Teflon Poisoning in Birds
Toxicity Affects All Bird Species
Whether you're a first-time avian owner or an experienced one, did you know that the nonstick pans in your kitchen can be your bird's worst enemy?
Non-stick cookware is often coated with a chemical called polytetrafluoroethlyene (PTFE), of which the most well-known brand is Teflon. According to Pet Poison Helpline, a 24/7 animal poison control center, "Teflon toxicity" is one of the most common airborne toxins in pet birds and occurs when Teflon coated products overheat. Other household products frequently coated with PTFE include drip pans, heat lamp covers, irons, and ironing board covers.
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 (or other coated products) is excessively overheated, meaning temperatures reach or exceed 530 degrees Fahrenheit or 280 degrees Celcius. A common scenario is a pot or pan "running dry" on top of high heat. At these temperatures, PTFE is degraded and microscopic airborne particulates are released which are toxic when inhaled.
Birds are particularly sensitive to airborne particulate and gas emission—even in small dosages due to their high metabolic rate and unique anatomy. These same gases can also cause harm to people and other animals although, in cases of household exposure
Do You Have Toxic Cookware in Your Home?
Your cookware does not have to be the specific Teflon brand to cause PTFE toxicity. Most nonstick pans containing polytetrafluoroethlyene are toxic to birds.
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, coma, 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 can be 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 bird's 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.
Removing all nonstick-coated cookware and other products will eliminate the threat to your bird.
If removal of all nonstick cookware is not possible, take caution when cooking with or using 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 eliminate 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.
About Pet Poison Helpline
Pet Poison Helpline is a 24/7 animal control services available for pet owners and veterinary professionals who require assistance with treating a potentially poisoned pet. Their experts can consult on all toxins and all species. Pet Poison Helpline is the most cost-effective animal poison control services and is available in North America, Canada, and the Carribean by calling 855-289-0358 or go to PetPoisonHelpline.com.