Is It Safe for My Cat to Eat a Bird?

Your cat just brought home another gift for you. But is it safe and healthy for your cat to eat birds, or should you stop its behavior? And if you do want to stop your cat catching birds, how would you do it?

Can a cat get sick from eating a bird? Cats can catch parasites and diseases from catching wild birds. However, it’s unlikely that your cat will get sick from eating just one. If your cat experiences continual or frequent symptoms such as vomiting, losing weight or fever, then take it to the vet; otherwise, it is likely fine. If you want to stop your cat killing birds, keep it inside, walk it on a leash, build it a run to run around, or fit your cat with a special anti-hunting collar.

The guide below first looks at all the ways cats can get sick from eating birds: parasites, bacteria, or just bringing up a meal. We’ll then look at what you should do when your cat eats a bird.

Can a Cat Get Sick from Eating a Bird?

cat throwing up
Your cat can either get sick, i.e. vomit or regurgitate, or become sick as in ill after eating a bird.

There are two ways in which a cat can get sick from eating a bird. The first is that it regurgitates the meal, which can occur for one of many reasons. Regurgitation is different to vomiting in that the food is undigested. It is regurgitated either from the esophagus or from the stomach, having only just got there. The second way is if your cat gets sick from eating the bird, i.e. if the bird is carrying parasites or diseases.

If your cat brings up its meal, that’s not necessarily because the meal was bad for it. There are several benign reasons why your cat might regurgitate or vomit up its meal:

  • Your cat isn’t a frequent hunter, so its stomach and gut are unused to eating whole birds.
  • Your cat ate the bird alongside its normal food, in which case it was too full, and regurgitated the food as a result.
  • Your cat ate the bird too fast. When the stomach expands too quickly, it can send a signal to the brain that it needs to regurgitate.
  • The bird’s stomach and gut contained lots of things that your cat can’t digest, so the whole meal was brought up.

There are, of course, also bad reasons why your cat may have brought up its food. But vomiting or regurgitating food doesn’t necessarily mean that your cat is ill.

Can Cats Get Stomach Bugs from Eating Birds?

In this context, there are two possible meanings to the term ‘stomach bug’. Your cat could catch actual parasites from eating birds—more on that in a moment. But whether your cat could experience vomiting and diarrhea, as you might if you’ve eaten food that’s gone bad, is less clear.

That’s because your cat doesn’t eat prey that’s already dead. It catches all of its prey alive and kills it there and then (at least if it hunts properly). This means that there’s no time for the bird to ‘go bad’ in the sense that your gone-off chicken or milk might have.

The only exception is if your cat catches a weak or diseased bird, particularly one with an open wound. Cats are expert hunters and often target the weakest prey they can to increase their likelihood of success. This can result in your cat catching, killing and eating a sick bird. If that happens, and the bird is carrying a large bacterial load of a kind that could cause a stomach bug, then it is possible for your cat to catch one.

If that happens, the symptoms are the same as you might expect. Your cat may vomit or regurgitate its meal, and/or experience diarrhea. In particularly bad cases, your cat could experience a high temperature.

Can Cats Catch Parasites from Eating Birds?

There are many ways for a cat to catch a parasite, and eating birds is one of them. Birds can have both internal and external parasites as pests, like cats cat. The worms that birds can carry are the same as those that affect cats, such as roundworms and tapeworms.

The issue of catching worms isn’t necessarily as simple as ingesting them, though. Parasitical worm species have fascinating life stages, and have to go through them to thrive. Cats typically catch tapeworms by swallowing fleas that contain tapeworm larvae, for example; if your cat swallowed a tapeworm for whatever reason, it would dissolve in your cat’s stomach acid.

Since the bird can contain any stage of the worms—egg, larva or adult—it is possible for your cat to become infected on eating it.

Can Cats Cats Diseases from Eating Birds?

It is possible for a cat to get seriously ill when it eats a bird. In particular, it could catch a condition called ‘songbird fever’ which is common in the United States.

Songbird fever is caused by salmonella. Salmonella circulates naturally in the U.S. bird population, with occasional periods of large-scale infection. The disease is spread through contact, so is common in birds that visit gardens with lots of bird feeders and bird food.

Songbird fever is when a cat eats a bird that is infected with salmonella. The cat can develop salmonellosis, i.e. salmonella infection, the common name of which is songbird fever. Since this condition is reasonably common, it has been described in many scientific journals, and symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss (anorexia)
  • Lethargy/weakness/malaise
  • Bloody stool
  • High temperature
  • Dehydration

It is also possible for a cat to catch salmonellosis from eating raw meat. Left untreated, it can be fatal, so would require a vet’s visit.

Not all birds caught by cats will cause salmonellosis. You can tell whether it’s likely if there are lots of dead birds around the bird feeder in your yard. If you don’t know where your cat caught the bird, then only the symptoms above could suggest a case.

Can My Cat Get Sick from KILLING a Bird?

Cats love bringing gifts, and those gifts aren’t always dead. So, do cats eat birds or just kill them?

It’s surprisingly common for a cat to catch a bird and not eat it. A cat will frequently leave its prey alive, which suggests that it’s hunting for sport rather than because it’s hungry. It will then bring it back home and play with it, batting it from one paw to another. Alternatively it may kill the bird and not eat it, or eat only a very small part of it.

It’s exceptionally unlikely that your cat will get sick from just having killed a bird. It’s only when your cat eats the bird that it ingests any parasites in its gut, or takes in a large bacterial/viral load from the bird.

What could cause your cat to get sick is interacting with a bird that has already been dead for a long time. Bacteria and parasites attack dead animals and can be passed on to living ones through direct contact. Cats don’t scavenge like other animals, so your cat isn’t likely to do this, but it remains a very small possibility.

My Cat Ate a Bird: What Do I Do?

If your cat ate a bird, and you’re worried it might be sick, choose from the options below.

1) Nothing

The first thing you could do is to stop worrying. It’s almost certain that your cat will continue on in good health. That applies even if your cat has brought up its meal. If this is the first time that your cat has ever caught and eaten a bird, this is even more so the case. Wait and see what happens, and it’s likely that you will never see your cat display any symptoms of poor health.

Even if the bird does contain some kind of disease or parasite, it’s not likely that it will have an immediate and severe effect on your cat. What’s more likely is that it will slowly develop symptoms that get worse over time. That’s especially the case for parasites; your cat will likely only have eaten a few, and it will take time for there to be enough in its gut to affect its health. If that happens—you do nothing now, but symptoms get worse over time—you can then go to a vet and get a proper diagnosis.

If your cat has caught songbird fever, then it will take somewhere around 10 days for symptoms to become severe and obvious. If you’re worried that your cat may have caught this condition, and isn’t displaying symptoms yet, you can take it to the vet anyway. There’s no harm in doing so.

2) My Cat Ate a Bird And Is Sick…

If your cat does experience negative symptoms, then you ought to take it to the vet.

One such symptom is repeated vomiting or regurgitation. It’s normal for a cat to experience one-off episodes of bringing up food without there being underlying ill health. What isn’t normal is for your cat to vomit or regurgitate every day or every other day. You also shouldn’t expect to see your cat running a fever, experiencing regular diarrhea, or seeming lethargic.

If the problem is one of parasites, then your cat will experience other symptoms too. It will gradually lose weight and condition, and you may see either worms or their eggs in your cat’s poop. There are medicines that the vet can give your cat that will entirely fix the problem.

3) How to Stop My Cat Killing Birds: Don’t Let It Outside!

If you’re worried about your cat’s health, about the wild bird population near you, or about both, then you could consider keeping your cat indoors for the foreseeable future.

It is possible, but difficult, to turn an outdoor at into an indoor cat. Your cat has to make the transition slowly, otherwise it would become too frustrated or depressed. Lessen the amount of time your cat can go outside each week, e.g. from four hours to three, then from three hours to two, and so on. Continue until your cat doesn’t go outside at all. When you do this your cat will become unhappy, but doing it slowly means it is more likely to accept your decision.

The younger your cat is, and the less experience it has of going outside, the more likely it is that you can turn it into an indoor cat over time.

4) Go The Extra Mile

There’s more than one way to crack an egg. While keeping your cat indoors will stop it from hunting birds, there are other ways to achieve the same end that don’t result in your cat pestering you to be let out and getting depressed.

If your cat isn’t happy being indoors all the time, it will let you know. It will meow at the door to ask you to let it out, or try to escape when you open the door for yourself. When your cat displays these behaviors, consider:

  • Teaching your cat to walk on a harness and If you attach it in the right way, your cat will learn not to be afraid of its harness, and you can walk it. This will give it its outdoor fix, but with no risk either to birds or to your cat.
  • Constructing a small run for your cat to run around in outside. A run is an enclosed space that a pet can access and safely be in without your supervision. It would take effort to build one, but you then wouldn’t have to worry about your cat, and your cat could be outside on its own terms (for the most part).

Remember, your cat is a wild animal at heart. While house cats have been changed in many ways by domestication, their affinity for the outdoors has not.

5) Fit a Special Collar to Your Cat

cat with a collar
A cat with a bell on its collar can’t catch birds as easily as it might want to. The bell alerts the birds that the cat is coming.

You could also consider fitting a special collar to your cat. There are several kinds of collar that can be fit with the purpose of stopping the cat from being an effective hunter. The most basic is a collar with a bell attached; the bird will hear your cat coming, and will be alerted when it leaps. Another kind has an electronic bleeper attached instead, and another still is colorful and bright so that the birds can see the cat coming instead. Whichever you choose, they cut down the frequency with which your cat can successfully hunt, or stop it from hunting altogether.

This method is better than keeping your cat indoors, in that you won’t have to battle with your cat over whether it can go outside or not.