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Household Hazards and Dangers to Birds

By Renee Schmid, DVM & Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT Pet Poison Helpline; Rick Axelson, DVM

Care & Wellness, Emergency Situations, Pet Services

General Information

Birds are naturally curious and mischievous and if not properly supervised, will get into many predicaments. Due to this, it is important to "bird proof" your home to help ensure your winged friend’s safety. The bird's cage and the confines of your home represent the bird's environment, with many potential dangers within these surroundings to be aware of. The following is a list of household dangers to birds. If you believe your bird was exposed to any of the toxins described in this article, please call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline (a 24/7 animal poison control center) right away.

Temperature and Humidity

Moderate and gradual changes ranging from 10 - 20 ºF (2 - 5 ºC) in temperature are usually well-tolerated very well by a healthy bird. Sick birds will need a more consistently warm temperature. Humidity in the range of 40 - 50% is ideal for most birds. It is better to have too much humidity than have the environment too dry (although this may depend on the species of bird you own). If allowed to bathe in the hot sun, a bird must always have access to shade in the event it should become overheated.

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)/Teflon

"Teflon-coated cooking appliances and self-cleaning ovens release a colorless, odorless gaseous toxin and can cause death to a bird within 24 hours."

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is a common substance in many households due to its use as a non-stick coating on cookware. Teflon is the most well-known brand name of PTFE-based coatings. Other sources of PTFE include drip pans, waffle irons, clothing irons, ironing board covers, heating elements, and heat lamps. When PTFE is heated to over 280℃ (536℉), it releases odorless, colorless particles and acidic gases which are toxic when inhaled. Most cases of PTFE poisoning occur when non-stick cookware is over-heated or burned, such as a non-stick pot boiling dry on the stovetop. However, cases of poisoning have been reported from the use of PTFE-containing products even at recommended temperatures. Signs of poisoning may include agitation, rapid or labored breathing, wheezing, incoordination, weakness, coma, and seizures. Sadly, in many cases, sudden death occurs before or shortly after signs develop. Birds may initially appear lethargic or sluggish and slow to respond to stimulation. Wobbling while trying to stay upright on their perch may also be seen. Birds affected by PTFE fumes need immediate veterinary attention. To avoid potential poisoning of your bird, it is recommended to avoid using PTFE-coated cookware as well as other items listed above. Otherwise, it is important to pay close attention when utilizing any product that may be coated with PTFE to ensure that overheating does not occur.

Air Pollution

Birds have a very efficient respiratory system and are sensitive to pollutants in the air. Birds are also extremely susceptible to any source of smoke. Cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and vaporizers should not be used around your bird. If these products are used, it important to only use them outside; smoking in "the other room" is not considered safe for birds because smoke travels. Cooking fumes or smoke from the oven, gases such as carbon monoxide, fumes from cleaning products, paints, varnishes, fireplace fumes, air fresheners, hair products, and dirty household air ducts may lead to respiratory problems. Products such as carpet and glues may “off gas” for months, slowly emitting fumes that may be toxic to birds.

A good rule of thumb is that if you can smell it, it may harm your bird’s respiratory tract. Also, for some products, harmful chemicals may linger in the air long after the smell has faded. Keep your bird’s environment well-ventilated. Signs of respiratory damage may not be immediate. Inhalant smoke exposure can lead to chronic bronchitis and impair the birds’ ability to fight off disease.

Kitchens

"It is unwise to house a bird in the kitchen."

Generally, it is unwise to house a bird in the kitchen, as there are too many potential hazards. PTFE (Teflon), as described above, is a major concern. Hot stove elements, open pots of hot water, soups or sauces, and even a sink full of water may be possible dangers. There are many sharp and dangerous items for curious birds that are allowed to roam free in the house to hurt themselves on in the kitchen. Additionally, most cleaning products present possible hazards for birds.

Bathrooms

Open toilet bowls and full sinks or bathtubs are possible perils to a bird looking to explore the water. Pet birds do not swim well, and excessively hot water may result in severe burns. There are often dangerous cleaning products in a bathroom as well. Various medications that are kept around most households are potential dangers to your bird. Keep these products locked up and away from your bird for safety. Many drugs and chemicals are stored in containers made of plastic that birds love to chew.

Oil or Grease

"Do not use oil or grease-based medicines on a bird for any reason."

Whether hot or cold, oil and feathers do not mix. Do not use oil or grease-based medicines on a bird for any reason. Oils will mat down feathers, decrease their insulation qualities, and make a bird susceptible to chills while potentially leading to other health problems. Examples of products to avoid include Vaseline®, mineral oil, oil-based ointments or salves (including many sold in pet stores), cooking oils, essential oils, vitamin E oils, cod liver oil, and motor oil.

Other Pets

Cats, dogs, ferrets, snakes, and lizards can be a potential danger to your bird. These animals have a natural hunting instinct, and your bird may become the victim. Never leave these animals alone together unattended. In general, smaller birds are at greater risk, but why take chances with any bird?

Mirrors and Windows

Birds may not ever master the concept of glass or mirrors. To the bird, there is nothing solid there. No barriers are perceived and birds will often fly straight in to a mirror, potentially causing serious injury to themselves. Show them that it is not simple air space by putting up curtains, clings or stickers.

Fish Bowls

Any open container of water should be considered a danger zone. If the bird should fly in it, it may drown due to difficulty navigating the limited opening size.

Noise Pollution

Birds generally seem to enjoy a certain amount of commotion and may become vocal and playfully excited by vacuuming, the sound of an electric razor, or the normal activities of people about the house. Excessively loud noise from televisions, stereos, construction, or even appliances such as food processors may cause undue stress to some birds. Remember the bird is confined in your home and cannot freely escape these sounds if bothered by them. Exposure to any reasonable noise should be limited to the bird's normal waking hours.

Plants 

(See – “Poisonous plants” information sheet)

Fans

Never allow a bird to fly while a fan of any sort is running (particularly ceiling fans). The bird cannot see the blades while they are in motion. Serious injury can be incurred.

Stucco Ceilings

Although normally very skilled and graceful at flight, a bird may occasionally strike objects or surfaces while exercising. Stucco ceilings may act like sandpaper on the top of the bird's head as it moves along at high speeds. Try to make these rooms "out of bounds."

Electrical Cords

Birds love to chew and the soft, rubbery coating of electrical cords may be a very enticing play toy for your bird. Due to the potential danger of electrocution, facial burns and even a serious fire hazard, electrical cords must be hidden away or unplugged.

Open Windows, Doors

You should have your bird's wings clipped or you should keep all windows and doors closed at all times. Once a bird escapes, it is usually very difficult to get it to come back home. Avoiding these mishaps is safer than taking chances. Even the most well-trained and well-behaved bird can have a moment of weakness and try to fly out of the house for fresh air.

Lead and Zinc Poisoning

Chances are, if lead is around, your bird will find it! Lead is commonly found in many places around the house. Examples include lead-based paints used prior to 1978, curtain weights, fishing weights, solder on cages or plumbing, certain types of putty, plaster or ceramic glazes, batteries, pellets from air rifles, certain linoleum, stained glass windows, Tiffany lamps, the leaded foil from wine bottles, some costume jewelry, and zipper teeth. Lead is soft, fun to chew on and easily swallowed. Also known as heavy metal poisoning, lead or zinc poisoning is life threatening and needs immediate veterinary attention. Contrary to some beliefs, there is NO lead in today's pencils or newspaper inks.

Toys

Most pet bird toys are considered safe for your bird. It is important that you check all toys for loose or open clasps, removable or chewable parts, peeling paint, peeling metal, and sharp edges before offering them to a bird.

Chemicals

Birds exploring and playing with containers found around the home can lead to exposure to dangerous products. Cleaning agents, insecticides, pesticides, mothballs, deodorizers, paints, solvents, makeup, personal hygiene products and chemicals, pharmaceutical products, matches, and automotive products are just some of the products that must be locked away from an inquisitive bird.

Pet Poison Helpline, an animal poison control center based out of Minneapolis, MN is available 24/7 for pet owners and veterinary professionals that require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. The staff provides treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals and exotic species. As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, Pet Poison Helpline’s fee of $65 per incident includes follow-up consultations for the duration of the poison case. Pet Poison Helpline is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680. Additional information can be found online at www.petpoisonhelpline.com

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