Can Cats and Birds Live Together?

How to Safeguard Against a Cat's Strong Predatory Nature

Tabby cat sitting on a desk staring at a blue parakeet
Cats have a natural instinct to chase and catch birds. ted cat studio/Getty Images

Cats and birds are natural predator-and-prey animals. As depicted in cartoons, outdoor cats and even house cats will stalk and pounce on birds if given the chance. These behaviors are very natural. Can these natural instincts be overcome by pet birds and house cats in order for them to coexist?

The answer is yes and no. A cat and bird can coexist in a home, but you will have to take certain measures to ensure that a cat cannot get to the bird at any point. You may even witness a cat and bird detente, but, it can never be trusted. A cat's natural instinct to pounce, capture, and "play" with the bird can manifest at any time.

Of course, each cat and each bird are different. Some cats will not care about a pet bird at all while others will make it its life mission to get at a bird. You will need to assess the personalities of your pets and always remain on guard if you allow your bird and cat to interact.

Natural Instincts of Cats and Birds

It's no surprise that cats hunt birds and birds fly away at the sight of a cat. Most birds, especially those that are kept as pets, are prey and cats are predators by nature. Cats in the wild hunt, stalk, and surprise their prey which may consist of small mammals, reptiles, fish, and birds. It is fun for a cat to jump and catch items, living or not, and birds are no exception. Cats see birds as fun to play with or as food and they do not differentiate between pet birds and wild ones.

Most birds, on the other hand, will fly away at the slightest startle, noise, or observation of a cat if they feel the least bit threatened. The sight of a cat often causes a wild bird to fly off as quickly as possible and possibly even let out a cry to alert other birds of the predator. Birds kept as pets are not usually large enough to hurt a cat but even if a large bird, such as a macaw, is approached by a cat, they are instinctively fearful and will flee if possible before they have to fight.

How Cats Are Dangerous to Birds

This may seem like an obvious answer but cats can hurt or potentially kill a bird very easily. Not only can a cat eat a bird, but more likely it will hurt it with its sharp claws or cause serious wounds and an infection from the bacteria in its mouth. Cats can also pull out important feathers needed for flight, balance, and warmth and cause serious mental trauma to a bird that has endured an attack or threat.

Can Birds Be Dangerous to Cats?

Despite the fact that a cat is definitely more dangerous to a bird than a bird is to a cat, a bigger bird is still able to do some harm to a cat that is not expecting retaliation. Larger parrots have strong beaks and claws. They can grab and bite and do some serious damage to an unsuspecting cat, especially if the cat is scared of the bird and not trying to attack it. This is most often seen with shy or curious cats and scared parrots that are acting out of self-defense.

Ways to Help Cats and Birds Coexist

Despite the fact that cats naturally want to catch, and potentially even eat, a pet bird, there are things you can do to help them both live peacefully within your home.

  • Secure the cage: If you have a curious cat and a pet bird, make sure the bird has a secure cage or aviary that the cat cannot get inside. You do not want to have to worry about them when you are not home. And, make sure that your cat cannot knock over the birdcage. Small cages like those used for canaries are placed on tables and are asking for trouble. Secure the cage to a stand or table that is not easily knocked over or make sure the cage is heavy enough that your cat cannot push it around. Use cage locks or carabiners to make sure your cat cannot open birdcage doors.
  • Keep them in separate rooms: Consider placing the bird cage in a room that you can keep your cat out of. A caged bird being stalked by a cat (even if it is safe behind bars) can cause the bird unnecessary stress.
  • Never allow a cat in a cage or aviary: Do not allow the cat to spend time in the aviary or cage, even if the bird is not present. You do not want your cat to think of these areas as its own places and develop any sense of ownership or territorial claims.
  • Try to introduce your bird to your cat: This is typically a very slow process and you should start by simply allowing your caged bird and cat to see each other from a distance. Eventually, you can lessen the distance between the two after ensuring both are comfortable and not stressed. Some people who have cats that show no signs of going into predator mode will take their bird out of its cage and allow the two to see each other without bars in the way. This must be done with great caution and awareness in case your bird tries to jump out of your hands or your cat tries to pounce on the bird.