are paper towels safe for birds

Some bird owners have concerns about allowing their pet to play with paper towel and toilet paper core rolls. The most common of these concerns is the possibility of a zinc component somewhere in the core or the adhesive attaching the paper to the core. Several years ago, I checked into this and my independent research found that zinc is not a component of the cardboard or adhesives used in these type products. However, I did find reasons to avoid the use of toilet paper cores.

It has been proven that every time a toilet is flushed a small amount of material becomes airborne. These minute moisture droplets can carry many different bacteria including e.coli. (Several different types of bacteria including e.coli can cause intestinal problems in humans and parrot if ingested in sufficient quantities.) The moisture droplets are very small and can carry for several feet and do eventually cover all surfaces in most bathrooms. While the chances are very small that enough pathogenic bacteria would have collected on a toilet paper core, it is not wise to offer them to parrots as toys. Paper towel roll cores that are used in a bathroom should also not be used.

Because high levels of zinc can, in some situations, pose a threat, I wanted to be sure so I contacted two major producers of paper towels and toilet paper to find out more information. Proctor and Gamble and Kimberly Clark were chosen because they are the companies most mentioned in the rumors.

Both companies acknowledge that they did not manufacture their products to be used as parrot toys. Since they were not manufactured as parrot toys, they did not do research to make sure they were appropriate to use for parrot toys. Their inability to recommend their product as a parrot toy in no way indicates they are dangerous to parrots.

While Proctor and Gamble goes as far as to say that there is no zinc in their product, Kimberly Clark has not done the research to show that there is no zinc. They do not need to research zinc anymore then they need to research kryptonite since it has no reason to be there to begin with. What Kimberly Clark does say is that since they have not gone to the extent to ensure their product is food grade, they are not going to rule out any possibility no matter how crazy it might be. It should also be noted that trace amounts of zinc are included in all diets for humans and parrots.

Kimberly Clark also confirmed that the cores are manufactured from recycled cardboard. In 2005 approximately 65% of all cardboard was recycled in the US. Cores are made the same, and from the same types of recycled materials that we find in most of the cardboard products we use including, cardboard boxes, magazines, telephone books, tissue paper boxes, newspapers, pizza boxes and just about any other cardboard and paper product you use every day. All telephone books, newspaper and cardboard boxes made in the United States have the same chance of containing zinc because they are all made from the same source materials. With the significant incidence of pet bird owners offering all of these products, for many years, to millions of birds without any confirmed case of toxicity constitutes a significant body of anecdotal research proving that cardboard, including paper towel cores, is not hazardous to parrots.

Both Proctor and Gamble and Kimberly Clark have very good consumer service departments. They were very prompt in supplying the information I requested. I have included the date, time and reference information that can be used to verify responses from both companies.

People often tell us about the unusual uses theyve found for our products. Were glad to hear of such positive results, even though we cant encourage this type of product use. Our safety-testing and research help us confidently say that our product will do what we designed it to do. These are the only uses we can knowledgeably recommend.

It may help to know, people heard from various sources that the core or the last sheet on the roll could have zinc which is a problem to birds/pets who are in contact with these. I can assure you that there is no zinc in the core or the towel, including the adhesive.

In answer to your inquiry, we did not acknowledge that the core adhesive on any of our rolled products contains zinc. However, we did inform others that while the core glue is safe for its intended use, it is not food grade and does not meet indirect food contact regulations. For that reason, we cannot recommend that the cores be used with pets.

As far as the presence of zinc, the cores themselves are made of recycled fiber, with the majority of the fiber coming from office waste and similar paper sources. Although these fibers are “cleaned” before they are used and are safe for their intended use, trace amounts of zinc may be present. Based on this information and the fact that the core adhesive is not food grade, we cannot recommend that the cores be used with pets.

With his Natural Resources Management degree from The Ohio State University and over 30 years of construction experience, Steve Hartman was able to combine his unique knowledge to develop the Hartman Aviary. With a goal of breeding for a better temperament in Blue and Gold Macaws, Steve set out to start his aviary in 1984. Since then he has gone on to guest lecture at various universities and conventions. His experiences with pet birds and large aviaries of birds had led Steve to the development of The Parrot University and manufacturing of products like The Aviator Bird Harness and Leash.

Most Birds Do It

Given that paper is frequently present in the surroundings of many pet birds, thousands of cases reporting paper ingestion would be expected in veterinary literature. For instance, not all cages have a grate to keep birds away from the cage substrate, and many cages and playgyms are lined with newspaper, butcher paper, paper towels, or shredded paper. Some birds play with the paper by pulling it up through the grate on a regular basis. When a bird is in the reproductive stage, it is forced to shred objects, and paper is often an easy and cheap target for them to destroy—instead of your furniture! Numerous other birds “assist” their owners by reading the newspaper or nibbling on important documents every day.

The majority of birds chew on cardboard and paper without any negative consequences. Paper is a cheap and entertaining toy for many birds to play with. Bird owners frequently have concerns about newsprint, specifically whether the inks used to make it are harmful to birds. These days, newsprint ink is non-toxic since it has to adhere to family home safety regulations.

Kimberly Clark also attested to the fact that recycled cardboard is used in the production of the cores. Approximately 65% of all cardboard was recycled in the United States in 2005. The majority of the cardboard products we use, such as cardboard boxes, periodicals, phone books, tissue paper boxes, newspapers, pizza boxes, and pretty much any other cardboard or paper product you use on a daily basis, are made similarly and with the same recycled materials. Since all American-made phone books, newspapers, and cardboard boxes come from the same raw materials, they all have an equal chance of containing zinc. Given the high frequency of pet bird owners providing all of these products to millions of birds for many years without any confirmed cases of toxicity, there is a substantial body of anecdotal evidence demonstrating that cardboard—including paper towel cores—is safe for parrots.

It might be helpful to know that people have heard from a variety of sources that the final sheet or the core of the roll may contain zinc, which can be harmful to birds or other pets that come into contact with these. I promise that neither the towel nor its core, nor its adhesive, contain any zinc.

Individuals frequently share with us the strange applications they’ve found for our goods. Even though we are unable to promote the use of this kind of product, we are happy to hear of such positive outcomes. We can declare with confidence that our product will function as intended thanks to our research and safety testing. These are the only uses we can knowledgeably recommend.

Regarding the presence of zinc, the recycled fiber used to make the cores is primarily derived from office waste and related paper sources. Even though these fibers are “cleaned” before usage and are safe for the purpose for which they are intended, there may be traces of zinc present. We are unable to advise using the cores with pets in light of this information and the fact that the core adhesive is not food grade.

Steve Hartman was able to combine his extensive construction experience and Natural Resources Management degree from The Ohio State University to create the Hartman Aviary. In 1984, Steve started his aviary with the intention of breeding Blue and Gold Macaws for better temperaments. He has since continued to give guest lectures at numerous colleges and conferences. Steve founded The Parrot University and began producing items like The Aviator Bird Harness and Leash as a result of his experiences with pet birds and large bird aviaries.

Why No Paper Impactation?

Rarely does a bird actually ingest paper. If it does, the crop (ingulvies), proventriculus, ventriculus, or intestines may be affected. This happens much more frequently, in my experience, in baby birds and weanling birds because these young birds have a tendency to put anything in their beaks and are more likely to swallow things that they shouldn’t.

Impaction from paper can occur, but it rarely does. One explanation could be that birds’ oral cavities are thought to be relatively dry because they do not produce as much saliva as mammals do. They don’t often produce wet “spitballs,” which could be easily swallowed. Another reason is that birds are innate chewers. Most chew wood in the wild is used to hollow out a dead tree’s interior and make a nesting place. It makes sense that chewing objects would make birds less likely to swallow them, or that this natural behavior would cause many birds to perish from impaction of foreign objects.

Surgery to correct an impaction can be dangerous. Preventing impaction is preferable to treating the effects of ingesting foreign materials. However, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that many birds chew on objects without ever swallowing them, which suggests that there must be some kind of internal defense mechanism to stop birds from ingesting harmful materials. Therefore, although it is possible for a bird to swallow paper and cause a dangerous—even fatal—situation, this is unlikely to happen in most situations.

After receiving this question, I looked more closely at the bird toys and play items found in the cages of my avian patients. I was surprised to see that just about every cage had paper of some sort that the birds had access to.


What paper is non toxic to birds?

Any type of plain, undyed paper is fine. You would not want to use a thermal printer paper – the type that uses heat to print rather than ink from a printer. If you have a female bird, you should be cautious about providing paper for her to shred. This can trigger nesting behavior and cause her to lay eggs.

Is paper safe for birds to play with?

The safest toys to use include hard plastics, untreated wood and paper, and native branches and flowers. Make sure your bird has a variety of toys and even hide some treats in them so they can spend their day foraging and exploring.

Is cardboard safe for birds?

Most birds chew on paper and cardboard with absolutely no harmful effects. For many birds, paper is a fun and inexpensive item with which to play. Bird owners often have questions about newsprint, namely, if the inks used to produce it is toxic to birds.