Parakeets and nail polish – what are the dangers?

It’s been several years since I used nail polish on the regular. My husband has allergies and sensitivities to chemicals, so every time I want to paint my finger or toe nails it’s been a real production. I have to go outside to paint them and stay out long enough to dry, then when I come in I have to wash my feet as soon as the polish is totally dry. Even after that the chemicals would irritate his throat and I would end up having to wear socks around the house and to bed for several days. Since I did it so infrequently I rarely though about the possible implications for parakeets and nail polish exposure.

I’ve been traveling more for work lately and attending conferences wearing sandals this summer brought the issue more to the forefront. I still didn’t really want to paint my finger nails, because Toby can’t stand most nail colors. When my mom visits with anything other than a neutral nail Toby won’t go anywhere near her! But, to look professional and put together I did want to be able to polish my toes more frequently.

I started researching whether there was a chemical-free option for nail polish, and was immediately horrified to learn about what I’d been putting on my toes and into our home’s air space for years. Most nail polish brands that I had been picking up at the grocery store contained chemicals like:

  • DBP (dibutyl phthalate) – a toxic chemicals that has been proven to cause reproductive issues in rats as well as birth defects.
  • Toulene – long term exposure to toluene is linked to several lovely conditions such as anemia, lowered blood cell count, liver and kidney damage.
  • Formaldehyde – I feel like just putting that word there should be enough, most of us associate formaldehyde with preserving dead animals and tissues as specimens and I think we can all intuit that using it on humans is a poor idea. It is a known carcinogen as well as a respiratory irritant.

No wonder it was such a problem for my husband, he consistently reacts to formaldehyde when it’s used in clothing manufacturing (also GROSS), so I’ve basically been trying to poison him every time I polished my toes. Additionally, I was pretty devastated that I’d been bringing these products into the house with budgies at all, even if I took precautions to use them outdoors only, if my husband reacted to it for days after application it couldn’t possibly be healthy for them.

Happily, there are options that are far less dangerous than traditional polishes. You want to look for products that are, at a minimum, noted to be “3 free” or “5 free”, this refers to the number of chemicals that are not present in the product.

I began searching on Amazon and found butter LONDON Nail Lacquer, which at just a little bit higher price point than my grocery store polish boasts of being “8 free”. The chemicals additionally excluded are: Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, Ethyl Tosylamide, Xylene, and TPHP.

As a review of butter LONDON Nail Lacquer I am happy to report that it goes on fairly easily and lasts well. It does not go on as smoothly as a polish with the added chemicals, however, and you may want to buff your nails before application to ensure a smooth finish.

The final verdict was that this polish is a total success story for my household! I still applied the polish outside, but had to come in before it dried completely due to weather issues. My husband could tolerate it immediately, no frantic foot washing or hiding them away in socks required!  I am so pleased that I’ll be able to polish my toes just because I want to in the future without having to take crazy precautions. I also feel about a million times better about not exposing the parakeets to dangerous nail polish chemicals.

If you use polish frequently I urge you to make sure your preferred brand is at least “3 free” if not more. If it isn’t and this post doesn’t convince you to change then please do some additional googling and make sure you are comfortable exposing both yourself and your children/pets to the chemicals. Especially budgies, whose air systems are so much more delicate than ours.

Budgie preferred sleeping arrangements

When you first bring home a new budgie it may be hard to believe that after a full day on their feet they would prefer to sleep standing up. But, it’s true, a comfortable budgie will grind his beak before going to sleep; then tuck one leg up underneath him and drift off. You may also see your parakeet turn his head around and rest it on his back. Here are some typically preferred sleeping arrangements for budgies.

  • Your budgie will probably not want to sleep in a soft enclosure like a Happy Hut, which is good, because they can be unsafe for several reasons. But, even a safe option like this Sea Grass Snuggle Hut may be regarded as quite unsuitable for sleeping, even if it’s fun for day time play and chewing. If you are concerned about your budgie getting cold in winter time, you can use a Bird Cage Cover if your parakeets will tolerate it, mine don’t care for being covered at all! Otherwise, you can use heated perches, like the K&H Thermo Perch or the K&H Snuggle Up Bird Warmer.
  • What the parakeet does want, in most cases, is to sleep on the highest perch possible. Or rather, the highest thing in the cage, no matter if it’s a perch or the top of a toy.  If there’s nothing at a suitable height they will even cling to the bars of the cage in an upper corner. If your parakeet sleeps that way, try putting a perch in that space and see if he’ll get off the wall, although please don’t attempt that after bedtime!  Toby used to run through her options every night before bed and would try to sleep on top of several very unstable toys, until we dropped them all lower than the sleeping perch using Plastic Chain. If you have multiple parakeets make sure you have enough high up perch space to help avoid fighting over preferred territory. Some parakeets prefer to sleep on a Perch Swing, so you can try offering that as well. I wonder if the movement is soothing, like being on a gently swaying tree branch.
  • Make sure you also have a couple of Night Lights or even a Small Lamp to help avoid night terrors.

If you’re providing comfortable perches as the highest items in the cage, and eliminating drafts and scary dark spaces your parakeets should be great sleepers! Although there are exceptions to every rule, most parakeets are very comfortable sleeping standing up and resting one foot at a time by tucking it up into their tummies.

How we use millet for parakeets in my household

In my attempts to be a well-informed parakeet owner, and also my general nosiness, I look at a lot of different cage set-ups. I love getting inspiration from other bird-owners, especially seeing new toys or the awesomely creative stuff that people DIY. One thing I notice a lot of that surprises me is the use of a Millet Spray Holder or generally the free-range offer of Millet in the cage. I think that if you go that route you’re losing your most powerful motivator and possibly setting yourself up for nutrition issues.

First a note on Millet Spray Holder; some of them may be unsafe. There is, in particular a plastic Millet Spray Holder that looks like a cage for millet, as well as a Stainless Steel Millet Holder that is a steel spiral. I have heard of several budgies getting their heads caught in these items, and some have not survived. Now, I fully believe that a determined parakeet could kill themselves with almost anything in their environment; they are delicate creatures that act like invincible tough guys! But, there’s enough anecdotal evidence for me that this optional item is best skipped.

Outside of safety, your parakeet simply does need free access to Millet. It is not particularly nutritious and could lead to unnecessary weight gain. I work in an office all day, and free feed Millet would be the equivalent of someone hanging a party size bag of Doritos in my cubicle and telling me to have at it. Not only would I eat my weight in Doritos every day, I would probably also make poor nutritiounal choices and eat Doritos almost exclusively, regardless of whether there was also a basket of Apples nearby.

Maybe most humans would make better choices than me! But, parakeets have about the same mono-vision when it comes to Millet that I have when it comes to Doritos. If you want your parakeet to eat a healthy seed, pellet, vegetable and fruit-based diet, having Millet readily available is not the best plan. The parakeet is not thinking about losing the weight for swimsuit season or making sure he avoids fatty liver disease, so you have to think abou tthese things for him.

Beyond being unnecessary for a balanced daily diet, free-feeding Millet also takes it out of your arsenal as one of the most powerful motivators for good budgie training. In my house Millet is only used during training or other instances in which we humans desire a specific parakeet result and are willing to “pay” for it with a treat.

As far as Toby and Kelly are aware, the only way to get Millet is from humans, by doing desirable things. So, initially during taming the desirable thing might be to simply sit on someone’s hand or shoulder. This helps the parakeet learn that good things have when you interact with people. Except not really just good things, but the best things and treat can only be guaranteed by becoming part of a flock with those funny-looking birds whose eyes are in the wrong place (ie: humans).

We’re not doing a ton of training lately, the parakeets have been molting so we have backed off until everyone is feeling great again. The only time they currently get Millet is once per day, they each get a little bit broken off the larger spray, and only after going into their cages peaceably at night at bed time. At this point it’s such a routine that Toby goes in eagerly as soon as I shut the curtain near their cage and immediately perches where I can put the Millet through the bars. Kelly is a bit of a daydreamer and usually continues to wander around until I tap on her sleeping perch to remind her of the time.

We used to wait until they got tired and sorted themselves out for bed, but sometimes, like tired little kids, they would loop back around to hyper and uncontrollable, so now I set the bedtime and they are happy to comply if it means an evening treat!

Particularly with flighted birds, a parakeet parent has very little control over budgie actions unless they can be motivated to good behavior. If we didn’t keep their love of Millet in our reserves, I am not sure how we could convince Toby and Kelly to do anything they didn’t want to do! As it stands, we have the ace in our sleeves at all times and training, as well as motivating daily tasks, becomes much easier.

Parakeets and light timers – they are not just for vacations!

Like you’d expect, we bought our set of Programmable Plug-in Digital Timers when we were getting set to go on vacation. But instead of removing them when we got back we left the timers as is, and find them to be an invaluable resource that makes our every day lives easier. Here’s how light timers have practical use every day.

  • We never forget to give Toby and Kelly the full spectrum lighting they need on a daily basis. Toby and Kelly have a AvianSun Deluxe Floor Pet Lamp (and the Avian Sun bulb that it needs to do any good). When we first got the set Patrick and I would consistently forget to turn them on, or would turn it on and leave it for hours more than they needed per day. With the lights plugged into a timer they get three hours of full spectrum lighting every day, and it’s set from 12 – 3pm, which is a time that they are usually at home in their cages and, if it’s a weekday, typically taking an afternoon snooze. Without the light timers they would never get that consistent dose of full spectrum lighting.
  • Bed time routine. Kelly is super easy to get into a bed time mode. Somehow she usually knows when it’s 6pm, goes home, and put herself to bed. Toby, on the other hand, would stay up until all hours if she was allowed to. Even after we get her into the cage at night, (usually resorting to target training and millet) she flaps around for a while and generally resists the fact that it’s not party time anymore. To help her settle down we try to provide as many cues as possible that bed time is imminent, and one of those cues is lighting. Before I start tying to put them to bed I close the curtains behind them, then Patrick and I get Toby settled in her cage and shut Kelly in hers. The next step is to turn down their ceiling lamp (on a Dimmer switch). This gives them fair warning that night time is coming, so they have a chance to eat a late dinner and get the last bit of their energy out. Finally the last lamp, which is on a timer, goes off at 7:30pm. At that point they have had a ton of warning that it’s bed time, but I also didn’t have to remember to turn off the last light and think about the time. If it was up to me and I was in the midst of making dinner, or messing around on facebook that light would probably be on way too late, and Toby would definitely take advantage!

Basically anything I can do to automate a process is awesome! If I didn’t already have it sorted I would buy another set of timers and try to put a radio on them or a the television so the birds would have company during the day.  As it is we have the Amazon Echo for their entertainment, and that’s probably a whole post all of it’s own!

The only negative I do want to note about this set of Digital Timers is that it covers up both outlets when plugged in, so you can’t use the other outlet for even a nightlight or to plug in your vacuum etc.  They can also be a bit confusing to set, but once you’ve got it taken care of they are very reliable and using light timers definitely takes a few routine tasks off my mental plate.

Diarrhea in budgies: some causes of wet poop

Parakeet poop is one of the easiest ways to keep tabs on your pet’s health and diarrhea in budgies can often be cause for alarm. A healthy parakeet poop is not very wet and has well-defined feces and urates. The feces portion is typically green or brown while the urates should be white. Anything that veers from this norm is concerning, but the wet, loose poops or diarrhea are frequently transient in nature and in many cases, can be explained by the following causes.

  • Fear based wet poops. This is typically seen in parakeets that are new to your home and feeling very anxious. When they are afraid they can have very loose poop that sometimes has no urates at all and is just a small amount of feces and urine.  We still see this with Kelly, she has a very nervous temperament and if we startle her coming into the house or wake her abruptly from a nap she will immediately display “fear poops”.  These should resolve either when the parakeet has gotten over being startled or whenever they feel comfortable. With a newly brought home parakeet this can last some time, make sure they are eating and drinking and don’t have other outward signs of illness such as fluffing up, tail bobbing etc.
  • Post-bath poops that are completely liquid.  When a budgie takes a bath they frequently ingest a lot more water than would be typical for them. This can result in waste that is completely water. This should be relatively short-lived. Side note – it always reminds me of the Baby Alive Doll that I used to have where you would feed her the bottle of water and the liquid would just run straight through her!
  • Eating fruits or vegetables. Fruits and vegetables have a very high water content compared to seeds. Eating a big helping of wet lettuce or watermelon would naturally cause loose poop or diarrhea for the time that it is being processed.
  • Molting. Not every budgie has loose poop when they are molting, but it is a relatively common side effect. In our house it’s intermittent for a few days while they are at the most wretched heights of pin feathers. As long as they are eating and drinking I try not to overwhelm myself with worry!
  • Competitive drinking. I can’t say that this is common among all budgies, but mine have an intense flock mentality. If one of them eats the other one has to as well, even when they are in separate cages. So, sometimes one of them goes to have a drink, and then the other one does, and they end up in this feedback loop where they just keep drinking because the other one is drinking.  This can be a very specific cause of short-term diarrhea.

The theme with all of these causes is probably readily apparent. You should be able to define the root cause relatively easily based on what your budgie has just been doing or eating. The diarrhea itself ought to be short lived, except in the case of fear, which can take a bit longer to resolve in a newly acquired budgie or molting, as that can be intermittent over a period of time. Trust your gut and keep an eye out for any other symptoms. There are many instances in which diarrhea warrants a call to your vet. Once you know your budgie it will be easy to tell what’s “normal” for them and what’s cause for immediate concern.

Please note – I am neither a vet nor a medical expert about parakeets. If you are concerned about your pet’s well-being please call your vet and make an appointment. This post should not substitute medical care for your pet and I am not making any specific recommendations of care.