Common Household Toxins

Toxic substances can present a serious health risk for your pet bird. Many pet owners are unaware that certain substances can be toxic to their birds. The following is Pet Poison Helpline’s (24/7 Animal Poison Control Center 855-764-7661) list of the five most common household toxins to be aware of for pet bird owners.

Lead – Lead poisoning has historically been the most common metal poisoning in caged birds, but due to increased knowledge of the human health problems caused by lead, its use in the home has significantly decreased.


> Lead-based paint > Foil wrap on some champagne and wine bottles > Curtain weights > Bells with lead clappers > Imported bird toys > Stained glass


> Depression  > Weakness > Weight loss > Vomiting or regurgitation > Excessive thirst > Seizures >Diarrhea

If your pet bird, or any pet in the home is diagnosed with lead poisoning, it is always recommend that people in the home—especially the children—be tested also.

Zinc – Zinc poisoning is now the most common metal poisoning in caged birds and occurs after ingestion of items containing zinc.


> Galvanized products, such as wire cages, mesh, staples, nails and toys. (Galvanization is the process of coating a metal with an alloy containing more than 98 percent zinc. This is done to protect the metal against rusting.)  > Fertilizers > Some paints >Some shampoos > Zinc oxide > Pennies minted after 1982


> Similar to those seen with lead poisoning.

Avocado – Pet birds should never be fed avocado, as it is extremely poisonous and can result in sudden death. All parts of avocado, including the leaves and bark of the trees are toxic to birds.


> Agitation  > Feather-pulling > Lethargy > Food refusal > Breathing difficulty > Congestion  > Heart problems  > Death

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) or “Teflon toxicity” – Birds’ unique respiratory systems makes them more sensitive to airborne toxins than are mammals. “Teflon toxicity” is one of the most common airborne poisonings in pet birds.


> Nonstick surfaces on Teflon cookware, drip pans, heat lamp covers, irons and ironing board covers. Toxic particulates and gases are produced when the surface is heated to extreme temperatures. This can occur when a pan boils dry or an empty pan is heated on high (poisoning is not expected during routine cooking)  > Stain-guard treatments for upholstered furniture


> Breathing difficulties  > Uncoordinated movements > Depression or anxious behavior in cases of mild exposure  > Sudden death due to respiratory failure

Other inhaled toxins Your pet bird has a very efficient respiratory system. Compared to mammals, more oxygen is transferred into the blood with each breath. Unfortunately, this means more toxins are also transferred into an exposed bird with each breath, making them more sensitive to harm from inhaled toxins.


The following can all be harmful when they are found or used in close proximity to birds. However, with appropriate ventilation and use, these substances may not be toxic.

> Carbon monoxide and other harmful gases > Smoke from tobacco products > Fumes from new carpets and furniture  > Air fresheners and scented candles  > Paints  > Glues > Household cleaning products      > Mothballs  > Hair spray and nail polish.


Signs are variable based on source and level of exposure.

> Breathing difficulties  > Eye discharge and nasal passage irritation  > Possible immunosuppression       > Sudden death

How to protect companion birds

When using products that give off strong fumes, it’s best to move the bird to a separate room in the home and open windows to ensure plenty of ventilation. Place a towel under the door of the bird’s room to help reduce exposure to fumes. When painting walls in a home, use VOC (volatile organic compound)-free paints. Alternatively, consider boarding birds off-site during construction, remodeling or intense whole-house cleaning until odors have dissipated.