Written by Erin, Erin CG
Non-stick coatings on cookware, ovens, and other appliances or products often contain chemicals that, when heated, emit toxic fumes that can kill birds. PTFE, which is short for polytetrafluoroethylene, is one of the main dangerous chemicals found in non-stick coatings (also known as C8). When PTFE is heated, it emits many types of gases and fumes dangerous to a bird's respiratory system. The fumes emitted from PTFE and other chemicals in non-stick coatings work by attacking a bird's air sacs. The lungs then hemorrhage and fill with fluid, causing vomiting, convulsions, and death.
While gases and fumes from non-stick products may or may not do any harm to humans or other animals, the damage to a bird's fragile respiratory system is often irreparable. PTFE is odorless and colorless, which gives it the nickname "the silent killer."
PTFE is known most commonly by the brand name Teflon, but is found also in many other brands such as: Silverstone, Fluron, Supra, Excalibur, Greblon, Xylon, Duracote, Resistal, Autograph T-Fal, and several others. There is no such thing as a "safe" non-stick coating.
A common misconception of non-stick coating dangers is that it has to be heated to a high temperature to emit dangerous gases. This is not so. New reports say that non-stick coatings heated at even very low temperatures have caused the death of many pet birds.
Birds are not safe in anywhere non-stick products are used. The gases and fumes travel through the air, and move from room to room. The fumes can stay on surfaces such as carpets or curtains for a long time.
When a bird has breathed in the toxins from PTFE and other nonstick chemicals, treatment options are few. The best thing to do is rush your bird to an avian vet immediately after exposure, and your vet will most likely prescribe antibiotics. The problem is that many exposed birds will not begin showing signs of exposure until it is too late. It may take only a few minutes for symptoms to occur, or it may take hours. When the signs of PTFE exposure do result, the process is often times irreversible, and fatal.
If you have been using appliances and products with non-stick coatings for some time, with no effects on your bird, consider yourself very lucky. It is not worth the risk to use non-stick products; not when the life of your pet bird is at stake.
Watch for these (and other) products that may include PTFE: Pots/pans, heat lamps, portable heaters, sole plates on irons, ironing board covers, burners on stove tops, drip pans for burners, broiler pans, griddles, many cooking utensils, woks, waffle makers, hair dryers, curling irons, electric skillets, deep fryers, crock pots, hot air popcorn poppers, coffee makers, bread makers, non-stick rolling pins, lollipop molds, corkscrews, never-stick stainless steel, stockpots, some light bulbs, makers, bread makers, non-stick rolling pins, lollipop molds, corkscrews, never-stick stainless steel, stockpots, some light bulbs, roasters, self-cleaning ovens (or other kinds of ovens), non-stick gingerbread molds, pizza pans, tortilla presses, computer printers, household cleaners, and more.
Safe cookware alternatives include stainless steel or cast iron cookware. Make sure to carefully read all the labels of the above products before buying.
If there is any question or doubt in your mind about whether or not PTFE is used, call the manufacturer of the product to get all the information.
New products are now on the market that contain PTFE and other non-stick chemicals, such as household cleaning products. Even though these products are not heated, the fumes may still be fatal to your birds! Your best bet is to not buy anything containing PTFE, or anything that claims to be non-stick.
Remember, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Many products containing PTFE do not carry warning labels, so it is up to you to keep your home safe and PTFE-free.
ABC ran a segment on the dangers of PTFE not only to birds but also to humans; watch it here.