Teflon (Polytetrafluoroethylene) Poisoning in Birds

By Renee Schmid, DVM, DABT, DABVT; Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT; Rick Axelson, DVM

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is a common finding in 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 toxic particles and acidic gases which are toxic when inhaled. These gases are colorless and odorless, so owners are often unaware their bird has been exposed.

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.

Why are birds in more danger of Teflon (PTFE) poisoning?

Birds have a unique, highly efficient respiratory system and are very sensitive to inhaled toxins or poisons. Birds do not have to be in the same room where items containing PTFE are used for poisoning to occur. Sadly, sudden death may be the only sign of PTFE poisoning. Humans, and presumably other mammals, can develop signs of fever, weakness, shivering, sore throat and difficulty breathing after exposure to PTFE that has been burned although this is rare. Smaller birds, including budgerigars (parakeets), are considered to be the most sensitive to the effects of PTFE poisoning.

What are the signs of PTFE poisoning?

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.

How can I prevent PTFE poisoning?

Eliminating non-stick products containing PTFE from the home is the only guaranteed way to prevent poisoning. If these products are in the home, make sure the area is well ventilated while they are in use. Opening windows and using the stove exhaust fan can be help ensure proper ventilation. Birds should not be housed in areas where the products are used, such as the kitchen or laundry room. Avoid over-heating or burning cookware containing PTFE. Assure that the cooking area is never left unattended while these products are in use.

How is PTFE poisoning treated?

If you suspect your bird has been exposed to PTFE fumes, remove the bird from the area and get them fresh air right away. Call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline, a 24/7 animal poison control center, at 1-800-213-6680 for guidance.

In many cases, sudden death occurs before treatment can be started. Hospitalized care is generally needed for birds exposed to PTFE fumes. Oxygen supplementation, intravenous fluids, steroids, anti-inflammatory medications, antibiotics, diuretics (medication to help remove fluid from the lungs) and a warm, quiet environment may be necessary. Birds with severe signs have a poor chance for survival.

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 per incident fee 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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