Birds and cats are the original peanut butter and jelly; if peanut butter was an obligate carnivore and jelly was a fragile prey animal fluttering temptingly out of reach. You might have a bird and be thinking about taking on a cat, or you might have a cat and wonder whether a bird will fit in around the house. Either way, it's a good idea to ask whether your two choices for live-in companions will be good companions for each other.
The good news is that, yes, countless people make this work and keep cats and birds in the same house together. It's not as simple as just going out and bringing them home, however. Before you put a cat and an animal traditionally hunted by cats in the same room, it helps to make some preparations.
Some cats are just a bad match for birds, and there's no way to fix it. Wild or semi-feral cats are really likely to see ALL birds as food, and it's nearly impossible to talk an older cat out of this. If any of that describes your home's feline, you may want to skip the bird until conditions are different. If your cat was there first, they have a right to be a cat.
Some birds are likewise bad companions for cats. This can be because they're very fragile and small, or they're too skittish. It can also be the opposite of that. Parrots, especially African grays, have a well-known prankster streak, and they won't hesitate to nip at your cat if it seems fun. Cockatoos do this too. If your bird is just a bad match for a cat, they have a right to be a bird.
No matter how cool your cat and bird are on their own, they might have a whole different dynamic together. Cats get a lot of info through their noses, so it might be a good idea to let them get their first sniff of the bird's feathers or perch while the bird is safely in another room. Let the bird see the cat for a bit before formal introductions are made.
Birds and cats can get along like a house on fire, yet both still need their space. For a bird, this is really easy. Set up a sturdy (i.e., cat-resistant) cage and leave the door open for them to make a quick dash home. Cats, who are rumored to like sleeping and boxes, can get away from a noisy, hectoring cockatoo by going into the garage or another room and climbing into a closed bed.
Leave the bird in the cage for a few days early on, and watch how your cat acts. If the cat hops right up to the shelf, climbs the drapes, and swats at the cage, they may not be ready to have the bird flying free. It's a good sign if your cat is totally indifferent. Watch from a distance, and use your best judgment.
If you're watching the cat, you can probably let the bird out to stretch the wings after a while. Keep your eye on kitty's face. Cats get this look when they're going beast mode, and it's easy to recognize. If you see your cat start to turn this way, it's up to you how to intervene. The more you send the "no hurt bird" message, the sooner the cat will learn.
Cats are less likely to try something with a bird they know personally, so regular contact is the key to long-term success. Whenever you feel up to it, let the bird out of its cage and keep an eye on things. Take the bird with you to Netflix-and-chill on the bed with your cat, gently encouraging kitty to get a sniff or two of the bird as a F-R-I-E-N-D, and reinforce the message often.
You can't spend your life as the bird's bodyguard, and sooner or later, you'll have to leave the room. Make sure everybody in the house knows about the cat-bird situation and that they'll get involved if they think the cat's up to no good. Deputizing a spouse, roommates, kids, and even the dog, if that will work for you, can share the load around and make keeping the bird safe a lot easier.
Eventually, you have to leave the cat and the bird alone together, and you need to know how they act when you're not around. Thankfully, cats haven't figured out the video camera thing yet, so you can set something up to watch the bird's area for you. If your review turns up footage of the cat climbing up and batting at the birdcage, you might think about taking extra precautions.
If your cat and bird have been getting along, it's probably safe to relax. The cat will probably have gotten the message that the bird is more friend than food. You should never wholly disarm, however. Always remember that the animals you live with have a nature, and your cat is a predator. Just be aware that your cat might go wild near the bird and be around to stop it.
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