Help! My cat got a bird, what do I do? Hunting is a natural behavior for cats, and it’s common for cats to catch or injure birds in our yards.
If your cat has caught a bird, you should separate the two, and keep the bird safely away from your cat whilst you contact the veterinarian or a professional rehabilitator.
Keep handling to an absolute minimum, and do not offer the bird food or water unless instructed to by an expert.
Over-handling an injured bird can make things worse by causing undue stress.
My Cat Got a Bird – What Do I Do?
It’s a stressful moment that all cat owners dread. Their cat has brought in an injured bird, or is chasing and guarding one in your yard.
For most people, their instinct is to jump straight in and help the bird.
And, whilst it’s a great idea to separate your cat from its prey in order to save the bird, overhandling an injured or captured bird can cause extreme stress, which can also lead to shock or death.
In most cases, once you have managed to get the bird to safety, you should leave them whilst you contact a professional rehabilitator, or a veterinarian that is able to work on wild animals.
When separating the bird from your cat, there are a few key things to remember.
How to Handle a Bird
As we’ve said, it’s best to keep handling to a minimum when dealing with an injured or captured bird.
But, you will need to handle them, at least briefly, to separate them from your cat.
Make sure to act quickly and gently to avoid adding to the stress of the situation. And to avoid any further injury to the bird.
It’s best to wear gloves when handling wild animals or birds, this will give you an added layer of protection against any bacteria they may be carrying.
Plus, it’s normal for an injured bird to lash out if it isn’t in shock. So, gloves may help to protect you from any scratches or cuts.
Birds are very delicate. So, be firm but gentle when carrying a bird. Use only enough pressure to stop them from flapping and escaping.
If possible, keep their wings close to their body. This is usually the most comfortable position for them, but may not be possible if they have broken wings.
Check What Condition the Bird is In
Once you have separated the bird from your cat, take them somewhere away from your kitty.
It’s likely that your cat will keep pestering you to get their prey back if you don’t, and this will cause the bird extra stress.
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Whilst you’re holding the bird, carefully check them over to see what condition they are in. This will determine your next step, and the urgency of the situation.
The most common issues when your cat gets a bird are:
- Open wounds
- Puncture wounds
- Internal organ damage
- Fractured bones
- Broken wings
If the bird has an open wound, you will need to act quickly. Ideally, you need to get the bird to a professional within the hour.
Even if there is no visible wound, nearly all captured birds need antibiotic treatment to avoid later infection from very small wounds, or from Pasteurella bacteria.
If the Bird Has an Open Wound
After you’ve checked over the bird, you can determine your next steps. If the bird has an open wound, they’ll need help as soon as possible.
However, some veterinarians cannot or will not be able to help wild birds. So, avoid wasting time by calling before taking the bird there.
You may need to seek out a specialized organisation.
Once you have found somewhere that can treat your injured bird, take them there as soon as possible.
How to Transport an Injured Bird
The best way to transport an injured bird is in a small cardboard box, ideally one large enough for your bird to move around in, and for you to create a warm nest in.
Use a clean t-shirt or towel, or even paper towels to line to box and make a donut-shaped nest.
Punch plenty of small air holes in the top of the box to avoid suffocating your bird.
Taping the lid of the box down will also help to keep the bird secure, but make sure they have enough airflow.
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It’s better to transport the bird in a dark, warm box like this, than in your hands. It will be a less stressful experience for your bird than if they are held in your hands the entire way there.
And, extra stress at this point could only speed up the process of death.
If the Bird is In Shock
In some cases, the bird will be moving around a lot, whether it is visibly injured or not.
It may be hard to get them in the box if this is the case, but do the best you can following the advice of the professional you’ve contacted.
But, in other cases, the bird may be in shock. It will be easier for you to move the bird if they are in shock, but you should still keep handling to a minimum.
Follow the same instructions as before, and speak to a professional as soon as possible.
If the Bird is Not Visibly Injured
You may think that it’s fine to just release a bird that isn’t visibly injured after your cat got it. But, birds can still die from the shock of being caught, any may have small injuries that could later become infected.
Some scratches or picture wounds are too small to be seen with the naked eye, particularly by someone who doesn’t know what they might be looking for.
On top of this, as we have already mentioned, the Pasteurella bacteria can be transmitted in cat bites.
So, birds can go on to suffer from infections, and even problems like septic shock.
It’s always best to contact a professional rehabilitator, or a veterinarian that is able to work on wild birds. They will be able to advise you about the best next step.
Baby Bird Attacked by Cat
The best advice for a baby bird attacked by a cat will depend on the age of the baby bird.
If they have no feathers, or are very tiny, there’s a chance your cat has taken them from their nest.
If they have some feathers, they may be a fledgling that your cat found on the ground.
The issue with simply returning a baby bird to a nest is that it may not be the correct nest. But also, your cat may just go back to the nest when you are gone and attack the baby bird again.
The best thing you can do is get the baby bird somewhere safe and warm, then contact a professional rehabilitator straight away.
They will advise you on any immediate steps you can take, and will be best placed to help the baby bird continue in life.
How Can I Stop My Cat from Catching Birds?
Sadly, it’s not always possible to stop an outdoor cat from catching birds. Studies into the impact of cats on wildlife have shown that birds are the most common choice of prey.
And, if your cat has found a bird nest, it’s likely that they’ll keep returning to catch birds that nest there.
One way to stop cats from catching birds is to keep them as indoor cats.
Or, if this isn’t something you want to consider, you could simply add a small bell to their collar. This will make it harder for them to sneak up on birds when stalking them.
My Cat Got a Bird, What Do I Do? A Summary
Has your cat caught a bird before? Do you know any other great tips to help injured birds feel safe whilst you’re getting them help?
It can be a stressful experience for you and the bird, but if you act fast there’s a chance the bird will go on to live a happy life.
References and Resources
- Baker, P. (et al), ‘Cats About Town: Is Predation by Free-Ranging Pet Cats Felis Catus Likely to Affect Urban Bird Populations?’, International Journal of Avian Science (2008)
- Heezik, Y. (et al), ‘Do Domestic Cats Impose an Unsustainable Harvest on Urban Bird Populations?’, Biological Conservation (2010)
- Calver, M. (et al), ‘Applying the Precautionary Principle to the Issue of Impacts by Pet Cats on Urban Wildlife’, Biological Conservation (2011)
- Woinarski, J. (et al), ‘How Many Birds are Killed by Cats in Australia?’, Biological Conservation (2017)
- Loss, S. (et al), ‘The Impact of Free Ranging Domestic Cats on Wildlife of the United States’, Nature Communications (2013)
- Narsana, N. & Farhat, F. ‘Septic Shock due to Pasteurella Multocida Bacteremia: A Case Report’, Journal of Medical Case Reports (2015)
- Aljameely, A. & Wali, G. ‘Pasteurella Multocida Septic Shock: Case Report and Literature Review’, Case Reports in Infectious Diseases (2019)
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