Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is found in many household items, primarily because it’s used as a non-stick coating for cookware. Teflon is the best-known brand of PTFE. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is another term you should familiarize yourself with. PFOA is an ingredient used to make Teflon easier to work with. PTFE and PFOA lurk in your cookware and coatings on heating elements, clothes irons, hair dryers, and ovens. While Teflon may be fantastic at stopping scrambled eggs from sticking to the frying pan, it can be highly toxic for your pet bird and even you.
Current and prospective bird owners need to familiarize themselves with the dangers of Teflon poisoning, as failure to do so can result in sudden death for your pet. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about Teflon toxicity.
What Is Teflon Toxicity?
When appliances coated with Teflon are heated, they can release a clear and odorless toxic gas. You won’t even know that this gas has been released. Unfortunately, many birds inhaling these poisonous fumes will die suddenly or experience severe respiratory distress, eventually leading to death.
Many Teflon-coated products state that they must be heated to extremely high temperatures (higher than 500°F) for the toxic gases to be released. This may not always be the case, however, as coating imperfections allow fumes to be released at much lower temperatures.
Cookware coated in PTFE or PFOA chemicals is typically safe in normal cooking conditions. Studies suggest that PTFE-coated pans must reach temperatures of about 536°F to release the toxic particles and fumes. This is an incredibly high temperature that’s rarely reached during ordinary cooking. Unfortunately, however, it’s not entirely unheard of. If PTFE-coated pans are left to boil dry or an empty pan is left on high heat, toxic fumes can result.
What Are the Signs of Teflon Toxicity?
The signs of Teflon toxicity are often non-specific and can be seen in many other respiratory diseases. Sadly, in most cases, sudden death is the only sign of Teflon poisoning. You may find your bird dead in your cage or gasping for air.
The toxic particles released by Teflon-containing products mainly affect the lungs. A post-mortem examination may show that your bird’s lungs are dark red with hemorrhages and congestion.
What Are the Causes of Teflon Toxicity?
Birds have unique and highly efficient respiratory systems that make them susceptible to inhaled toxins or poisons. As such, they don’t need to be in your kitchen beside you as you’re cooking to suffer the effects of Teflon poisoning. The respiratory tract is efficient in exchanging gases, so birds have the high levels of oxygen they need in their muscles for flight. It only makes sense that if the respiratory system can deliver oxygen so efficiently, it will also deliver whatever else is in the air—including toxic gases.
Humans rely on diaphragms to expand and contract the lungs when we breathe. Birds are different as they have rigid lungs and rely on air sacs to ventilate them. As a result, air will flow through a bird’s lungs the same way during inhalation and exhalation, which allows oxygen absorption during both respiration cycles. In addition, the structures that air will flow through and the capillaries responsible for exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen run at right angles to one another, allowing for efficacious gas exchange from the lungs to the bloodstream.
In addition, a bird’s small size and high metabolic rate can also increase its susceptibility to airborne toxins. Some species of birds (namely, canaries) have even been used as noxious gas detectors in coal mines because of their increased sensitivity.
How Do I Care for a Bird with Teflon Toxicity?
Teflon toxicity is a life-threatening emergency. If you believe your bird has been exposed to toxic Teflon fumes, remove it immediately and get it to an area with fresh air. Then, call your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661. Please note that a $75 incident fee applies to all calls made to this hotline.
Unfortunately, sudden death happens in many cases before bird owners even have a chance to get help. If your bird is one of the lucky few exposed to Teflon poisoning that doesn’t pass suddenly, you should expect it to need extended hospitalized care. Your vet will likely supplement with oxygen, administer IV fluids, and use medication like steroids, anti-inflammatories, or antibiotics. In addition, your bird may need to go on diuretics to remove fluid from its lungs.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How can I prevent Teflon toxicity?
The best way to ensure your bird doesn’t suffer from Teflon poisoning is to know what items in your home contain the chemical. Once you know what contains Teflon, you can limit your bird’s exposure to the product, especially when it is heated.
An even better option would be to rid your home of Teflon-containing items altogether. Of course, this is easier said than done, but doing so is the only 100% way to prevent Teflon toxicity.
Toxin emissions are often most potent when PTFE or PFOA-coated appliances and cookware are brand new. If you’re moving into a new home, run your stove at a high temperature for a few hours several days before your bird takes up residence. Keep the home’s windows open during this process, and use your outdoor-vented range hood. This same process can be applied to other appliances like space heaters or tools.
What household items contain PFOA and PTFE?
The list of household items that contain these dangerous chemicals is surprisingly long. We couldn’t name all of them in this article if we wanted to, but here are some of the items you may have in your home that could be a ticking time bomb for your bird:
Brand names that often use PTFE or PFOA in the manufacturing process of their products include SilverStone, All-Clad, Farberware, Meyer, KitchenAid, George Foreman, StainMaster, and Scotchgard.
What is the best cookware to use when I have birds?
Avoid non-stick cookware altogether. Look for pans and pots that clearly state they are PTFE- and PFOA-free. If it doesn’t say so on the label, approach cautiously. You can also contact the company directly via phone or e-mail to inquire about the coating on their cookware.
The following materials are typically safe for use in bird-friendly homes:
Though these materials are usually safe, reach the labels thoroughly before buying to search for any mention of non-stick properties. If the packaging doesn’t mention PTFE or PFOA, we recommend contacting the company for advice.
Teflon gas is silent but deadly, and every bird owner needs to educate themselves on this common household toxin. You can use Teflon-coated products in your bird-friendly home, provided you use them correctly, but we strongly advise against it. The only surefire way to prevent Teflon toxicity in your birds is to buy products that do not contain PFOA or PTFE. This may mean you need to do a little more research and reach out to manufacturers to ensure they do not use the chemicals in their products, but your bird’s health and the peace of mind you’ll receive for doing your research is more than worth it.
Featured Image Credit: Susan Flashman, Shutterstock