Bird Respiratory Systems

Did you know that birds are full of air? It’s true! Bird respiratory systems are optimized for flight, which means they prioritize efficient oxygen exchange more than other animals. Unlike humans, who have a diaphragm and use negative pressure to inflate our lungs, birds have multiple air sacs in their abdomen and thorax that work as bellows to push air through their more rigid lungs. When a bird inhales, the air sacs in their lower abdomen inflate first, which then pushes the oxygen rich air through the lungs, and finally into the anterior air sacs before being exhaled. This first-pass system allows birds to collect more oxygen in one breath than we can, enough to power those flight muscles! 

As a result, bird respiratory systems are some of the most sensitive in the animal kingdom. As is illustrated by the history of the “canary in the coal mine”, where these little yellow birds were used to detect toxic gas before miners would become ill, your pet bird can get very sick from air pollutants at lower concentrations than we do. There are a few things we can do to keep our feathered friends safe: 

1. Avoid allowing your bird to be in your kitchen, especially when you are cooking!

2. Do not use teflon or other non-stick cookware around your bird. PFAS are particularly toxic to birds, and can result in sudden death. 

3. Any cookware used on high heat has the potential to give off fumes, even those just coated with butter or margarine, so ventilating your kitchen when cooking is key.

4. When using aerosol spray cleaners or pesticides, keep your bird away from these areas for longer than you would other species. Contact the product’s manufacturer for recommendations if the label information is not specific.

5. Avoid air fresheners, candles, and other scented products where your bird frequents as these can irritate their sensitive respiratory systems. 

6. Keep the spaces your bird hangs around clean of any old or excess droppings, as the ammonia from infrequently cleaned spaces can be irritating. 

If you are worried that your bird is ill, or would just like an annual health check for your pet, please give us a call at (613) 382-2900 as we are now providing medical care for birds! Dr. Gerritsen would be happy to examine your feathered family member and can provide further information on their care. 


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