My rescued cockatiel runs my life, and I'm a volunteer at a wildlife rehabilitation center.
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 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.
Bacteria Pose Another Threat
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.
A Big Parrot Could Actually Hurt Your Cat
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 it has sliding doors, securing them with bird-safe vet wrap or wooden clothespins 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. Be ready to 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.
Both Pets Are Important Family Members
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.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: I have a dog and cat. Should I get a bird?
Answer: If you really want a bird and think you can take the proper precautions to keep the bird safe, it can work!
Question: I’m thinking of getting a bird, but I have four cats, including a kitten. I’m also a childminder. Do you think this is possible?
Answer: It's possible, but you'll need to take precautions for the bird. If you have a spare room or area of the house that the cats and children can't easily access, it would be easier. If not, get the sturdiest cage you can find, and supervise diligently until the cats and kids learn the boundaries. You might also want to join a bird forum or Facebook group - many people in those groups have made mixing cats, birds, and kids work!
Val on April 20, 2020:
I have 2 ragdoll cats ( 10 years old) that are very gentle The female acquired epilepsy last year And the vet advised not to create any stressful situations
my partner wants to get an adult cockatiel and let it walk around the house or sit on a perch
I’m so worried the cats will be stressed
Or greatly jealous watching the bird demand to be the center of attention when they have been since day one
Please advise so I can have peace
Amber on August 09, 2019:
I have 4 kitty's and a cockatiel and a conure they get along great we let our birds out all the time
Mary on August 15, 2018:
Thank you all so much for your very helpful comments, suggestions, and encouragement! I have a very calm, docile domestic/Persian - who plays with mice when we get them, just stares at them.... but I have a chance to get a pair of lovebirds, and I'd love to try it out, if it's safe. I am encouraged by your comments. Thank you! Animal people and plant people so do rock!
Kasandan on August 14, 2018:
I have two cats one of them is persian and very quite the other one I rescued from street and she is very naughty and playfull of course one of her habbit is to watch birds beside window with this situation can i get a macaw i really really like to have one of course i won't leave them alone all together
Kasandan on August 12, 2018:
I have two cats one of them is persian and very quite the other one I rescued from street and she is very naughty and playfull of course one of her habbit is to watch birds beside window
Jennifer Bridges (author) from Michigan on August 11, 2018:
Good luck with the cockatiel, Skye, and thanks for taking her in!
Skye on August 11, 2018:
Thanks for the tips. We just found a young cockatiel today in the most bizarre circumstances, sleeping under our car in an underground carpark. Not really any houses near by. Pretty docile, haven't heard a peep yet so thinking probably female and either was a pet or just young. She's been eating and sleeping no problem but can't seem to fly. I work in the animal industry and have had a number of parrots before. Missed having them but didn't think it could work with my three cats. To my surprise so far my cats are pretty unbothered but my youngest, cheeky one hasn't seen her yet. Can't wait to start socialising with her after her vet check and then slowly with the cats. Can't figure out how she could've been lost in such a place unless abandoned. While it's cute to imagine my cats and bird snuggling I think I'll err on the side of caution aswell. Wish me luck.
Jennifer Bridges (author) from Michigan on February 05, 2018:
Thanks for the comments!
Louise: I hear you. Sometimes it just isn't worth the risk. When I wrote this article several years ago, I had two very old cats who weren't very interested in my bird at all. They have since passed on and I now have two younger cats who I don't trust anywhere near my birds. I used my own tips, but they didn't work, so, I keep them separate.
Lorri: Good luck! I hope everything works out! If your cat is usually pretty calm, there's a decent chance she'll lose interest in the bird eventually. (Just keep in mind that she might not and you'll just have to be careful).
Lorri on February 05, 2018:
Thank you for this! We just took in my mother in law's timneh this weekend are are really nervous because we have a big adult cat at home. She's a calm cat and likes to be left alone for the most part but is super curious about this newcomer. Other forums say it can never work and I have to keep the cat away, so your post is giving me some hope. Will try your tips asap!
louise on January 28, 2018:
I have a conure and a cat. I never let my bird out if my cat is in the same room. Even after 3 years my cat looks longingly at my bird, not a risk I'm willing to take. dogs learn quickly and will usually learn to respect your bird friend. But cats! Not worth the life of my best friend feathered friend.
Birb is the Worb on December 14, 2017:
Thanks for the advice.
lamar mufti on July 25, 2017:
i am a person who loves both, birds and cats. i have two cats who were with me for almost 4 years and i got a cockatiel bird (pina) one week ago, i am following your steps and until now everything is going good!
thank you so much for helping
Synthetik666 on October 11, 2016:
Thank you so much for this. It really will belp
Jasmine on September 10, 2016:
Thankyou for this!!
I grew up with two cats and a budgie. We had the cats first. One cat didn't think twice of the bird and the big ginger Tom cat who we rescued off the street was absolutely afraid of our budgie lol it was kinda funny!!! We also had a dog and our bird seriously was I love with our dog, she even used to bark like him and guests would complain about a noisy dog next door and we had to explain that it was actually the bird Hahahha
But anyway I'm looking to get a sphinx cat and I have a cockatiel. She's in a great sturdy parrot prof cage that I can't even stick my finger through and has three locks to get through to open the cage so I'm sure she would be safe. Plus like you have said if have to teach the cat to not see the bird as pray and not let the bird out around the cat/ leave them alone even in the cage.
Who knows maybe this cat will be like my other cats but just gonna assume it's not going to be. Lol
But everyone's still freaking out about it. Lol so Thankyou for assuring me you can make it work even if the cat and bird don't get along in the end.
Kaili on March 14, 2016:
So I'm having the opposite problem. My cat is afraid of my bird. They love to look at each other while my budgie is in his cage. He finds a perch to rest on facing her and she will lay there staring at him(no signs of predator instincts. My cat won't even kill bugs). When I take him out though he flys straight at her. We were sitting on the couch and my cat came up and was watching and the second he noticed her he flew straight at her face!! So confused. And I have no idea what to do! This is so backwards.
rhianne on September 21, 2015:
my two cats i have had for years now got a canary two years ago , he is still alive but i don't allow the cats with him on his own.
If there's no one able to be in the room or when i go out i close the door with the lock so the cats cannae get to him , even though they mostly ignore him its a risk i wouldn't take..
but when we are all in they are in the same room and its all good.
it can be done just resilience and patience is needed, still don't leave them together on their own caus its the whole nother level its still hunter and prey. attention is all that's needed.
Janet Webster on November 14, 2013:
Thank you for your advice very welcome
Jennifer Bridges (author) from Michigan on May 25, 2012:
Thanks for vote and comment, and thanks for the link to the website! I love the photos on it, especially the one on the main page. :)
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on May 25, 2012:
Voted awesome. Wonderful material that needed to be introduced. For a Spanish wild bird/domestic cat friendship, take a look at fumandgebra.com
Jennifer Bridges (author) from Michigan on May 24, 2012:
Thanks for the comment! Always nice to hear about somebody else who has made the cat-bird combination work (even if the success was at least partially from the bird's bad attitude, lol). My Buzzy is fine as long as the cats are at least five feet away or so. If they come any closer, he starts hissing and trying to make himself look big and scary.
Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on May 24, 2012:
My cockatiel (Hyphen) has been with me for 20 years now. We have had several cats and most would look but never touch. One used to lie longingly by the cage though. Hyphen has a bad attitude and screams at other critters so the cats most likely were glad to be away from him. I never left him out when I was gone though just in case....
You have some great tips here for the people who love cats and birds both.