HOUSEHOLD DANGERS AND TOXINS
by Sally Blanchard
I am afraid this list could go on forever but I will list as many as I know of at this time and readers can let me know if I have left any out. There is a good chance that just about every product made by companies that use chemicals we can't pronounce can be toxic to our parrots. Some new carpeting outgasses toxins, fumes from paneling can be toxic, adhesives used in construction and flooring can kill parrots ... We REALLY need to check products out before we bring them into our the home we share with our parrots. I wouldn’t always trust the sellers and/or manufacturers to tell you the truth because they often don’t know or don’t care but ask anyway! If you have any question at all about the safety of any repair, construction or new decoration in your home, board your parrot at a friend's, vet's, quality bird sitter, or quality bird shop until the danger of fumes is passed. Parrots and other birds have a much more delicate respiratory system than mammals so almost anything that produces fumes can create problems for them.
Teflon, Silverstone, T-fall and other non-stick coating used in Cookware, Stove Drip Pans, Irons, Ironing Board Covers, Bread Makers, Self-cleaning Ovens, Portable Heaters, Hair Dryers, hair curlers and other household appliances: When overheated, these items can release fumes that are deadly to birds. I personally would not own any cookware with a non-stick coating as there is too much room for error. I can be a forgetful cook and occasionally have house guests who may not know about the danger to my birds. I don’t want to take the chance. I would rather scrub pots. However, there are now non-stick ceramic cookware brands that can be used around birds.
Check any product that has a heating element. Heaters and some other products often have a Teflon coating to keep the heating element from rusting. It often burns off safely if used a couple of times in a garage or somewhere that a parrot can’t breathe the fumes. Some hair dryers and curlers have Teflon others don’t check to make sure they don’t before using in a bird household.
A reader reported that her bird suffered serious breathing problems when she used Reynolds cooking bags for the oven. When she noticed him “pumping for air” she removed him from the area immediately and took him to her avian veterinarian. He also suffered from severe eye inflammation.
Burning Plastic of any kind—overheated plastic pan and pot handles, burning oil, and just about anything burning on the stove or in the household. The non-stick coating is not the only thing that releases toxic fumes when it burns. Some woods burned in the fireplace can create problems for birds, especially if the fireplace is not well-vented. It has been reported that burning silicone implements, etc. can also be dangerous.
Scented Candles, Plug-in Air Fresheners, Incense, Potpourri, Essential Oils, anything with perfume or fragrance in it: The vapors from the oils in these products can be toxic and even fatal to birds. If you are going to use essential oils, please educate yourself thoroughly about which ones are and aren’t safe before even considering using them. There are some that can be very dangerous for parrots. If you can't find safe information from an actual authority about them, don't use them.
Outgassing from carpets and new furniture: Although this is probably not as true as it was, it is best to ask the dealer where you buy the carpeting. Some carpets and upholstery have formaldehyde to preserve the fabric. The outgassing from fumes can be a serious health hazard for parrots. One reader wrote to tell me that she had purchased a new couch with Stainsafe in the fabric. She was told that it would be safe for her Amazon but her bird died within 36 hours of the couch being delivered. Necropsy showed lesions on the bird’s lungs and a bird pathologist’s report showed that the bird died from inhalation toxicity due to the fabric protector Stainsafe. The bird should be removed from the house for at least several days until the outgassing fumes can dissipate. Some of these products are safer now because of child safety but it can be difficult to get the right information.
Construction Materials: Adhesives, paints and stains, solvents, and other materials of this type can be very toxic. The bird should be removed from the house for at least several days until the fumes can dissipate. Water-based paints are safer but the parrots should still be somewhere else for a few days.
Cigarette, Cigar, and Pipe smoke, Marijuana smoke, Nicotine on hands and clothing, Ingested Tobacco and Marijuana: Any tobacco smoke and smoke from other sources can be dangerous to birds. I watched a necropsy of an African grey who sat on his owner’s shoulder while he watched television. The man was a chain smoker. Anyone who loves their parrots would quit smoking around them if they saw the lung condition of that grey. Nicotine on hands can cause contact dermatitis in parrots, especially serious foot problems. It may be one of the causes of the foot necrosis that some parrots develop with very serious sores on their feet. Ingesting tobacco products and marijuana can make birds very sick.
Carbon Monoxide and Natural Gas Leaks: If you have gas appliances, make sure that you have a carbon monoxide detector. Natural gas has no smell so the gas companies add an odor to alert people to gas leaks in their home or environment. People may not notice a small leak but their parrots can still exhibit serious fatigue. These fumes can be fatal if they are not noticed in time.
Aerosol sprays of any Kind, Household Cleaners, Oven Cleaners, Furniture Polish, Air Fresheners, Carpet Fresheners, Tub & Tile Cleaners, Cleaning Supplies, Bleach and Ammonia fumes, Oil-based Paint and paint product fumes, Tile Adhesives, Insecticides, Flea Bombs, Fertilizers, Fungicides, Hair Spray, Spray-on Deodorants, Perfumes, Colognes and more: Use common sense. Anything that produces fumes can cause parrots health problems and in some cases, be fatal to them. It is best to take birds out of a room if it is being cleaned, painted, etc. and only bring them back after the room has been thoroughly aired out and the fumes are gone. Keep your parrots out of the bathroom when you use spray products of any kind including deodorant, shaving gels, hairspray, etc. I did a consultation with a woman who had a Yellow-collared macaw who had started feather picking. The minute I walked into her home and saw the bird on her shoulder, I knew why. She was wearing a very strong perfume. It was so strong, it gave me a headache. It was causing the macaw more serious problems.
Leaded Stained Glass Decorations, Old Lead Paint on Woodwork, Costume Jewelry, Curtain Weights, Lead Fishing Weights, Lead pellets, Leaded Glass Beads, Solder, Some Artists Paints, Pencils, Chalks, and other supplies, Some old Cage Paint & Galvanized Wire, Metal Hardware that Flakes or Chips: Most or many of these items contain heavy metals such as lead, zinc, or cadmium which are toxic to parrots when chewed and ingested. If you suspect your parrot has eaten something with any heavy metal, it is essential to get him to the vet immediately. In some cases, an x-ray will show that the foreign object is still in the crop and the crop can be flushed. If the heavy metal goes into the digestive system, it can be a long, involved and expensive process to get it out and save your parrot’s life.
Avocado, Chocolate, Alcohol, and Rhubarb: These are the most common foods that I know of that can be toxic and should not be given to birds. I also have an in-depth article on the Article Section about Nutrition that covers Foods that are Bad for parrots, Questionable Foods and Myths about foods that are actually healthy for parrots.
Peanuts: have forever been considered a staple of any companion parrot's diet. They are in just about every parrot mix. The truth is that peanuts can be loaded with aflatoxins - molds that can kill your parrots. This is particularly true of the animal grade peanuts in most seed mixes but human grade peanuts can also be problematic. I don't feed my parrots peanuts and would encourage other parrot caregivers to remove them from their parrots' diets. The seed mixes that don't contain peanuts are most likely made by companies that actually care about the health of your parrots. Many foods can contain aflatoxins so it is important to check everything you feed for mold or discoloration especially nuts, corn, and grains.
Indoor and Outdoor Plants: Some plants are toxic to birds. If you do not know which ones are dangerous and which ones are safe, keep your parrots away from any plants. A few dangerous plants include Dieffenbachia, Philodendron, Daffodil and Iris bulbs, Mistletoe, Holly berries, Sanseveria (or Mother-in-law-tongue), Poinsettia, Oleander. Safe plants include Spider plants and most ferns. Check it out first before you bring a house plant home or let your parrot chew on anything outdoors. I have often had asparagus ferns near my parrot cages as air cleaners and decorations.
Some Parrots have Allergies to Other Parrots: It is common knowledge that blue and gold macaws often develop a hypersensitivity to cockatoo dust if they live in the same area with one of these parrots. This may also be true with other macaws. If you have macaws and cockatoos in the same area and the macaw is showing signs of allergies, it is a good idea to move one to another area of the house. There are certainly many other possible allergens in our homes so I always highly recommend a quality air cleaner.
Mold and Fungus: The major concern is Aspergillosis. Parrots are exposed to the fungus Aspergillus on a continual basis without problems. However, if a bird’s immune system is marginal and/or there is exposure to a high level of the fungus, the parrot can become very sick and even die. The fungus can develop in food sources and bowls that are not cleaned properly. The fungus can easily develop in fecal matter and rotting food on the paper or substrate on the bottom of the cage if it is not cleaned regularly. I advise against the use of ground walnut shell, corn cob, pine or eucalyptus shavings because they can quickly develop mold. I recommend black and white newspaper, butcher paper or some other type of untreated light colored paper because when a parrot’s cage is dirty, you can see it. Aspergillus spores can also be found in landscaping mulch. I have heard from peoples who lost their birds after mulch was used in their yard and the spores blew in through the windows near the birds.
Over-the-counter Medicines for Parrots and for People: Any kind of over-the-counter medicines sold for parrots are useless and may even be dangerous because as your parrot gets sicker, it may be difficult for a veterinarian to get accurate results on tests. Parrots should NEVER be given any people medicines. The only medications your parrot should ever get should be prescribed by his or her avian veterinarian. Human medicines like aspirin, any kind of pain killer - any kind of human medicine can be fatal to parrots. There are pain killers for animals that your veterinarian can prescribe if needed.
Human Dietary & Health Supplements: Be very careful in assuming that any medicine, human dietary or health supplement is safe, particularly if it is a "fad" product, for your parrots. Do not give your parrot anything without first checking carefully with reliable sources about its safety and the quantity which can be safely consumed. I read about an Eclectus that died when he was given Kombucha tea, a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast.
Physical Dangers: These include but are not limited to ceiling fans, electric cords, Christmas decorations, open toilets, pots on the stove, windows if your parrot flies and has not yet learned the layout of the house, and open liquid containers. Ceiling fans can kill a parrot, amputate a wing or foot, and injure the bird in other serious ways.
A Drive in the Car: Taking a parrot for a ride in the car without him being in a carrier can create serious problems if you have to stop suddenly and slam on the brakes. When my Amazon, Paco was a baby I took her for a ride and she freaked out when we went under an overpass. She ended up on the brake pedal and in the confusion; I almost drove into the river.
If you let me know about anything that I have omitted, please let me know and I will add it.