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How To Tell if Your Bird Has Been Poisoned and What To Do About It Now

By Diane Burroughs

Revised 12/28/2022

poisoned birds

Table of Contents

 

Did you know that common household items such as cleaning products, air fresheners, and even certain plants can pose a serious risk to your pet bird? These poisons for birds can be fatal if not detected quickly. Even if you take precautions to keep your pet bird safe, it is important to be aware of potential dangers in your home. In this blog post, we will discuss common household poisons that could be fatal to your pet bird, including discovering poison fumes, plants, and more.

Birds poisoning is a frequent occurrence.  Bird’s have very unique bodies including specialized respiratory systems and digestive systems. They may be exposed to a variety of toxins and poisons in their cages or as they explore or perch around your home.


quotation markBird poisoning can occur through inhalation of fumes, consuming poisons, or even by absorbing poisons through their skin.


Lead paint from foreign manufactured bird cage bars or toys, consuming too much salt from human snacks such as crackers or chips or chewing on pop cans may lead to death or thousands in veterinary bills.  Discover what toxic items in your home may contribute to poisoned birds and how to tell if your bird has been poisoned.

Fumes and aerosols

Birds have a highly sophisticated and ultra efficient respiratory system, making them particularly vulnerable to the inhalation of fumes and aerosols, which can be poisons for birds. Many everyday items can be toxic to your pet bird if not used properly. It is important to be aware of potential household toxins and take precautionary measures to protect your feathered friend.

Common sources of fumes and aerosol chemicals to be aware of include aerosol sprays, cleaning supplies, air fresheners, paints and paint removers, mothballs, gasoline, and insecticides. Any of these products that contain volatile organic compounds or strong odors could be hazardous for your bird. When using any of these items, make sure you are in a well-ventilated area away from your pet bird. Consider using natural alternatives to some of these items when possible, such as baking soda and vinegar for cleaning, or beeswax candles instead of chemical air fresheners.

Additionally, never use a non-stick cooking surface like Teflon (PTFE) around birds, as the fumes from this product can be fatal. PTFE isn't just on cookware. It is on carpets, mattresses, clothing, furniture, and other fabric surfaces. It is even on some pet toys and lightbulbs. If heated above 300 degrees F it will emit toxic fumes which can kill an unprotected bird within minutes.

Whenever you are using an appliance that heats up, take a look at whether it is coated with Teflon or other non-stick coatings. This could include ovens, space heaters, blow dryers, curling irons, and irons. Play it safe and never use a Teflon-coated appliance in the same room that your bird is in.

Birds and teflon exposure

A Teflon pan can heat up to toxic levels within just a few minutes killing thousands of pet birds every year. At least 6 toxic gases are emitted at temperatures as low as 325. When exposed to the fumes, a bird's lungs hemorrhage and fill up with fluids causing the bird to suffocate. Learn more about how PTFE is  poisonous to birds here.

Don't take a chance. Get rid of your teflon cookware.

  • Never run a space heater near your bird.
  • Never clean the oven with a bird in the proximity. If you need to clean your oven, take your bird to a place where it has plenty of ventilation.
  • Never expose your bird to fragrances, chemical air fresheners,
  • Never use aerosol sprays around your bird.

Cigarettes and smoke

 

via GIPHY

 

Cigarette smoke, marijuana smoke, and even smoke from fires can be highly poisonous to birds. Not only do the fumes cause them physical discomfort and irritation, but the smoke particles can also be incredibly harmful if inhaled. Even second-hand smoke or smoke from candles can have an adverse effect on the respiratory health of birds. If you are a smoker, it is best to keep your pet bird in a separate area of your house that has been ventilated to avoid exposing it to any dangerous poisons for birds. 

Wood-burning fireplaces can also produce dangerous poisons for birds. The smoke created when wood burns contain carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and benzene which can all be lethal to birds. In addition, the creosote produced by wood-burning stoves can release toxins into the air which can contaminate the atmosphere within your home. Often, wood-burning fireplaces cause sudden death in birds. 

Smoke damage may not be immediately apparent. And, keep in mind that birds instinctively hide illness and injuries. Any sign of unusual behavior should be taken seriously, especially if you suspect exposure to a toxic substance like smoke. Seek medical advice right away if your bird experiences persistent coughing, sneezing, wheezing, breathing difficulties, discharge from the nostrils or eyes, or changes in vocalizations such as croaking or gasping.  

In addition to avoiding smoke, it's important to feed your bird a diet of pellets and nutritious plant-based foods. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes are all excellent sources of vitamins and minerals that can help keep your bird healthy and happy. This helps their respiratory immune defenses.  

It's important to never smoke around your pet birds as they are incredibly sensitive to the effects of smoke. If you do smoke, make sure you always wash your hands afterward and change your clothing before interacting with your bird. Doing this will ensure that the smoke residue and toxins on your hands or clothes do not get transferred onto your bird. 

It's also important to protect your bird during times of poor air quality. Wildfires, dust storms, and other environmental disasters can result in increased levels of smoke and other pollutants in the air. If this happens, it's best to keep your bird inside with the windows closed and in an air-conditioned house if possible. This will help to filter out any smoke or toxins from the air and keep your bird safe from harm. 

If you notice any of the signs mentioned above, it is important to get veterinary help immediately. This can include symptoms like breathing hard, bobbing their tails, sitting on the bottom of the cage fluffed up, or just acting lethargic and not wanting to eat much. If these signs are present, your bird may be suffering from the effects of smoke poisoning and needs to be seen by a veterinarian right away. 

Chemicals that are poisonous to birds​​

Household chemicals can be very dangerous for birds. Many common household products such as bleach, disinfectants, detergents, paint and solvents contain toxic chemicals that can be fatal if ingested by a bird. Even cleaning supplies labeled "non-toxic" can contain harmful ingredients that can cause serious harm.  

• Ammonia – This is a common ingredient in window cleaners, floor cleaners and some detergents. Even low concentrations of ammonia can irritate a bird's lungs, eyes and skin.

• Chlorine – This is found in many household cleaners and swimming pool treatments. Ingestion of chlorine can cause respiratory distress and eye damage.

• Insecticides – Many insecticides are highly toxic to birds and can cause severe neurological damage if ingested. If you must use insecticides, be sure to read the label carefully and follow all safety instructions.

• Rodenticides – These products contain ingredients that can cause severe gastrointestinal and neurological damage in birds.

• Paint and Solvents – Paints and solvents contain a variety of toxins, including lead and other heavy metals, that can be deadly if ingested. Before using any type of paint or solvent, make sure your pet bird is safely out of the area.  

It is important to remember that even small amounts of chemicals can be poisonous to birds, so always take precautions when using any type of product around your pet bird. Store all hazardous materials out of reach and keep them tightly sealed to prevent accidental ingestion. 

It is important to be aware of the common symptoms of chemical poisoning in birds, so you can act quickly if your pet bird is exposed. Symptoms to be on the lookout for include difficulty breathing, lethargy, eye irritation, nausea, vomiting, and seizures. If you suspect that your bird has been exposed to a chemical, it is important to seek veterinary attention right away. 

Heavy Metal Poisoning: A common cause of death in pet birds

via GIPHY

 

Heavy metal toxicosis is a serious health risk for pet birds, as they are particularly sensitive to heavy metals. Common sources of heavy metal poisoning include lead-based paints, galvanized wire, lead shot, zinc, copper and brass. Even ingesting small amounts of these substances can cause serious damage to your pet bird's internal organs, leading to illness and even death. 

Signs of heavy metal poisoning in birds include lethargy, weakness, decreased appetite, and respiratory problems such as labored breathing and tail bobbing. A bird with heavy metal poisoning may also have a greenish or blackish discoloration to its feathers and skin.  

To prevent heavy metal poisoning, always be aware of the materials used to build your bird's cage, toys, and other accessories. Inspect all toys and cages for any signs of rust or flaking paint that could contain lead. Additionally, never allow your pet bird access to any household items made from galvanized wire or other metals that could contain lead or other heavy metals.  

Birds can also be exposed to heavy metals through bird toys that are made with galvanized wire, lead, or zinc - with lead being, by far, the most commonly seen. There are all sorts of household items in common homes that could harm a bird such as toys, curtain weights, jewelry, imported metal cages, caulking compounds, batteries, solder, fishing weights, foil, jig heads, tank linings, bearings, ceramics, plastics, candy wrappers, inks, paint, ammunition, and leaded glass. 

Many inexpensive or foreign bird toys contain these materials, and if your pet bird chews or swallows any of these parts, it could lead to toxicosis. Be sure to inspect all of your bird's toys before giving them to your pet and throw away any toys that contain these materials. Look for bird toys made from natural materials such as wood or leather that are free from dangerous chemicals or metals. 

If you suspect your pet bird has been exposed to any heavy metals, seek veterinary care immediately. The vet can perform a blood test to determine if the bird has been poisoned, as well as take steps to treat the toxicity and improve the bird's health. 

Symptoms of heavy metal toxicity include lethargy, decreased appetite, weakness, labored breathing, tail bobbing, and greenish or blackish discoloration of feathers and skin. If your bird is displaying any of these symptoms, you should seek veterinary care immediately to determine if the bird has been poisoned and take important life-saving steps to treat the toxicity. 

Foods that are poisonous to birds

There are a few common household foods that can be fatal to your pet bird.

via GIPHY

  1. Avocado contains persin, a fatty acid-like substance that can be toxic to birds.  
  2. Caffeine, chocolate, and salt should also be avoided as they can be toxic to birds.
  3. Fats from processed foods should also be avoided, as well as fruit pits and apple seeds which can cause choking or an intestinal blockage.
  4. Onions and garlic can cause anemia in birds and xylitol, which is often used as an artificial sweetener, is also toxic to birds.  

It is so important to research any new food before offering it to your pet bird. 

With that being said, birds need to eat a variety of bird-safe, raw plant-based foods for proper nutrition. Some great examples of bird-safe plant-based foods are carrots, celery, kale, broccoli, apples (without seeds or core), and various types of sprouts.

Make sure to avoid any food that is overly processed or contains a lot of sugar. As long as you provide a variety of fresh, nutritious food for your pet bird, it should be healthy and safe from any potential toxins. 

Plants that are poisonous to birds

There's a new trend in the world of avian nutrition: uncooked plant-based foods. Variety is the key. Many avian nutrition experts suggest a diet of 40-50% organic pellets and 40-50% of nutrient-rich, plant-based foods that include fruits, vegetables, sprouts, fresh grains, herbs, flowers, and the like. Various bird-food specialty companies are starting to sprout up to support these nutritional needs.  

However, it is important to know that many common household plants can be poisonous to birds. Be sure to research any plant before bringing it into your home to make sure it is not hazardous to your feathered friend - or other pets. Some of the most toxic plants for birds include lilies, amaryllis, azalea, holly, begonia, caladium, English ivy, and mistletoe. Even if a plant is not poisonous itself, the fertilizer used on it may contain toxic elements, such as zinc or lead.  

Bird owners should also be aware of the dangers of mushrooms growing in their yards or gardens. Many species of mushrooms are deadly to birds, and these fungi should be removed immediately. Finally, be aware of the types of products used in the home that may contain plants or fungi.  

Symptoms of Bird Poisoning

Look for these common symptoms of bird poisoning. Depending on the toxin, your bird may display one or more of these common poisoning signs: 

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Lethargy 
  • Increased urination 
  • Blindness 
  • Tremors 
  • Excitability 
  • Depression 
  • Staggering or lack of coordination 
  • Falling from perch 
  • Convulsions 
  • Coma 

First Aid For A Poisoned Bird 

  1. Immediately get your bird to safety.

  2. Foreye contact, flush the eye with lukewarm water or an eye wash.

  3. Forskin contact, flush the affected area with water.

  4. Forfume intoxication, remove the bird from the area altogether. Head over to your vets office immediately.

  5. Stabilize your bird in a clean, warm, safe bird hospital cage. 

Call your veterinarian now!

  • Bring a sample of the poison and its packaging.
  • Bring a sample of the bird's most recent droppings.
  • Provide general supportive care. 

Common Culprits in Bird Poisoning

Respiratory Poisoning in Parrots 

  • Cleaning fumes 
  • General household cleaners
  • Paint fumes
  • Teflon
  • Exposure to chemicals that irritate your respiratory system
  • Insecticides
  • Bleach fumes 

Ingested Products

  • Chocolate
  • Onions and Garlic
  • Comfrey (herb)
  • Avocado
  • Fruit Pits and apple seeds
  • High fat, sodium or sugar foods
  • Sugar-free candy
  • Alcohol
  • Mushrooms
  • Caffeine
  • Tomato leaves
  • Dried, uncooked beans
  • Certain household plants
  • Human medication
  • Certain household plants 

(The following is a list of some potentially toxic plants. Be sure you correctly identified all plants in your bird's environment.When using these lists, ensure you use the Scientific Name to identify Plants, if uncertain remove the plant )

(Abbreviations: Spp=subspecies, Sp=species)

Plant Name

Scientific Name

Parts Known to be Poisonous

Acokanthera

Acokanthera spp.

all parts toxic

Amaryllis

Amaryllidaceae

Bulbs

American Yew

Taxus canadensis

Needles, seeds

Angel's Trumpet

Datura spp.,

leaves, seeds, flowers

Apricot

Prunus armeniaca,

pits, leaves, and bark

* Autumn Crocus

Colchicum autumnalle

bulb

Avocado

Persea americana

pit, leaves, unripe fruit, and stems

Azalea

Rhododendron occidentale

Leaves

Balsam pear

Memordica charantia

Seeds, outer rind of fruit

Baneberry

Actaia spp.

Berries, roots

Belladonna

Atropa belladonna

All parts

Bird of Paradise

Caesalpina gilliesii

Seeds

Bittersweet

Celastrus spp.

All parts

Black Locust

Robinia pseudoacacia

Bark, sprouts, foliage

* Bleeding Heart

Dicentra

all parts

Bluegreen algae

Schizophycaea spp

Some forms toxic

Bracken Fern

Pteridium aquilinum

All parts

Some forms toxic Boxwood

Buxus sempervirens

Leaves, stems

Buckthorn

Rhamnus spp.

Fruit, bark

Burdock

Arctium spp.

All parts

Buttercup

Ranunculus spp.

Sap, bulbs

Calla lily

Zantedeschia aethiopica

Leaves

Caladium

Caladium spp.

Leaves and rhizome

Castor Oil Plant

Ricinus communis

Beans, leaves

Catclaw Acacia

Acacia greggii,

twigs and leaves

Chalice vine

Solandra spp.

All parts

Cherry tree

Prunus spp.

Bark, twigs, leaves, pits

Chinaberry

Melia azadarach

All parts

Chokecherry

Birdcherry Prunus

seeds (stones),

Christmas candle

Pedilanthus tithymaloides

Sap

Clematis

Clematis spp.

All parts

Coral plant

Jatropha multifida

Seeds

Cowslip

Caltha polustris

Seeds

Crocus (autumn)

Cholchicum autumnale

All parts

Cycad, or Sago Cycas

Cycas revoluta

All parts

Daffodil

Narcissus spp

Bulbs

Daphne

Daphne spp.

Berries

Datura

Datura spp.

Berries

Deadly amanita

Amanita muscaria

All parts

Death camas

Zygadenis elegans

All parts

Delphinium

Delphinium spp.

All parts

Devil's Ivy

Epipremnum aureum

All parts

Dieffenbachia

Dieffenbachia picta

Leaves

Eggplant

Solanaceae spp.

All parts but fruit

Elderberry

Sambucus mexicana,

roots, leaves, stems, bark

Elephant's ear (taro)

Colocasis spp.

Leaves, stem

English ivy

Ilex aquafolium

Berries, leaves

English yew

Taxus baccata

needles, seeds

Euonymus

Euonymus spp.

fruit, bark, leaves

European Pennroyal

Mentha pulegium

False henbane

Veratrum woodii

All parts

Figs

Ficus spp

sap

Fly agaric mushroom (deadly amanita)

Amanita muscaria

All parts

Four o'clock

Mirabilis jalapa

All parts

Foxglove

Digitalis purpurea

Leaves, seeds

Golden chain (laburnum)

Laburnum anagyroides

All parts, especially seeds

Heliotrope

Heliotropium spp.,

leaves

Hemlock

poison Conium spp.

All parts, especially roots and seeds

Hemlock

water Conium spp.

All parts especially roots and seeds

Henbane

Hyocyanamus niger

Seeds

Holly

Ilex spp.

Berries

Horse chestnut

Aesculus spp.

Nuts, twigs

Horse Nettle

Solanum carolinense

All parts

Hyacinth

Hyacinthinus orientalis

Bulbs

Hydrangea

Hydrangea spp.

Flower,bud

Indian turnip (jackinthepulpit)

Arisaema triphyllum

All parts

Iris (blue flag)

Iris spp.

Bulbs

Ivy (Boston, English, and some others)

Hedera spp.

All parts

Japanese yew

Taxus cuspidata

Needles, seeds

Java bean (lima bean)

Phaseolus lunatus

Uncooked beans

Jerusalem cherry

Solanum pseudocapsicum

Berries

Jessamine, Yellow

Gelsemium sempervirens,

leaves, stems

Jonquil

Narcissus jonquilla

All parts

Jimsonweed (thornapple)

Datura spp.

Leaves, seeds

Juniper

Juniperus virginiana

Needles, stems, berries

Lantana

Lantana spp.

Immature berries

Larkspur

Delphinium spp.

All parts

Laurel Kalmia, Ledum

Rhododendron spp.

All parts

Lilly of the valley

Convallaria majalis

All parts, including the water in which they have been kept

Lobelia

Lobelia spp.

All parts

Locoweed

Astragalu mollissimus

All parts

Lords and ladies (cuckoopint)

arum sp.

All parts

Lupine

Lupinus spp.

All parts

Marijuana

Cannabis sativa

Leaves

Mayapple

Podophyllum spp.

All parts, except fruit

Mescal bean

Sophora spp.

Seeds

Mistletoe

Santalales spp.

Berries

Milkweed

Asclepias spp.

All parts

Mock orange

Poncirus spp.

Fruit

Monkshood

Aconitum spp.

Leaves, roots

Moonseed

Menispermum canadense

All parts

Morning glory

Ipomoea spp.

All parts

Mushrooms

Amanita spp. and many others

All parts

Narcissus

Narcissus spp.

Bulbs

Nightshades (all types)

Solanum spp.

Berries, leaves

Oak

Quercus

acorn, young plant

Oleander

Nerium oleander

Leaves, branches, nectar of blossoms

Pennyroyal

Mentha pulegium

All parts

Peach

Prunus persica,

leaves, pit, bark

Peony

Paeonia officinalis

All parts

Periwinkle

Vinca minor, Vinca rosea

All parts

Peyote

Lophophora williamsii

All parts

Philodendron

Philodendron spp.

Leaves, stems

Pigweed

Amaranthus spp.

All parts

Plum

Prunus spp.,

leaves, pit, bark

Poison Hemlock

Conium maculatum

All parts

Poison ivy

Toxicodendron radicans

Sap

Poison oak

Toxicodendron quercifolium

Sap

Poison Sumac

Rhux vernix

All parts

Poinsettia

Euphorobia pulcherrima

Leaves, flowers

Pokeweed (inkberry)

Phytolacca americans

Leaves, roots, immature berries

Poppy

Papaver somniferum and related spp.

All parts

Potato

Solanum tuberosum

Eyes and new shoots

Pothos

Eprimemnun aureum

All parts

Primrose

Primula spp.

All parts

Privet

Lingustrum volgare

All parts, includling berries

Ragwort

Senecio jacobea and related spp.

All parts

Red Maple

Acer rubrum

All parts

Rhododendron

Rhododendron spp.

All parts

Rhubarb

Rheum rhaponticum

Leaves

Rosary pea (Indian licorice)

Abrus precatorius

Seeds

Sage

Salvia officinalis

All parts

Sedum

Sedum

All parts

Shamrock Plant

Medicago lupulina, Trifolium repens, Oxalis acetosella

All parts

Skunk cabbage

Symplocarpus foetidus

All parts

Snowdrop

Ornithogalum umbellatum

All parts, especially buds

Snow on the mountain (ghostweed)

Euphorbia marginata

All parts

Sorrel

Rumex spp., Oxalis spp.

All parts

Spindle Tree

Euonymus

leaves, fruit, bark

Spurges

Euphorbia spp.

All parts

Star of Bethlehem

Ornithogalum umbellatum

All parts

Sweet pea

Lathryus latifolius

Seeds and fruit

Tansy

Tanacetum vulgare

all parts

Tobacco

Nicotinia spp.

Leaves

Tomato

Lycopersicon esculentum

stems and leaves

Tulip

Tulipa spp.

All parts

Vetches

Vicia spp.

All parts

Virginia creeper

Pathenocissu quinquefolia

Sap

Water Hemlock

Cicuta spp.

Waxberry

Symphoricarpos albus

Western yew

Taxus breviflora

Needles, seeds

Wisteria

Wisteria spp.

All parts

Yam bean

Pachyrhizus erosus

Roots, immature pods

 

Prevention

The best cure for bird poisoning is prevention. Bird-proof your home before your bird is exposed to or gets into a poisonous substance.

  • Teflon products
  • Cleaning solutions, especially aerosols
  • Heavy metals - use only reputable bird toys and bird supplies
  • Never give your bird pop cans to chew
  • Mop up all potentially poisonous spills immediately. 

References:

http://www.theparrotsocietyuk.org/veterinary-advice/poisons-and-parrots

Avian First Aid DVD by Greg Burkett, DVM

https://wagwalking.com/bird/condition/heavy-metal-toxicosis


https://theparrotsocietyuk.org/site/index.php/parrot-information/veterinary-advice/poisons-parrots/poisons-and-toxins/

https://whisperingpinespc.com/bird-safety-toxic-effects-smoke/

 

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Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. Diane has written a number of bird behavior books and she offers behavior consultations. She's developed a range of UnRuffledRx Science-backed Parrot Wellness Supplies.

Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians. Her bird collars & supplements are stocked in avian vet clinics and bird stores throughout the US. With over 30 years in the field of behavior, Diane has created thousands of successful individualized behavior plans that help pets thrive.

TAGS: #BirdPoisoning #PoisonedBirds

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