Home » Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Parrots (CO Risk in Pet Birds)
will carbon monoxide affect birds first?

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Parrots (CO Risk in Pet Birds)

Last Updated on: 6th July 2023, 07:15 pm

If a parrot inhales CO, it’s likely to get carbon monoxide poisoning. Birds have highly efficient and complex respiratory systems that are extremely vulnerable to harmful gases and fumes.

Parrots need a high oxygen intake due to their fast metabolic rate needed for flight. Inhaled carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin, replacing oxygen and severely affecting the heart and brain.

The warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning in birds include muscular weakness, lethargy, disorientation, and seizures. Carbon monoxide poisoning is usually fatal to birds.

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas produced by fossil fuels when oxygen is low in an environment.

When fuels are burned with sufficient oxygen, full combustion follows, and carbon dioxide (CO2) reaches the atmosphere. Carbon monoxide is far more dangerous than carbon dioxide.

There’s no easy way to tell if carbon monoxide is present. This gas doesn’t produce scent, taste, or color. It’s also unlikely to cause immediate eye, nose, throat, or skin irritation.

While the body creates some carbon monoxide during respiration, inhaling too much from an external source is extremely dangerous or deadly to small and large parrot species.

how quickly does carbon monoxide affect parrots?

Why Is Carbon Monoxide Dangerous?

When carbon monoxide is inhaled, it overwhelms the body in minutes. Carbon monoxide rapidly displaces oxygen, which prevents air from reaching the body’s internal organs.

Breathing 10 parts per million (ppm) of carbon monoxide for a prolonged period is dangerous for humans, while 50 ppm is unsafe for longer than 30 minutes.

Parrots are significantly smaller and have more complex respiratory systems than humans, so they’re at far more risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.  

Will Carbon Monoxide Affect Birds First?

Birds are more at risk animals of carbon monoxide poisoning due to their small stature and the sensitivity of their respiratory organs.

Gases less dangerous than carbon monoxide can cause serious harm to birds. Carbon monoxide poisoning takes hold in birds before larger animals or humans.

This avian sensitivity to carbon monoxide is behind the idiom “a canary in a coal mine,” used to describe somebody or something to test whether the air supply is dangerous.

As per the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery, miners in the late 19th and early 20th centuries would carry caged canaries into enclosed spaces with them.

If the canary died, the miners knew a lot of carbon monoxide was present and hastily retreated.

While most parrot species are larger than the average canary, psittacines are no less at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and mustn’t be exposed to this gas.

How Quickly Does Carbon Monoxide Affect Parrots?

This depends on the health and size of the bird and the carbon monoxide present in the atmosphere.

Young or old parrots, or those with limited respiratory function, will show symptoms almost immediately. Even healthy parrots usually display respiratory distress within 5 minutes.

As birds are caged, they can’t vacate the environment like humans can.

Can Carbon Monoxide Kill Birds?

Parrots and other birds intake substantial amounts of oxygen for flying. Breathing in carbon dioxide means the parrot’s body will be denied oxygen.

As per Respiratory Care Clinics of North America, carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin. This gas binds around 200 times more than oxygen, replacing this air source and impacting the heart and brain.

Carbon monoxide poisoning will kill a parrot if not immediately reversed. The CO isn’t the issue, but its impact on the body. With no oxygen circulating, a parrot’s organs will soon fail.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Parrots

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning in parrots are similar to all forms of toxicity. The warning signs of toxicity to look out for include the following:

  • Vomiting.
  • Muscular weakness, including an inability to perch or walk.
  • Panting and labored breathing.
  • Racing heart rate.
  • Confusion and disorientation.
  • Seizures, potentially leading to loss of consciousness.

The parrot will die if you fail to heed these warnings and take action. Sudden death in parrots is always suspicious, so evacuate your home in case of an undetected CO leak.

Treating Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Parrots

Carbon monoxide poisoning can sometimes be medically treated if recognized extremely early.

The parrot will likely experience permanent damage to its brain or heart following CO poisoning. A parrot that inhales carbon monoxide is unlikely to survive long enough to see a veterinarian.

A vet will give the parrot oxygen until it exceeds the carbon monoxide level, aiming to restore function to its organs. How long this process takes depends (and if it works) depends on how much CO was inhaled.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can also have side effects, such as prolonged seizures. A bird will be kept at a veterinary hospital overnight for observation if it survives the experience.

can carbon monoxide kill birds?

Avoiding Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Parrots

If a parrot inhales carbon monoxide, it’ll likely die unless you act extremely quickly. Other pets and humans (especially the elderly, sick, and young) will also be at significant risk.

What Devices Cause Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Common sources of carbon monoxide in the home include the following:

  • Smoking cigarettes, cigars, and shisha pipes.
  • Burning fossil fuels, like wood, without sufficient ventilation.
  • Lighting scented and unscented candles.
  • Incorrect and inadequate installation of boilers.
  • Substandard and leaky storage heaters.
  • Portable generators as a power resource.
  • Live fire and naked flames.

Vehicle exhaust fumes are a common source of carbon monoxide emissions, especially old vehicles. As per Environmental Science and Technology, it’s believed that 10% of vehicles on the road are responsible for up to 50% of all CO emissions.

While you’ll not have a vehicle parked in your home, keep this in mind if you plan to take a parrot on a long road trip or if you like to attach a harness for outdoor exercise.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Safety Precautions

Everybody, especially bird owners, should install at least one carbon monoxide detector in their home, ideally more if using appliances that increase the risk of exposure.

If so, put one carbon monoxide detector upstairs and downstairs to ensure you’re quickly alerted.

A carbon monoxide detector is a small, wall-mounted appliance that resembles a smoke detector. CO has no smell, taste, or color, so you rely on a detector to sound the alarm if there’s gas in the home.

If a dangerous level of carbon monoxide is in the home, the detector will alert you with a loud, shrill alarm. If you hear this sound, evacuate the property and take the parrot to the vet for an examination.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is dangerous to any living creature, but birds are among the most at risk and will quickly feel the effects of this gas before larger pets (like dogs) or humans.