Teflon Poisoning in Birds

Toxicity Affects All Bird Species

Macaw

Whether you're a first-time avian owner or an experienced one, did you know that the nonstick pans in your kitchen are your bird's worst enemy?

Commonly referred to as Teflon poisoning, polytetrafluoroethlyene (PTFE) intoxication is a silent, deadly killer of all species of birds.

While concern about PTFE intoxication tends to increase during the colder months when we close the windows in our homes and decrease the air circulation, the reality is that Teflon poisoning can take place at any time throughout the year.

Why Are Nonstick Pans Dangerous to Birds?

The first nonstick pan coated with PTFE was created in 1954 by French engineer Marc Grégoire, who called the nonstick resin "Tefal." In 1961, the first U.S.-made nonstick, PTFE-coated frying pan called the "Happy Pan" was sold in stores.

PTFE is now commonly known as the DuPont brand name Teflon.

PTFE toxicity occurs when the nonstick cookware is overheated. The excessive heat creates a gas emission that is typically harmless to humans and other mammals. Birds, however, are particularly sensitive to the airborne gas emission—even in small dosages due to their high metabolic rate and unique anatomy (high levels of oxygen are emitted to their musculature system in order to fly).

Toxicity from PTFE causes severe edematous pneumonia—where a bird's lungs quick fill with fluid which is then leaked into the airways.

Not many birds can survive PTFE toxicity. The best course of action to ensure your bird's health is prevention.

Do You Have Toxic Cookware in Your Home?

Your cookware does not have to be the specific Teflon brand to cause PTFE toxicity. All nonstick pans containing polytetrafluoroethlyene are toxic to birds.

Teflon coated pan

Types of nonstick cookware include but are not limited to:

  • Bakeware such as cookie sheets, cupcake pans, cake pans, bread pans, Bundt cake molds
  • Quart pots
  • Frying pans
  • Roasting pans
  • Egg poaching pans
  • Nonstick-coated appliances: ovens, grill plates, electric pans, space heaters
  • Stovetop drip pans.

Symptoms of Teflon Toxicity in Birds

PTFE toxicity in birds is devastating and acts quickly.

Symptoms of PTFE toxicity include severe respiratory distress — open-mouthed breathing, tail bobbing and raspy breathing, and birds dropping off their perches. PTFE toxicity is typically fatal, rarely offering owners the time to have their birds examined or treated for the poisoning.

All types of birds are affected by PTFE toxicity. Smaller birds suffer even faster due to their size—less gas is required to register the poisonous effect.

What to Do If You Suspect Your Bird Has Been Poisoned by Teflon

If your bird is showing signs of respiratory distress and you suspect Teflon poisoning is a possibility, act quickly.

  • Immediately remove the questionable cookware from the house and turn off the heat source. Take safety precautions as you do so — place the hot object on a fire-proof surface and make sure children and other pets cannot reach it.
  • Open the windows in your house.
  • Increase the ventilation: Turn on ceiling fans, floor fans, exhaust fans and even an attic fan.
  • Call your veterinary clinic immediately to let them know you're on your way with what you suspect is an acute intoxication.

If your bird survives the initial exposure to PTFE, your veterinarian may place the bird in an oxygen cage, administer antibiotics and diuretics in an attempt to relieve the excess fluid in the birds lungs.

Prevent Teflon Toxicity in Your Home

Not many birds can survive PTFE toxicity. The best course of action to ensure your bird's health is prevention.

Lovebird

Removing all nonstick-coated cookware will eliminate the threat to your bird.

If you have spoken with an avian specialist — whether this is your veterinarian or someone affiliated with veterinary avian care — and removal of all nonstick cookware is not recommended (there are varying opinions on this), take caution when cooking with Teflon-coated products:

  • Don't leave your cookware unattended on the stove—overheating the nonstick ware is the main culprit. Throw out any nonstick coated pots and pans when they begin to show signs of wear and tear or damage.
  • Move your bird's cage out of the kitchen to a less exposed area that will also elminate any additional dangers found in the kitchen such as accidental burns.

Discuss PTFE intoxication with your veterinarian to ensure your bird has a safe, healthy environment that both of you can be comfortable with.


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