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Can You Have a Pet Bird If You Have Allergies?

Louisiana, United States

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The short answer isyes.  Of course you can.  I have allergies to cat dander, dust, anddust mites.   But I'm not allergic tofeathers.  My allergist tested me to letme know what pets I could and couldn't have safely before I ever got my first bird.  After looking at my results, he advisedagainst owning a dog but said that I should do fine with birds.  

Because of my dustallergies, I knew I'd want a relatively neat species that could live ineasy-to-clean housing. 

I decided on a PeachfrontedConure, which turned out to be the perfect bird for me.  As a result, I've been a happy -- andsneeze-free -- bird owner for many years.    

Sadly,  I've heard from people who feel frustratedby  what they say is overly conservativeadvice from their doctors.  Someallergists will tell people not to own any pet -- even though their testresults show that they're not actually allergic to feathers.  

I can't give you medicaladvice.  It's your responsibility to havethe right tests to make sure you understand what you're allergic to.  And you'll want to double-check  to be sure you understand the advice you weregiven. 

But many of us have alreadyproved that people with allergies can be bird owners -- if they choose the birdwisely.  You are not necessarilyrelegated to a goldfish.    

Let's say your results showthat you're allergic to dust and dust mites but not feathers.  You don't need to avoid feathers or theentire bird kingdom.  You need to avoid dust.    

As it turns out, all birdsare not created equal when it comes to kicking up dust.  The birds you need to watch out for are theso-called powder down species -- cockatoos, cockatiels, pigeons, and (to alesser extent) the Greys.  

That's because thesespecies have powder down feathers on their bodies -- a  special kind of downy feather that doesn't molt. Instead, powder down grows out continuously like hair.  As it ages, the tips wear off and crumbleinto a sticky dust made of keratin -- the same protein found in hair.  No wonder these birds might trigger allergicreactions in people who are also irritated by animal fur.    

However, not all birds havepowder down feathers.  In fact, most ofthem don't.  You may see more dust fromthe seed hulls.  I'm not going to claimthat my Peachfronted Conures never make a mess. They love nothing better sometimes than flinging molted feathers,chewed-up toys, and seed hulls around. But they don't seem to produce the kind of dust that makes mesniffle.  

One suggestion before you make your final decision:  Spend some time volunteering at a bird rescue or bird-sitting a friend's pets.  Help out with the clean-up, not just the fun stuff.  There's no faster way to find out for sure whether or not a bird will trigger your allergies than to dig into a little cage cleaning. 

Written by Elaine Radford