ever showing any symptoms of the disease. But it still pays to be cautious. Always wash your hands after handling budgies or washing their cages.
Manifestations of parrot fever in humans range from flu-like symptoms and a sore throat to high fevers and diarrhoea.
Allergic alveolitis is a bronchial disease that occasionally affects humans, usually after several years’ contact with birds. This has earned it the name ‘pigeon fancier’s lung’, as a homage to those dedicated people who spend lots of time in pigeon lofts with their prized birds. It could just as easily be called ‘budgie fancier’s lung’, though, and does indeed have yet another name, ‘budgerigar (or parakeet) dander pneumoconiosis’. The cause of the problem is dust from bird feathers and dried droppings.
Once the asthma-like symptoms have manifested, continued exposure to the birds will make the condition worse. In its chronic form, if the sufferer has failed to stop breathing in the irritant, the process can no longer be reversed, and lung capacity will be permanently diminished.
Giardia is one of several intestine-incubated nasties found in birds, and is similar to the more well-known salmonella. It is transmitted via birds’ droppings, and can therefore contaminate cages, budgie water supplies and the surrounding ground (if your birds are outside). Diarrhoea-like symptoms hail the onset of a rapid decline and death in birds. Humans who contract the disease will suffer gastro-intestinal problems too.
Budgies and Asthma
People prone to asthma will be affected by budgies. In severe cases the presence of a bird in the same room as the sufferer will bring on the wheezing and other symptoms, and the only solution is for that person to leave the room. Asthma sufferers with a less severe condition should be fine near budgies, but may start to show symptoms if the bird is free-flying.
This general asthmatic problem is not to be confused with the condition known as Allergic alveolitis, described above.