Household Hazards
By Eleanor McCaffrey
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Cockatiels should never be left alone in a room when out of the cage. They go about their business merrily, swiftly and very quietly. In a split second, a pet bird can become the victim of a tragic and oven preventable accident. Losing a bird to a household accident is a devastating experience for people who love their birds. As much as we try to keep our homes safe and bird proof, cockatiels and other parrots can get themselves into a dangerous situation if they are not monitored constantly when they of their cages. Bird proofing the home means that we have to be aware of potentially dangerous situations that can harm our birds well in advance before an accident happens. Think of your bird as a toddler with wings, and exercise the same caution and judgment when your bird is out of the cage. The list of household hazards on this page is extensive and by being aware of these situations, you may be able to prevent an accident and  save the life of your bird.
Non-Stick Cookware: According to the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Poison Control Centers, fumes from overheated Teflon® and other non-stick products coated with PTFE (Polytetraflouethylene ) are lethal to birds. Toxicity occurs when pots are left on a hot stove and they become overheated. It was originally thought that cookware had to reach a temperature of 500° Fahrenheit or 280° Celsius before poisoning occurred. Recently, temperatures as low as 285° F have been found to be fatal to birds. Fumes start being emitted as soon as the product starts heating, resulting in the release of toxic particles into the air that cause severe and irreversable damage to a bird's lungs when inhaled. Birds are unable to clear toxic particles by exhaling or coughing and are therefore more susceptible to this type poisoning. Toxic fumes travel through an entire house quickly. Even if birds are in another room they can still die. Death can occur within a few seconds or it can take up to 24 hours after exposure because the fumes can linger in curtains, upholstery and other materials. Death from overheated non-stick cookware fumes is very painful and necropsy of birds that have died after exposure to these fumes show lesions and hemorrhaging of the lungs.

Teflon® and all brands of non-stick cookware as well as many appliances are coated with a fluoropolymer resin. Different companies have different brand names for the same type of  resin. PTFE coating can be found on pots and pans, skillets, griddles, cookie sheets, cake pans, and other bakeware, stove drip pans and broilers, self-cleaning ovens, electric fry pans, woks, crock pots, deep fryers, popcorn makers, bread machines, indoor grills, and other products such as irons, ironing board pads, curling irons, blow dryers, space heaters and now some types of heat lamps and light bulbs. Always read the accompanying literature for new cookware, appliances, light bulbs to see if it says "NON STICK"  or "PTFE". If it does then it's coated with a fluoropolymer type substance. If you are not sure, call the company and ask. DON'T rely on the say so of the store clerk. Don't take any chances with non-stick cookware or products, thinking it's fine to use as long as it doesn't overheat. Get rid of it. Use stainless steel, aluminum, Pyrex®, enamel or cast iron cookware instead. For more information on Teflon® and Birds, Click Here. Dupont has recently been ordered by the courts (2005) to release documentation that has been kept hidden from the public for 20 years.  Dupont has known for 20 years that fumes from Teflon® can be hazardous to humans and birds. 

Other Kitchen Fumes: Fumes from oven cooking bag, oven liners,  self cleaning ovens, silicone bakeware,  leaking gas, burning plastic handles on pots, burning food, overheated cooking oil, fats, margarine, butter, from burning food on aerosol spray on "Non-Stick" products can be lethal to birds.

Pine Scented Cleaners: These types of disinfecting agents are toxic. Do not use them to clean cages, food and water dishes and do not use them around your bird. Always read labels on cleaning products to see if there are any safety warnings regarding birds.

Chemical Odors: Fumes from mothballs, pesticides, hairsprays, perfumes, nailpolish remover, bleach, ammonia, paint, varnish, paint remover, permanent markers, nicotine, air freshener (sprays & hanging ones in cars/homes and plugins), carpet fresheners, scented candles, incense or any other product with fumes you can smell, can make your bird sick or cause death. Don't use them around your bird. Birds can absorb nicotine on your hands through their skin. Contact with nicotine will make your  bird itchy.
Pesticides: Are toxic. Don't ever use them around your bird.

Remodeling: New carpet backing, paneling, and particleboard contain formaldehyde, and fumes are LETHAL. Paint, varnish and  wallpaper paste all contain toxic fumes. Arrange for someone else to keep your bird until you can no longer smell the fumes.

® Scented Candles: or any scented candles contain lethal amounts of carbon monoxide, soot and essential oils. Products contain warning labels about using around pets. In the USA call Johnson and Johnson Customer Service at 1-800-494-4855. From Canada call 1-877-506-7352 for details.

Molds and Fungi:
Improperly stored seeds and grains as well as other foods may be contaminated with fungi and molds. High humidity, warm temperatures and poor ventilation favor their growth. Seeds, grains, fruit, meat, cheese, bread and other foodstuffs can become toxic if contaminated with molds. Mycotoxins are toxic compounds produced  by many species of mold-causing fungi. Under the right conditions, fungi will multiply rapidly, producing high levels of mycotoxins. "Moderate levels of this compound, if ingested, will cause lesions on a bird's organs and may have carcinogenic effects (cancer causing). High levels of mycotoxins are lethal and can cause mortality within 2-3 days." (Source: Avian Medicine, Principles and Applications, Ritchie, Harrison & Harrison, page 27) Birds and other pets are especially susceptible to being poisoned by mycotoxins because of poor quality control and improper storage of food. Although some molds are visible, like the fuzz on old bread and strawberries,  mycotoxins if present, can not be detected by sight, taste or smell and they can not be destroyed by cooking or freezing.  Never feed your bird mushy, discolored, bruised fruits or vegetables or a food that has mold growing on it. "When in doubt, throw it out." Store seeds in an airtight container, in a cool dry spot. 

Peanuts and Peanut Products: Fresh peanuts, brazil nuts and other nuts in shells, bulk peanut butter, or peanut butter from health food store can  contain a fatal toxin called Aflatoxin. Aflatoxin is, produced by a fungus that grows under the shell of nuts.  Avoid feeding fresh nuts in shells to your birds and only use a high quality commercial peanut butter for your birds. Commercial brands of peanut butter are monitored for aflatoxin.
Heavy Metal Poisoning and Sources of Lead and Zinc: Metal hardware, wires, coat hangers, pennies, twist ties for plastic bags, stems on artificial flowers, Christmas tree ornament hooks, stained glass items, some wire toys, cages with loose solder and chipped paint, fishing weights, drapery weights, costume jewelry, zipper teeth and paint in older homes, glue on cardboard rolls from paper towels and bath tissue, duct tape, metal ends of light bulbs, flooring, lead water pipes in your home, can all contain zinc or lead.  Galvanized metals are also toxic because a coating is applied over a lead or zinc base item. Ingesting heavy metals or rust is LETHAL and will cause death or  permanent neurological damage if not treated immediately. If you have lead or galvanized metal water pipes in your home or your source of drinking water comes from an underground well, avoid giving your bird tap water to drink and bath in. The water could contain lead or zinc. Give your bird bottled water instead.  Symptoms of heavy metal poisoning include loss of balance, muscle weakness, inability to fly, red droppings, vomiting and respiratory distress. Do not let you bird chew on any type of metal or product that contains a glue-like adhesive. 

Infections and Disease: Cockatiels are susceptible to e-coli bacteria and salmonella poisoning, the same as humans. Wash your hands after using the lavatory and after you handle meat. If serving cooked meat to your bird, cook thoroughly and do not re-serve it to your bird after it has been cooked and refrigerated. Keep the cage and feeding dishes clean and free from droppings. Birds  can also get sick from you if you have a bacterial infection, like the flu or a cold.  Don't let your bird eat from your mouth and avoid playing with and handling your bird if you are sick. Wash you hands with hot soapy water and use a hand sanitizer before feeding your bird.

The Pet Shop: Some very serious and contagious avian diseases and infections  can be brought home to your bird after visiting pet shops or bird marts. Many diseases are transmitted by bird dander, circulation of dried droppings, nasal secretions and airborne spores. Some diseases, like PDD and PBFD are fatal to birds. Always shower and change your clothes after being around any other birds. Visitors to your home who own birds, pose the same threat. Don't let strangers handle your bird.

Drafts: Although drafts will not make a healthy, well nourished bird sick, drafts can make birds that are malnourished, getting sick or birds under a great deal of stress sick. Avoid keeping your bird's cage in a draft. Check for both warm and cold drafts by holding a lit candle in the area of the cage. If the flame flickers, there is a draft.

Direct Sunlight: Putting a bird in direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time can cause it to suffer from hypothermia, heatstroke, or heart failure. Symptoms of an overheated bird  include panting and holding wing feathers away from the body. Make sure your bird has access to some shade when taking it outdoors or when next to a sunny windows.

UV Lighting: Light from full spectrum bulbs that are too close to the cage, for more than 3 hours a day is the same as leaving a bird out in the sun from noon to 3 PM.

Lamps: Halogen and torch lamps become dangerously hot. Flying birds that land on them will burn their feet severely. Turn floor lamps off when your bird is out of the cage.

Matchsticks: Unless using child safety matches, matches are poisonous.
Pens, Crayons, Markers: These items contain toxins and are poisonous. Don't let your bird chew on them. Permanent markers also contain fumes that are toxic.

Toys and Cages: Check the cage for things that a bird could get its head, foot or nails stuck into. By struggling to free itself, a bird can break it's neck, toes, feet, or legs. Look for rings, clips, loops, coils of wire and slits in toys. Never purchase a cage with openings large enough for a bird to get its head stuck in. Rope toys fray and toes can get entangled. Use only under supervision. Check cage toys daily for signs of wear that could cause harm.

Water Dispensers: Mechanisms can become jammed, or clogged with a small bird toy, resulting in water deprivation. A bird will die if left without water for 24 hours.

Starvation: Cockatiels are experts in hulling seeds. Often a seed dish will look full when it actually contains only the empty hulls. Check seed cups daily and replenish.

Window, Doors, Mirrors: Birds can fly out of open unscreened windows or doors. Flying into clear glass or mirrors, can result in a concussion, broken neck, or wing. A bird's wings should be clipped moderately so it can glide to the floor.

Keyboards, Carpets, Fabric, Jewelry: Toes and nails can become caught or entangled in the spaces between keys on the computer keyboard, loops from filigree jewelry, (rings and bracelets), loops in carpets, knitted items, terry cloth, lace and frayed ribbon. By struggling to free itself, a bird can break a foot, leg, toe or rip a nail right out of the skin, requiring surgery to repair. Keep nails trimmed.

Electrical Wires and Outlets: A bird will electrocute itself by chewing through a wire from a lamp, or any other electrical appliance.

Houseplants: Philodendron, dieffenbachia, calla lily, amaryllis, dried Eucalyptus mistletoe, poinsettia, leaves from indoor tomato and potato plants, are just a few of many lethal plants. Don't ever spray an indoor plant with a pesticide. Pesticides are lethal.

Tylenol and Drugs According to the American Veterinarian Association, only 2 Tylenol will kill a cat and with repeated use, a dog. Don't ever give your bird any human medications.
 Furniture: Always look at chairs before sitting down. Your bird may be on it and you will crush it to death when you sit down. If you can't find your bird don't sit in a reclining chair.  Your bird may be under it and it will be crushed by the chair's mechanism.

Bathrooms: Keep toilet bowl lids closed. Flying birds can land on the seat, fall into the water and drown.

Sinks and tubs: Bubbles in the water can be mistaken as a landing surface. If a bird steps onto the bubbles or lands on them, it can can get scalded or drown.
Aquariums: Birds are often attracted to both the sight and sound of water. If you keep an aquarium, keep a lid on it to prevent your bird from drowning..

Boiling pots: Don't let your bird out of the cage when cooking. Birds are attracted to shiny objects. Your bird may wander over or fly and land on the the edge of a pot, scalding feet of fall into the pot scalding itself to death.

Hard Floors: Birds with wings clipped too short, will not be able to glide to the floor. Injury can result from a fall. Ask your avian vet for a moderate wing clipping.
Open Windows, Doors and Loose Screens: To prevent your bird from escaping, keep windows closed, check screens to make sure they are not loose and never open doors when your bird is out of the cage

Nooks Birds can get accidentally locked into cupboards, drawers, closets, microwaves, ovens, refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, trashcans and large decorative vases. If not found, they will be injured, starve or suffocate.
Ceiling Fans and Hanging Lamps: A bird will get severely injured, disabled for life or killed instantly if hit by the moving blades of a ceiling lamp. Birds landing on hanging lamps may burn their feet or chew on wires, resulting in electrocution. Tiffany lamps contain lead soder between panels of glass. Birds that ingest it will get lead poisoning. 
Wing Clipping: New evidence has shown that if a baby bird's wings are clipped before learning to fly, it may never learn to fly. Flying has psychological benefits for birds kept in captivity. Research recommends managed flying, where just the tips of flight feathers are clipped for the bird's safety, but the bird can maintain level flight with effort and glide gently when landing. Flight areas in the home should be bird proofed with window curtains shut. Supervise flight times keeping the doors locked. Don't cook and keep other pets excluded from this area.

You: Look before you walk or sit down. You can step or sit on your cockatiel and injure it.

Sleeping with Your Bird: No matter how cute you think it is, don't do it. You will eventually roll over on top of your bird and kill it.

Children: Children can crush a cockatiel to death by grabbing it too tightly. Teach children to look, but not to touch a bird. They can also put tiny things that are dangerous for your bird, such as matchsticks, crayons and chocolate, inside the cage.

Cats and Dogs:  Cats hunt and kill birds. They also carry a bacteria that is lethal to birds. A playful dog can injure tiny organs and bones by pawing or stomping a cockatiel to death. Keep other pets away from your bird.

Bleeding: Birds have growing feathers called blood feathers. A broken blood feather will bleed profusely and losing more than 20% of blood causes death. If you don't know how to remove the shaft, seek medical help immediately. If your bird is injured and bleeds, apply direct pressure  and use cornstarch or white flour as a coagulant. 

Keep the name and phone number of an avian veterinarian near your telephone. Your local veterinarian probably does not treat birds and it can be very difficult locating one during an emergency crisis when you're in a panic. If you don't have the name of an avian veterinarian, Click on the Nurse to find one now. All you do is type in your area code and you will get a listing of all of the avian veterinarians in your area.

Special Thanks to all who have shared
photographs of their birds with us.


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