Pet Birds & Sinus Infections in Humans

green cockatiel image by Ken Marshall from

Sinus infections are usually most noticeable during allergy season, when plants are in bloom and pollen is in the air. But sinus infections can also be caused by pets and their dander, including birds. Birds give off their own form of pet dander that can irritate sinuses.

Bird Dander

Pet dander refers to material shed from the bodies of various animals. This can include dead skin cells and hair. In the case of birds, it also includes feathers. Feather dander refers to feather particles and dust created by pet birds. Some birds such as cockatoos, cockatiels and African Grey parrots also give off additional feather dander called powder.


Bird dander or feather dander is created from the shedding of various bits of feather. Birds may lose feathers while flying or playing, bathing, preening and moulting. New feathers that emerge have a coating on them known as keratin. When the feather matures, keratin will dry and break off in small pieces. These small pieces create feather dander. In the case of cockatoos, cockatiels and African Grey parrots, they have what is known as powder down or small feathers with a very fine, waxy, white powder composed of keratin. The powder down creates a waterproof barrier and is spread when the bird preens or grooms itself.


Bird dander can have significant effect on the human respiratory system. These not only include sinus infections but can lead to severe reactions in individuals with breathing problems such as asthma. There is also a disease called allergic alveolitis. It is also known as bird breeder's disease, hypersensitivity pneumonitis and pigeon breeder's lung. This disease affects people who are hypersensitive to feathers, feather dust and fecal material from birds; it can cause coughing, difficulty breathing, chills and fever. Additionally, individuals with allergy problems who are exposed to bird dander may suffer from effects similar to those during pollen season. It can include itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, difficulty breathing, scratchy throat and fatigue.


While birds will naturally emit dander, there are a few things that can be done to reduce its amount. Bathing the bird regularly will help. Frequent cleaning of the cage and surrounding area is important. This includes vacuuming, moping and dusting. Changing the cage liner will remove some of the shed feather particles and dust. Removing carpet and any drapes in the room containing the cage will keep feather dust from being caught in cloth fibres. Consider using High Efficiency Particulate Arresting (HEPA) filters to keep the air clean and change your air filter often.


Owning a smaller bird, limiting the number of birds or choosing a bird that emits less feather dust or powder down can cut down on the amount of dander. However, isolating a bird to one room to cut down dander is of little effect. Most dander is transferred by traffic and air currents, including your ventilation system. For individuals with severe allergies or breathing problems, they need to seriously consider whether owing a bird is the right choice.