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can parrots die from cigarette smoke?

How Does Smoking Affect Parrots?

Smoking cigarettes and secondhand smoke affect parrots by damaging the respiratory system, heart, blood pressure, and nervous system.

Parrots exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke may develop breathing issues, skin conditions, a rapid heart rate, cancer, and pneumonia.

Although vaping has fewer chemicals than traditional smoking, it’s not free of toxins. So, your parrot can still become sick or die from exposure to vaping.

Can Parrots Die from Cigarette Smoke?

Cigarette smoke can kill a parrot because long-term exposure to secondhand smoke can result in your parrot developing various illnesses, leading to:

  • Breathing troubles
  • Skin conditions
  • Addiction
  • Damage to their feathers
  • Cancer

While this is true for many pets exposed to secondhand smoke, birds are at greater risk. So, your macaw could be more likely to experience breathing problems than your dog. That’s because parrots have a uniquely sensitive respiratory system, making them more susceptible to various toxins or airborne chemicals.

can cigarette smoke kill parrots?

Respiratory System

Parrots don’t have lungs. Instead, they have a series of air sacs that are spread throughout their inner chest. This unique build means that a parrot will have every breath of air pass through it twice. A parrot can take in more oxygen from the air by using an effective gas exchange mechanism in its blood vessels.

This works against the parrot when it comes to smoke. It will inhale more toxins from the air. As such, nicotine and tar will have a more profound effect on a parrot’s body. Your parrot doesn’t need to smoke a cigarette to experience the negative effects. Even being in the same room while someone smokes can cause respiratory issues.

External Problems

Parrots exposed to tobacco and marijuana products will also manifest issues externally. That’s because secondhand smoke not only affects the lungs. The smoke will hang in the air and settle on furniture, clothes, and other items. Alongside the chemicals, small particles of ash are likely to affect the lungs of your parrot.

It doesn’t matter if you avoid blowing that smoke toward your parrot. Secondhand smoke affects the area around the smoker. Even if you smoke outside, traces will remain on your skin and clothing.

The smoke will also begin to coat the parrot’s feathers. As it preens, cleaning away the residue, chemicals lingering in those feathers will become ingested. These can be poisonous, especially for parrots with weaker immune systems.

Can Cigarette Smoke Kill Parrots?

It’s rare for a parrot to die immediately from cigarette smoke. However, it’s more likely that your parrot will develop health issues following exposure. In the meantime, your parrot may show difficulty breathing, exercising, and flying.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco contains over 7,000 different chemicals. Hundreds of them are proven to be toxic, and at least 70 are cancerous. Parrots breathe in more oxygen (and smoke) than humans. They also have weaker immune systems and can fall victim to a wider range of toxins than we will.

The Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery reveals that parrots exposed to secondhand smoke will have significantly higher cotinine levels. This is a byproduct of metabolized nicotine and is used as a marker to show that something has been exposed to tobacco. As such, secondhand smoke leaves a real biological mark on your parrot.

This lingers even after the cigarette is put out. Opening a window or turning on a fan will not remove it entirely from your parrot’s environment or its lung-like air sacs.

Lung Disease

Parrots can sustain damage to their ‘lungs’ from secondhand smoke. They may have a reduced lung capacity, have difficulty exercising, or struggle to breathe at higher altitudes. While most pet parrots aren’t allowed to fly to the same heights as wild parrots, this still shows permanent damage to their bodies.

An issue unique to parrots will be aspergillosis. This is usually caused by exposure to fungal spores and mold. However, the toxins in cigarettes can have the same effects. This results in suffocation and eventually death if not treated early. Parrots that are elderly or have compromised immune systems are at greater risk.

High Blood Pressure And Heart Issues

Nicotine is a stimulant and depressant, which affects the central nervous system. Because of this, humans and parrots can develop high blood pressure from exposure to secondhand smoke. However, parrots may develop it more quickly due to the complex set of blood vessels in their lungs.

This enables them to absorb more oxygen than a human and more toxic chemicals from the smoke. When paired with their fast-paced metabolism, parrots are efficient but delicate creatures. High blood pressure can lead to heart issues. Also, the chemicals found in nicotine may cause heart damage.

can parrots get addicted to nicotine?

Damaged Immune System

If your parrot had a strong immune system, it might not occur until after long-term exposure to smoking. Secondhand smoke can damage the body’s ability to fight off other diseases and illnesses.

This can be especially dangerous in young chicks. They may develop permanent health complications from any of the illnesses they fail to fight off. Likewise, older parrots may succumb to diseases they’d otherwise avoid.

Feather Plucking

Secondhand smoke and ash can make a parrot’s feathers dingy, dirty, and hard to clean. Since parrots are diligent about cleaning their feathers, yours may continue preening in the hope of removing the substance. If it fails, it may become annoyed, uncomfortable, or destructive.

Aside from behavioral issues, preening may turn to plucking out feathers. This self-mutilation could leave your parrot bald. It could even result in damage to the skin, bleeding, and infections.

Skin Conditions

If your parrot has removed many of its feathers and its skin is now bare, it’s at risk for skin conditions. However, even a fully-feathered parrot can get dermatitis from secondhand smoke. This will be most common on the legs, where the protective barrier of feathers provides little protection.

Bad cases of nicotine and other chemical exposure can result in sores. These may appear directly on the skin because of secondhand smoke. However, the most common reason is that the parrot removes its feathers and pecks at the bare skin. Infections can develop, causing the parrot to dig at vulnerable wounds.


If ingested, the toxins in tobacco can poison your parrot. That’s true for the tar and nicotine. As your parrot cleans its feathers, it may swallow the toxins, leading to digestive issues. The impact of this activity occurs over time.

Can Parrots Get Addicted To Nicotine?

Parrots can develop an addiction to nicotine. The Department of Health for New York State claims that approximately 23.2% of adults smoke. Up to 98% of pigeons in New York City are addicted to nicotine. This was discovered through blood samples and stool tests. Traces of cigarette paper and filling were uncovered.

The effects of this nicotine addiction are:

  • Fidgeting
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dingy appearance
  • Bad smell
  • Anti-social tendencies
  • Twitching
  • Hoarse calls

An addicted parrot will crave nicotine. If the parrot begins to go through withdrawal, this could result in behavioral issues. The parrot may become destructive, confused, agitated, and refuse food.

If you smoke, do so in a place where your parrot will not inhale the secondhand smoke. Always smoke outside of the home, and ensure that all windows and doors are kept closed.