Dove Care Sheet

Maria Zayas, DVM
By Maria Zayas, DVM on Sep. 29, 2023
Pretty dove surrounded by purple flowers

In This Article

Species Overview

Dove Species Overview

Doves are graceful, calm birds that are considered a symbol of peace in many cultures. This care sheet outlines basic care needs for a variety of dove species, including ring-necked doves and diamond doves.

Doves are part of the Columbidae family of birds, along with pigeons. Although there are hundreds of known dove species, diamond doves and ring-necked doves are the two most often kept as pets. 

  • Diamond doves are native to Australia. They have bluish-gray feathers, with white spots on their wings and red circles around their eyes. 

  • Ring-necked doves are native to Africa. They have light brown and white feathers, with a distinguishing black ring around their neck. Ring-necked doves tend to be larger and hardier than diamond doves. 

Doves do not screech or squawk like parrots, but they do make a constant “cooing” sound, especially when kept in groups. 

Some doves can become tolerant of gentle handling over time, while others may prefer hands-off interaction. Pet parents can enjoy watching their dove and listening to their pleasant coo. 

Doves kept as pets should never be released into the wild, as they will not survive. 

Dove Characteristics 

Difficulty of Care 


Average Lifespan 

10+ years with proper care, depending on species 

Average Adult Size 

7.5 to 12 inches long from head to end of tail, depending on species 



Minimum Habitat Size 

24” L x 36” W x 24” H for a pair of doves 

Dove Supply Checklist

To keep a dove happy and healthy, pet parents should have these basic supplies on hand: 

  • Appropriately sized habitat (at least 24” L x 36” W x 24” H for a pair of doves) 

  • High-quality pelleted dove food 

  • Millet spray 

  • Habitat paper or paper-based litter 

  • Food and water dishes 

  • Variety of perches 

  • Variety of toys

  • Mister spray bottle 

  • Grooming supplies 

  • Oyster shell grit (digestible grit) 

  • Indigestible grit 

Dove Habitat

Choosing the Right Enclosure 

The ideal habitat should be at least 24” L x 36” W x 24” H for a pair of doves. The space between the cage’s bars should ideally be ⅜-inch apart or smaller to prevent the bird from escaping or getting their head or legs stuck. Doves cannot climb up cage bars like parrots, so they need a wide habitat with lots of horizontal floor space to fly back and forth comfortably. Always provide the largest habitat possible. 

Most commercially sold habitats are made of stainless steel. Homemade habitats or any habitat made with wood or galvanized wire are not recommended, as these materials can expose birds to potentially toxic chemicals that can cause serious medical problems if ingested. 

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Setting Up Your Habitat 

Doves are comfortable in average household temperatures between 65 F and 80 F. Pet parents should be cautious of extreme temperature changes. Habitats should be kept off the floor and in a draft-free, well-lit area that is not near an air conditioner or accessible to other pets, including cats and dogs.  

Pet parents should make sure that no habitat parts or toys are made with lead, zinc, lead-based paints, galvanized metal, or other potentially toxic materials. All of these can cause serious medical issues if ingested. 

Habitat Mates 

Doves are social creatures that can be kept singly or in small groups. If males and females are housed together, expect the birds to mate and lay eggs. Before deciding to house more than one dove in the same habitat, the birds must be introduced to each other properly. Introductions should be done slowly, in neutral territory, and under close supervision to ensure the birds are compatible. Pet parents should monitor their birds for aggressive behavior and separate them if they fight. Never keep different species of animals in the same habitat. 


The bottom of a dove’s habitat should have a removable metal grate so droppings can fall below the bird’s feet. Line the tray at the base of the habitat with habitat paper or other paper-based bedding. This will help keep the environment clean and minimize dust. 

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Birds need exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light to produce vitamin D in their skin so they can absorb dietary calcium. Glass windows filter out UV light, so placing a dove’s habitat next to an indoor window is not enough. Instead, doves can get natural UV exposure by spending time outside in an escape-proof outdoor cage when weather permits. Birds should never be left unattended while outside and should not be placed in direct sunlight. 

To supplement UV exposure, pet parents can shine a full-spectrum UV light designed for birds on their dove's habitat for 10–12 hours each day. UV lights should be about 12–18 inches away from where the bird perches. Replace lights every six months, as their potency wanes over time. 

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Décor & Accessories 

Perches: Doves need perches of assorted sizes, heights, textures, and materials so they can exercise their feet and prevent pressure sores from developing on their soles. 

Perches should be at least 5 inches long and around ½-inch in diameter. If a perch’s diameter is too wide, the bird will not be able to grip it properly. This can lead to falls and other serious injuries. 

Concrete, wood, braided rope, and natural branches all make suitable materials for perches. 

Sandpaper perches and sanded perch covers are not recommended because they can cause painful abrasions on the underside of a bird’s feet.  

Gravel-coated perches should be avoided because they are also abrasive to birds’ feet, and birds can pick off the gravel and ingest it. 

Do not place perches above the bird’s water or food bowl—waste droppings will land there. 

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Toys: Pet parents should provide their doves with an assortment of toys for exercise and enrichment. Without adequate stimulation, bored birds can develop harmful habits, like screaming, pacing, and feather plucking

Doves have softer beaks than parrots, so toys must be made of cardboard, paper, or soft wood. 

Foraging toys are an excellent addition to any dove’s habitat. Doves naturally forage for food in the wild, so these toys encourage mental and physical stimulation. 

Toys should have a range of colors, shapes, and textures to attract interest. 

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Water and food dishes: Dry food, fresh food, digestible grit, and water should all be offered in separate dishes. If more than one dove is kept in the same habitat, then each bird should have their own feeding station to discourage competition. 

Water dishes should be large enough for a dove to bathe in. Dishes should be washed and rinsed thoroughly each day to prevent bacterial growth. 

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Dove Cleaning & Maintenance

Spot-clean your dove's habitat daily, removing any soiled material and discarded food. Water and food bowls must be washed daily. Substrate, bedding, and habitat liners should be replaced at least once a week (or more often, if more than one dove lives in the same habitat). 

Only use cleaning agents formulated for pets when cleaning your dove’s cage, as birds’ respiratory systems are sensitive to aerosolized fumes. 

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To clean a dove’s habitat, take these steps: 

  1. Move the dove to a secure environment (such as another habitat or travel cage) in a separate air space. Remove any old substrate, bedding, and accessories from the habitat. 

  1. Use a bird habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution to wash the habitat and any accessories.  

  1. Rinse the habitat and accessories thoroughly with water, making sure to remove any trace amounts or residual smells left by the cleaning agent or bleach solution.  

  1. Allow the habitat and its contents to dry completely before placing new substrate, bedding, and clean accessories back into the habitat. 

  1. Return the bird to the clean habitat. 

Dove Diet & Nutrition

Doves enjoy a range of foods, including pelleted food, vegetables, fruits, and the occasional treat. Doves should always have access to fresh, clean water. 

Pet parents should never share food from their mouths or plates with their dove. Human mouths have microorganisms that can cause illness in birds. 

A nutritious and well-balanced diet for a dove consists of: 

A high-quality pelleted food formulated for doves. A nutritionally complete and balanced pelleted food should make up at least 60–70% of a dove’s diet.  

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Digestible (soluble) grit made of crushed oyster shells. Digestible grit is a calcium supplement that promotes healthy egg-laying and bone development. Digestible grit should be offered daily in a separate dish. 

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Indigestible grit. Unlike parrots, doves eat seeds whole and need very small amounts of indigestible grit to break down seed hulls in their stomachs. Overfeeding grit can lead to nutritional deficiencies and gastrointestinal obstruction. 

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Treats, vegetables, and fruits, in limited quantities. Treats should not make up more than 10% of a dove’s diet. Be sure to only offer soft fruits and vegetables that are shredded or cut into bite-sized pieces. Treats can include chopped greens and shredded orange and yellow vegetables, such as sweet potato, squash, and carrots.

An assortment of small seeds (such as millet, canary seed, hemp seed, milo, and wheat) can be offered as an occasional treat along with a grit supplement. However, seeds are not nutritionally complete and should not be the mainstay of a dove’s diet. 

Doves can be fed very small amounts of hard-boiled egg and whole-grain bread as an occasional treat. 

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Fresh, clean water, which should be changed daily. 

Do not allow doves to ingest avocados, fruit seeds, chocolate, caffeine, or alcohol, as they are all toxic and can cause serious illness or death. Pet parents should also avoid treats high in salt or fat. Remember to discard any uneaten fruits and vegetables after 10 hours, as they may spoil and cause infection if eaten. 

Dove Grooming & Care

Avoid using nonstick cookware and other appliances with a nonstick coating, such as Teflon™. Nonstick coatings have a polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). When heated, PFTE releases colorless, odorless fumes than can kill pet birds if inhaled.  

You can socialize your doves by allowing them to spend time outside their enclosure every day. Doves must be supervised whenever they’re outside of their habitat so they don’t fly into something and injure themselves. Be sure to close any open windows and doors, cover mirrors, and turn off ceiling fans. 

For pet parents interested in wing clipping:  

  • Wing clipping temporarily prevents a bird from gaining lift and flying away.  

  • A properly performed wing trim allows a bird to sail safely to the ground without lift. 

  • Only a trained professional or someone that has been taught how to trim feathers should clip a dove’s wing feathers. Improper trimming can cause severe injury.  

  • When done correctly, clipping the outermost “flight feathers” can help keep birds from flying away accidentally and becoming injured.  

  • Before trying to trim a bird’s feathers, pet parents should consult an avian veterinarian for help.  

  • Wing clipping must be repeated every few months, as feathers grow back in.  

Bathing: Water dishes should be large enough for a dove to bathe in. You can groom birds that do not regularly bathe themselves by gently misting them with warm water from a clean spray bottle a few times a week. 

Nail Care: Nails must be trimmed on an as-needed basis, which can range from every few weeks to months. Nails should be trimmed by a trained professional, avian veterinarian, or someone otherwise trained to trim birds’ nails to prevent injury. 

If bleeding occurs, a styptic powder can be used to stop the bleeding quickly. 

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Most birds will not need to have their beaks trimmed, as they should stay in good condition with daily use. Underlying conditions, such as liver disease or deformity from trauma, can cause abnormal beak growth and must be addressed by an avian veterinarian. 

Dove Veterinary Care

Annual Care

Doves should be examined by a veterinarian once every year as part of their annual care schedule. They can be transported in a travel cage that limits flying and falling space. Be sure to bring food and water for them, and bring their partner if they are part of a bonded pair. Take pictures of their enclosure and all food, bedding, and accessories, including their packaging, to show the veterinarian at the appointment. Be careful to limit exposure to extreme temperature changes during transport.

Signs of a Healthy Dove

  • Clean, clear eyes

  • Clean beak

  • Pink gums

  • Clean and smooth feathers

  • Feet with smooth, intact skin

  • Clean vent

  • Regular vocalizations

  • Strong appetite

When to Call a Vet

  • Eyes that are cloudy or have discharge

  • Beak is cracked, bleeding, excessively shedding, or has debris or discharge from the nares

  • Pale gums

  • Discharge or drooling from the mouth

  • Plucked or broken feathers

  • Growths or cracks on the feet

  • Staining in feathers around vent

  • Changes to voice or vocalization behaviors

  • Loss of appetite

  • Lethargy

  • Lumps, bumps, or swellings

  • Changes in droppings

Common Illnesses in Doves

Dove FAQs

Can you have a dove as a pet?

Absolutely! Doves are fantastic pets and a great choice for beginner bird parents.

Do doves make good house pets?

Doves are great house pets. They are friendly, curious, easy to feed and keep clean, and are quieter than some other popular avian pet species such as parrots.

Are doves affectionate?

Doves are very affectionate, especially with their people and cage mates.

What is the best dove for a pet?

Ringneck doves are a great choice of pet and one of the most common types of doves kept in homes.

Do doves bond with humans?

Doves that aren’t kept with another dove and receive regular interactions from their humans will almost certainly bond with them.

How do you bond with a pet dove?

Spending time with your dove, offering food, playing music, and offering toys will help a dove bond with you.

Featured Image: Getty Images / Anna Perfilova

Maria Zayas, DVM


Maria Zayas, DVM


Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...

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