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Dove

Dove Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Dove

This care sheet covers a variety of dove species, including:

  • Ring-necked doves - Streptopelia spp.
  • Diamond doves- Geopelia spp.

Overview

Doves are graceful birds of the Columbidae family, which includes pigeons. They are gentle birds known to make a soothing cooing sound. There are hundreds of dove species found around the world, but the common pet doves are the diamond dove and the ring-necked dove. Diamond doves originated in Australia and are about the size of a lovebird. They have long, thin tails, blue-gray feathers with small white spots on the wings and distinctive red rings around their eyes (larger in males). Ring-neck doves are from Africa, and they are about a foot long from head to tail tip. They have light brown and white feathers and a characteristic ring of black feathers around their neck. Doves are generally good pets for families with children, as they tend to not nip as much as parrots may, as long as children are calm around them. They also make good pets for noise-sensitive individuals who would be bothered by the screeching of a parrot but can tolerate the quiet cooing of a dove.

Typical appearance and behavior

  • Doves make cooing and chattering sounds
  • Can be socialized to be hand-tamed
  • Their calm nature has made them a universal symbol of peace
  • While they can be held gently, they are more of a bird to watch than to hold
  • Enjoy stretching, preening and sunbathing
  • They require daily attention to be socialized
  • They need a dark, quiet area to sleep at night
  • They love to be housed in pairs, and males and females will breed readily if housed together
  • When they lay eggs, they typically lay two eggs per clutch

Characteristics

Care Difficulty Beginner
Average Life Span 10+ years with proper care, depending on species
Average Adult Size 7.5 to 12 inches long, head to end of tail, depending on species
Diet Omnivore
Minimum Habitat Size 24"W x 36"D x 24"H

Habitat

Habitat size

Provide the largest habitat possible for your dove. The minimum size habitat for one dove is approximately 24” W x 36” D x 24” H, with metal bars spaced no greater than 3/8” apart so that birds can’t escape or get stuck. Commercially available habitats are generally made with stainless steel bars (either with or without a nontoxic coating). Homemade habitats or those made of wood or galvanized wire are not recommended because birds can chew on them and ingest potentially toxic chemicals. A flight habitat is ideal. Since doves are not able to climb cage bars like parrots, they need more horizontal than vertical space to walk and fly back and forth.

 

Building your habitat

Doves acclimate well to average household temperatures between 65°F and 80°F; be cautious of extreme temperature changes. Habitats should be placed off the floor in a well-lit area away from drafts that is inaccessible to other pets, including curious cats and dogs. Ensure no habitat parts or toys are made with lead, zinc, other potentially toxic heavy metals, lead-based paints or galvanized parts, as these can cause serious medical issues if birds ingest them.

  • Perches - Perches should be at least 5” long and 1/2” in diameter; provide a variety of perch sizes so your dove can exercise their feet and help prevent pressure sores from developing on their soles. Sandpaper covers on perches are abrasive to the bottom of feet and are not recommended. Providing perches made from different materials such as wood, braided rope and natural branches allows birds to choose which surface to stand on
    • To avoid contaminating food dishes with droppings, do not place food or water containers directly under perches
  • Toys - Doves need to be able to forage for food and other objects as well as play with toys for enrichment. Toys for foraging offer doves important mental stimulation. Size-appropriate toys may be made from cardboard, paper or soft wood, as doves have softer beaks than parrots (whom have sharp, hooked bills) and cannot chew on hard objects. Without proper stimulation, birds get bored and may pick their feathers or develop stereotypical (repetitive) behaviors such as pacing, so rotate toys regularly. Toys should not have small parts that birds can easily pull off and ingest
  • Liner and litter - A metal grate over the habitat bottom will enable droppings to fall away from birds’ feet and keep the habitat cleaner; the tray in the habitat bottom should be lined with habitat paper or other paper-based products to ease cleanup and minimize dust
  • Lighting - Birds need exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light to make vitamin D in their skin so they can absorb dietary calcium. UV light is filtered out by glass in windows, so placing the habitat next to a window is not sufficient; UV lights designed specifically for birds should shine on the habitat 10 to 12 hours a day and be changed every six months when their potency wanes. This is particularly important for female doves who are notoriously prolific egg-layers and need an ongoing supply of vitamin D and calcium to lay hard-shelled eggs
  • Bathing - Water dishes should be large enough for birds to bathe in. Birds who don’t bathe regularly can be misted a few times a week with warm water from a plant mister to help maintain healthy plumage

Cleaning your habitat

Spot-clean the habitat daily, removing discarded food and droppings on perches. Thoroughly wash and dry food bowls daily. Replace substrate or habitat liner weekly or more often as needed, especially if the habitat houses more than one bird.

Regularly clean and disinfect your dove’s habitat and perches by:

  • Moving your dove into a secure place (such as another habitat or travel carrier) in a separate air space
  • Washing the habitat, perches and toys with a bird habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution, being sure to thoroughly rinse all trace amounts so there is no residue to which your bird could be exposed
    • NOTE: Do not use any cleaning agents not specifically made for pets around your bird because birds’ respiratory tracts are very sensitive to anything aerosolized and fumes from cleaning products can be harmful
  • Thoroughly drying the habitat and its contents
  • Replacing the substrate or liner, perches and toys
  • Returning your bird to their habitat

Replace perches, dishes and toys when worn or damaged; rotate new toys into the habitat regularly to help avoid boredom

Feeding

What to feed your dove

A well-balanced dove diet consists of:

  • Nutritionally complete and balanced, small-sized pelleted food for doves should make up 60 to 70% of their diet, with fresh vegetables (chopped greens, shredded orange and yellow vegetables such as sweet potato, squash and carrots) and a variety of high-quality small seeds (millet, canary seed, hemp seed, milo and wheat) making up the rest. Doves also can eat small amounts of hard-boiled egg and whole-grain bread. Seeds should not make up the base of their diet as they are nutrient-deficient and can lead to health problems if overconsumed
  • Clean, fresh water, changed daily
  • Do not feed birds avocado, fruit seeds, chocolate, caffeine or alcohol as these can cause serious medical conditions. Avoid feeding sugary, fatty or salty treats

Things to remember when feeding your dove:

  • Fresh food and water should always be available
  • Vegetables and fruits not eaten within a few hours should be discarded
  • Treats should make up no more than 10 percent of their total daily calories
  • Doves, unlike parrots, eat seeds whole (they do not discard the hull). Therefore, they need a small amount of indigestible grit in their diet (typically mixed into their food) to help grind seed hulls in their gizzard (stomach)
  • Doves also need digestible grit (oyster shell grit) in their diet daily to provide additional calcium to support their prolific egg-laying tendencies
  • Provide separate food dishes for dry food, fresh food and water; if housing more than one dove in a single habitat, provide multiple feeding stations to reduce competition
  • Although doves can be social and like to eat when their flock mates eat, never share food from your plate or your mouth; people have microorganisms in their mouths that can cause illness in birds

Care

  • Bird pet parents should avoid using nonstick cookware and other appliances with nonstick coatings; when heated, these can release colorless, odorless fumes that typically kill birds when inhaled
  • Birds should be allowed out of their habitats and gently handled daily to socialize them
  • Birds need regular grooming, including nail trimming every few weeks to months; nails should be trimmed by a trained person to help prevent injuries to the bird
  • Beaks should not need regular trimming unless the bird has an underlying condition (such as liver disease) that causes abnormal beak growth; birds’ beaks normally maintain good condition with daily use
  • When done correctly, clipping the five outermost flight feathers can help prevent injury or escape; consult an avian veterinarian on what is best for your bird

Where to buy a pet dove

  Doves are available for purchase at your local Petco Pet Care Center. Please call ahead to check availability.

Supplies

Habitat mates

Doves can be kept alone or in small groups, but different types of birds should not be housed together. Males and females generally love to be housed together but will often breed repeatedly.

Health

Signs of a healthy dove

  • Active, alert and sociable
  • Eats, drinks and passes stool throughout the day
  • Dry nares and bright, dry eyes
  • Supple skin on feet and legs and smooth beak
  • Clean, dry vent
  • Smooth, well-groomed feathers

Red flags (Contact your veterinarian if you notice any of these signs.)

  • Fluffed, plucked or soiled feathers; tail bobbing
  • Regurgitation or vomiting
  • Runny, bloody or discolored stools or no stool production
  • Straining to pass droppings
  • Favoring one foot when not sleeping
  • Ocular or nasal discharge
  • Sitting on the habitat floor for an extended period of time
  • Wheezing, sneezing or coughing
  • Open-mouthed or labored breathing and/or red or swollen eyes
  • Persistently closing eyes or sleeping during the day
  • Crusty skin around face and feet
  • Loss of appetite

Common health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health IssueDiarrhea Symptoms or CausesFecal portion of stool not formed. Multiple causes, from change in diet to gastrointestinal parasites. Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian and ensure proper diet.
Health IssueTrichomoniasis (“Canker”) Symptoms or CausesThick, cheese-like discharge in mouth and throat, decreased appetite, loose droppings and shortness of breath. Caused by contagious protozoan parasite that infects mouth and upper airways. Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian and disinfect environment.
Health IssueOrnithosis Symptoms or CausesCoughing, sneezing, eye discharge, decreased appetite, lethargy; caused by Chlamydia bacteria. Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian.
Health IssueRed mite infection Symptoms or CausesSmall skin mites that come out at night and cause irritability, itchy skin, decreased appetite and anemia. Suggested ActionConsult your veterinarian and disinfect the environment.

FAQs

  • What do doves eat? A high-quality pelleted diet with smaller amounts of shredded vegetables, soft fruit and varied seeds.
  • How long do doves live? 10+ years with proper care and nutrition.
  • What does a dove look like? Diamond doves are small and have blue-gray feathers with white spots on their wings and red circles around their eyes. Ring-neck doves are larger with long tails and light brown and white feathers and a characteristic black ring of feathers around their neck.
  • What color are doves? Diamond doves have blue-gray feathers with white spots on their wings and red circles around their eyes. Ring-neck doves have light brown and white feathers and a characteristic black ring of feathers around their neck.
  • What sound does a dove make? A cooing sound.
  • How do you bathe a dove? They will often bathe themselves in a dish of shallow water; otherwise, they can be misted gently with a plant mister.
  • Where do doves nest? They are not fussy about where they nest and will typically make open nests anywhere in the habitat.
  • Where do doves live? Diamond doves originate in Australia, while ring-neck doves come from Africa.

Notes and sources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all birds are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as Chlamydiosis and Salmonellosis, always wash your hands before and after handling your bird or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or caring for birds and should consider having a pet other than a bird.

Go to cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about doves and disease.

 

The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.