are paint fumes bad for parrots?

Is Paint Toxic To Parrots? [A Complete Safety Guide]

Painting your home can be a challenging task if you have a parrot. These birds are curious and may fly into wet walls or surfaces or swallow paint. In addition, you’ll need to ensure any fumes won’t harm your parrot.

Whether used for decorating or recreation, many paints contain dangerous compounds that are toxic to parrots. If you need to paint your home or birdcage, temporarily rehome your parrot until the paint is dry and the room is aired. Once dry, acrylic-based or spray can paints are parrot-safe. Avoid latex paint as the fumes are deadly.

Parrots live a long time, so you won’t be able to avoid painting throughout your companion bird’s lifetime. As a result, you need to tackle a DIY project safely. Paint and parrots don’t mix well, but you can safely paint your home.

Is Paint Safe for Parrots?

Most paints that you’d buy from a hardware shop are lethal to a parrot if ingested. The biggest concern is a cocktail of different components, notably zinc, formaldehyde, and lead.

Ideally, a parrot should be kept away from paint for at least two weeks after application. This is the only way to ensure that your parrot isn’t exposed to harmful chemicals. Even then, you’ll still need to use appropriate paint.

You’ll need a second home for your parrot before attempting a paint-based home rejuvenation or creative project. Ideally, relocate your parrot to a different property. If this is not an option, move your parrot’s cage to another room until at least a week – ideally two – after the project is complete.

Pecking and nibbling at dry paint is less likely to make parrots unwell. Once the paint has dried onto a surface, dangerous components are no longer active. The fresher paint is, and the more recently it was opened, the more dangerous it will be for your parrot.

Unfortunately, parrots may still peck and bite at paint. There are many reasons for this, including boredom, a desire to escape a cage, curiosity, and a quest for more calcium. Offer your parrot an engaging environment.

paint safe for parrots

Are Paint Fumes Bad for Parrots?

Even if you keep your parrot away from wet surfaces, many paints contain volatile organic compounds or VOCs. These create the fumes associated with paints, many of which are toxic to your parrot.

VOCs are organic chemicals that turn to vapor when exposed to a standard room temperature. The term volatile refers to the fact that the chemicals have an extremely low boiling point and rapidly disperse into the air, leaving your parrot to breathe them in.

Not all VOCs are necessarily a bad thing in the animal kingdom. For example, scenting behaviors that see the release of pheromones are considered a natural use of VOCs. As explained by the American Journal of Plant Sciences, many edible plants also release VOCs.

Unfortunately, just as many VOCs are dangerous. Those found in paints are often lethal to our avian companions. To enable flight, parrots have an extremely efficient respiratory tract. This also means that any toxin breathed in through the atmosphere is rapidly spread throughout the body.

Today, you’ll find a range of low- and no-VCO paints for sale. If you have a parrot, only the latter will do. Even then, consider investing in an air quality monitor. Only reintroduce your parrot to a room that is clear and has been thoroughly aired for several days. 

Is Any Interior Paint Safe for Birds?

If we’re being sincere, no product can be considered 100% bird-friendly paint. All products are dangerous to parrots when wet. However, some kinds of paint are better than others.

Always look for paint with the Green Seal label. This means the product has been deemed safe for humans and the environment. That doesn’t automatically make it OK for parrots, but it’s a step in the right direction.

As intimated, you’ll still need to look a little further into the paint that you’re looking to use. Let’s look at the most popular paints available on the market and their suitability for parrots:

Acrylic Paint

Most bird experts recommend acrylic paints if you must use such materials. This is because acrylic paints don’t release any odors into the air, which means no harmful fumes.

Acrylic paints are versatile, making them helpful for any owner. For example, if you need to touch up or redecorate a cage, acrylic is just as beneficial as applying more expansive coats to bigger surfaces.

In what will soon become a familiar refrain, you’ll still need to keep acrylic paint directly out of the path of birds. It can block airways if consumed. As a non-toxic paint, acrylic is the way forward.

Behr Paint

If you do your shopping at Home Depot, you’ll find plenty of Behr paint vying for your attention.

Some Behr paint is considered parrot-safe, while other varieties are deemed dangerous. It all depends on what kind you pick up. If you’re using Behr paint, make sure it is free of VCOs and meets other safety standards.

Ceramic Paint

Many people enjoy painting ceramics as a pastime. Parrot owners, in particular, may look to decorate any food or water dishes in a birdcage. The hobby requires special paints, though – simple watercolors or oil paints will not do.

Thankfully, most ceramic paints are acrylic-based. This means that you’ll need to take the same precautions as above. Let the paint dry before you reapply decorated ceramics to a cage, and check the label of any paint for harmful components before purchasing.

Latex Paint

Latex paint fumes and parrots don’t mix, and as a result, you should never use latex paints if you have a companion bird. More than any other kind, latex paint is bursting with VCOs. Even water-based latex paint is best avoided.

This may seem confusing, as latex is a popular material for parrot toys and perches. This is due to the flexibility afforded by the material. The difference here, of course, is that a latex purchase is completely dry. That means no risk of VCOs.

All the same, some cheap latex materials will carry a distinct scent. In these instances, it’s best to err on the side of caution and keep them away from your parrot. The paint may be substandard and likely to flake, increasing the risk of toxicity.

Milk Paint

Milk paint sounds unappetizing, but it’s an odorless, VOC-free alternative to traditional paints. Many people are using milk paint to address decorative needs without causing any environmental hazards.

The product is not made from milk as we know it. Instead, casein – a protein found in milk – provides the foundation alongside lime. This means that milk paint should still be kept away from parrots, who struggle to digest dairy.

The reason for these complications is that parrots are mostly lactose intolerant. On paper, milk paint doesn’t contain this ingredient – it’s a sugar found in dairy, while casein is, as discussed, a protein. Traces of lactose may still exist, though, leading to gastric upset.

Oil Paint

Oil paints give off substantial fumes that are harmful to birds, so these materials should be kept far away from parrots. You may be able to source oil paints that declare themselves non-toxic (potentially made from linseed), but it’s still not worth taking any significant risk.

If you like to use oil paints for art, do this away from your parrot. If this must be in the house, set yourself up in an art studio where your parrot will never venture. Also, never leave a canvas or other material created with oil paint in plain view until it’s completely dry.

Krylon Spray Paint and Rust-Oleum Spray Paint

If you want to touch up a birdcage, add a fresh coat of color, or remove any marks or stains, spray paint is an option. This is typically safer for birds than any liquid paint. Unfortunately, only some brands of spray paint are suitable.

One of the most popular brands of parrot-safe spray paint is Krylon. Used for DIY and craft in equal measure, spray paint (also known as camouflage paint) is available in various colors and quickly dries.

If you cannot find Krylon spray paint, Rust-Oleum is another option. As before, this spray paint is completely non-toxic once it has thoroughly dried. This means that you’ll be able to return your parrot to its cage much faster.

Watercolor Paint

If you’re keen to apply a new color to a cage, watercolors are the closest thing to a bird-safe paint for wood. This doesn’t mean that your parrot can interact directly with the paints. Watercolors dry quickly, emit no fumes, and have fewer dangerous ingredients.

Watercolors are also commonly associated with hobbyist painting. If you enjoy creating works of art, do so in a separate room to your parrot. Better yet, complete any painting – and store any paints – outside the home.

As per Applied Animal Behavior Science, parrots are drawn to bright colors. As watercolors come in various shades and hues, an exercising bird may grow inquisitive and start to peck at paint pots.

bird-friendly paint

What Happens if a Parrot Eats Paint?

Throughout this guide, we have been at pains to state that parrots should never consume or inhale paint. Such an episode will rarely end well. Can you always be certain if a bird has come into contact with wet paint?

Don’t rely solely on catching your parrot in the act, and don’t wait until you notice a beak stained with paint. Instead, be mindful of any warning signs of toxicity in your pet. These include:

  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Struggling for breath
  • Lethargy and depression
  • Convulsions and fits
  • Blood in the stool

If you spot these symptoms, air a room at once and call an avian-specialist vet. Your bird will need urgent medical attention, as untreated paint consumption or inhalation is often fatal.

Protecting Parrots from Dangerous Paints

So, having established that parrots should be kept far away from paints, you’ll be keen to keep your parrot safe. While parrots can be strong-willed and find trouble, let’s reiterate the steps required to keep your parrot safe:

  • Use a water-based paint rather than anything with oils
  • Only use VOC-free paint, and never use a product that contains heavy metals (zinc, lead, etc.)
  • Apply paint when your parrot is not in the room (or, better yet, the house)
  • Open windows (while the cage is closed) before returning the parrot, airing the room in full
  • Get an air quality reader and ensure the atmosphere is devoid of VOCs
  • Ensure that all paint is entirely touch-dry
  • Securely store paint away from any potential interaction with your parrot

If you follow these basic guidelines, there’s no reason for your parrot to experience paint toxicity. If you cannot commit to these safety precautions, consider avoiding paint altogether. Wallpaper is a safer option.

If you have a parrot, assume that all paint will harm your pet. If you need to apply a fresh coat of paint to your home, take appropriate steps to protect your parrot.

Don’t force a parrot into exposure therapy or take a chance on a quick paint job. Always adopt a safety-first approach, keeping paint and parrot as far from each other as possible.