Avian specialists at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine have warned of several potential aerosol toxicoses, and have urged bird owners to take special precautions.

“Birds are exquisitely sensitive to aerosol toxins, much more so than humans,” said Leslie Woods, professor of clinical pathology, microbiology and immunology at the school.

“That is why canaries were used in the coal mines as sentinels for gas leaks to give the workers time to vacate the mines. Their fragile respiratory anatomy and physiology will cause them to die long before humans. If the workers saw dead canaries in the mines, they knew the environment was not safe for them.”

Dr Wood is an avian pathologist at the California Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS) laboratory at UC Davis. CAHFS has discovered items such as self-cleaning ovens and Teflon-coated cooking pans can be culprits in bird deaths.

Non-stick surfaces emit polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) gas, the cause of Teflon toxicosis, when heated above 260C (500F), a temperature that can be attained when the coated pans are left to boil dry or food is left to burn on to the pan. PTFE gas can kill birds within minutes.

“When I use my self-cleaning oven, I put the birds outside,” said Dr Woods. “The odour – and therefore the gas – can be detected throughout the house and mostly upstairs, since PTFE gas rises. So it is not enough to just move the birds to another part of the house when using an item that may emit PTFE gas.”

Other PTFE sources include Teflon-coated irons, ironing board covers, heat lamps, and the heating elements of some reverse-cycle heat pumps. UC Davis veterinarians warn, though, that there are many other toxins beyond just PTFE that affect the fragile respiratory system of birds.

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