What is Teflon Poisoning?

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) toxicity is the correct name for Teflon poisoning. There are typically no clinical signs of illness in your bird, just a rapid progression of severe distress with breathing and falling off their perches, followed by rapid death. PTFE toxicity is the gas emission produced by heating a non-stick cookware to a certain temperature.

It is not just confined to cookware though, heat lamps that have a Teflon backing are also responsible for the gas emission. Any overheating of any Teflon coated product can produce disastrous results for your pet bird and also produces flu-like symptoms in humans.

Teflon poisoning occurs any time of the year and causes devastating effects for your bird. The fumes are rapid and lethal to all bird species.

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Symptoms of Teflon Poisoning in Birds

There are very few symptoms due to the rapid effect that this substance has upon your bird.

  • Severe respiratory distress such as open mouth gulping
  • Mild exposure may cause incoordination and wheezing 
  • Raspy breathing sounds
  • Smaller birds succumb more quickly to the noxious gas 
  • Tail bobbing
  • Agitated movements 
  • Your bird falls off its perch 
  • Death can be rapid

Types 

  • PTFE can be found in many products so keeping your bird out and away from the kitchen in a well-ventilated area will help 
  • Apart from non-stick frying pans, Teflon is an ingredient in non-stick sandwich toasters, bread makers and waffle makers 
  • Self-cleaning ovens are also high on the list of dangerous products 
  • Coffee makers and hot air popcorn makers emit gas

Causes of Teflon Poisoning in Birds

  • Tetrafluoroethylene (Teflon) coating on products is the damaging substance that affects your bird causing harm and usually death
  • It is odorless and invisible which makes it hard to guard against; good ventilation is essential for health 
  • The heat from cooking Teflon at hot temperatures activates the gas as explained below 
  • At high temperatures, around 250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (120 plus degrees Celsius), the Teflon coating breaks apart, emitting toxic particles and the gas 
  • Your bird’s lungs hemorrhage and fill with fluid which leads to suffocation 
  • Because your bird cannot clear the lungs, it drowns in its own body fluids

Diagnosis of Teflon Poisoning in Birds

The time frame between noticing your bird is experiencing difficulty, and its demise is very quick. The moment you notice anything move the pan, pot or whatever out of the way. Move your bird to a well-ventilated area far from the room and source of the Teflon. Turning on ceiling fans to disperse and dilute the gas will help, as will opening as many windows as you can. The gas travels quickly through the room, and if your bird is close to the source, it will affect him quickly. Usually, your bird is found on the floor of its cage, and close to death. 

Rushing your pet bird to an avian veterinarian is vital although no treatment exists at present for Teflon poisoning. In an emergency,  call him to see what you can do to help your bird while you travel to him. But excellent supportive care will be given. Survival depends on the dose your bird received of the gases, how big your bird is (small birds are affected immediately and become victims instantly) and the ventilation in the area where the Teflon originated. Some birds may survive, but they usually suffer from respiratory damages.

Treatment of Teflon Poisoning in Birds

There is no antidote or treatment available to counteract Teflon poisoning in your bird. The PTFE damage occurs when the gas causes severe oedematous pneumonia. Birds have a very sensitive respiratory system, making toxicity from Teflon exposure a rapid event.  Upon arrival at the clinic, your specialist may have to place your pet in an oxygen cage. He may also administer antibiotics and diuretics to flush out the fluid within your bird’s lungs. Apart from that, it is a matter of hoping for the best and providing care for recovery, or the demise of your pet. Some birds do survive, but there are a lot more that do not. 

Teflon or PTFE is responsible for many bird deaths per year, and work is being done to raise the awareness in bird owners to the dangers of using Teflon coated appliances. Teflon has other brand names that you should be aware of such as Silverstone, Supra, Excalibur, Resistal, Xylon, Duracote, Autograph, and T-Fal. Beware of lights that can have Teflon parts, as pet birds have suffered and some have died due to the installation of lights in an outdoor aviary. As a bird owner, it is vital to read the labels on new products in order to protect your feathered friend.

Recovery of Teflon Poisoning in Birds

For recovering birds, gentle and supportive care is all you can do. Ensure they are warm enough, have clean air, and plenty of rest to allow recovery. Prevention is the best defence to ensure protection for your bird(s). Keeping your bird out of the kitchen and if possible using only stainless steel or cast iron cooking pans would be best.

The awareness of this condition is important, and teaching your children about this will help. If they are the age where they are cooking up snacks they may not realise what damage they can do to their bird. If you do have any Teflon coated cookware, don’t leave it unattended to prevent the liquid burning away and the pan overheating. Any damaged or old cookware, especially non-stick pans that are now sticking during cooking, get rid of it for your health and that of your birds.