Parrots have sensitive respiratory systems and can quickly die from inhaling toxic substances. One of the most serious types of toxicosis, called Teflon poisoning, comes from non-stick cookware. If certain pots and pans are overheated, they can release fumes that can kill your parrot in minutes.
The only bird-safe cookware brands are those that do not use any PFAS chemicals in their products. PFAS chemicals include PTFE (Teflon), PFOA, and PFOS. Look for uncoated pots and pans, such as cast iron, ceramic, and aluminum. Avoid cookware that is labeled as non-stick unless it’s clearly labeled PFAS-free.
Any frying pan or saucepan with a non-stick coating is potentially dangerous for parrots. The packaging doesn’t have to mention the word Teflon for it to pose a problem.
What Is Teflon Poisoning in Birds?
Teflon poisoning, also known as PTFE poisoning, is a potentially fatal condition that affects birds. It can occur in any parrot species, including macaws, cockatoos, parakeets, and lorikeets.
PFTE poisoning occurs when a parrot inhales toxic fumes emitted by non-stick cookware. These fumes are completely odorless and not visible to the naked eye. You should also avoid candles around birds.
PTFE stands for polytetrafluoroethylene, which is the proper name for Teflon. The vast majority of non-stick pots and pans will contain PTFE or a similar chemical in the same family. These pans are deemed safe for human use, but they can pose a real danger to pet parrots.
When used at a low temperature, non-stick pots and pans don’t pose a problem. They only emit toxic fumes when heated to above 500 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that your parrot will be safe if you’re exclusively cooking on low to medium heat. However, it’s safest to eliminate the risk by completely avoiding cookware containing PTFE or similar chemicals.
Parrots can be affected by Teflon or PTFE poisoning even if they’re several rooms away from the kitchen. They can die minutes to hours after being exposed to the fumes. Often, an affected parrot won’t exhibit any symptoms of illness until it’s too late.
Parrots aren’t the only birds that can be affected by PTFE. A study in Comparative Medicine describes an incident where 60 chickens were killed by PTFE poisoning. The substance was used to coat heat lamps affixed to their cages.
How to Tell If a Pan Has Teflon
You might assume that a pan is safe to use around your parrot if the packaging doesn’t mention Teflon. However, this is not necessarily true. Teflon is a trademarked brand name for PTFE or polytetrafluoroethylene. The Teflon name will only be found on cookware made by a company called DuPont.
However, many other cookware brands still use PTFE – they just don’t use the word Teflon. They may use other names, such as Eterna or QuanTanium. What’s more, PTFE isn’t the only chemical found in frying pans that can harm parrots.
The chemicals responsible for Teflon poisoning in parrots are called PFASs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). PTFE and Teflon are examples of PFAS chemicals. Other chemicals in the same group include PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid). They can all emit fumes when heated and are all equally dangerous for parrots.
All PFAS share similar qualities. According to Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, PFASs are hydrophobic and lipophobic (grease-proof). This means that food won’t stick to them because they repel water, oils, and fats. They are also heat-resistant, meaning they can withstand high temperatures without breaking down.
Almost all pots and pans that are labeled as non-stick will contain one or more PFAS chemicals. Parrots and non-stick cookware don’t mix unless the non-stick coating is made of PFAS-free enamel or ceramic.
Other Products That Contain PTFE
Many bird owners are concerned about the dangers of parrots and frying pans. However, PFASs aren’t only found in pots, pans, and skillets. Many more household products may contain similar chemicals that could be dangerous for your birds. Some examples of other household items which may contain PFASs (such as Teflon) may include:
- Non-stick baking trays, cookie sheets, and cake pans
- Self-cleaning ovens
- Waffle irons
- Portable grills and stoves
- Sandwich toasters
- Air fryers
- Bread machines
- Rice cookers
- Hot air popcorn makers
- Coffee makers
- Hair dryers
- Clothes irons
- Hair curling wands and straightening irons
- Space heaters
- Certain lightbulbs, such as heat lamps used to warm aquariums and reptile habitats
According to Environmental Science and Technology, some brands of microwave popcorn bags can also contain PFAS.
The above list is far from exhaustive. Be wary of anything labeled non-stick and any appliance in your home that heats up. If you’re unsure if something is safe, contact the item’s manufacturer.
What Are the Signs of Teflon Poisoning in Birds?
The poisoning that occurs when a parrot inhales fumes from PFAS chemicals is often called Teflon poisoning. It’s also known as PTFE poisoning or Teflon toxicosis. It’s frequently fatal, and there is no cure for it.
Your parrot doesn’t have to be in the room while you’re cooking (or using the appliance) to be affected. Teflon fumes can seep under doors and into other parts of the house. Parrots can die from PTFE poisoning up to 3 rooms away from the offending pan or appliance. The signs of Teflon poisoning in birds are often subtle. They include:
- Respiratory distress (wheezing, gulping, raspy-sounding breaths, struggling to breathe)
- Tail bobbing
- Falling off the perch
- Sitting on the floor of the cage
- Unusual body movements, or vocalizations that seem stressed or agitated
- Fluffed feathers
Not every parrot will exhibit the above symptoms when they have inhaled toxic fumes. Many parrots affected by Teflon poisoning die suddenly, without any prior warning.
It only takes a few minutes for a bird to breathe in a fatal amount of toxic fumes. The fumes quickly damage the bird’s lungs, causing them to hemorrhage, which leads to suffocation. The parrot may die within minutes of being poisoned or up to 24 hours later.
If you suspect your parrot has breathed in fumes from non-stick cookware, take it to a veterinarian immediately. The vet may have to administer emergency oxygen to keep your bird alive while its lungs heal.
What Cookware is Safe for Parrots?
The best pots and pans for parrots are free from all PFASs. PFASs are chemicals that emit toxic fumes when heated above a certain temperature. Teflon, PFOA, PFOS, and PTFE are all examples of PFASs.
According to the EPA, cookware made using PFOA or PFOS can no longer be manufactured in the United States. However, goods imported from other countries may still contain these chemicals. And other PFASs, including Teflon, are still perfectly legal – and just as harmful to parrots.
So, how can you be sure that your cookware is safe for your parrot? As a general rule, if it has a non-stick coating, it’s probably unsuitable. The only exceptions are hard enamel surfaces that are specifically advertised as PFAS-free. Most pots and pans that do not have a non-stick coating will pose no danger to your birds.
Are Cast Iron Pans Safe for Parrots?
Cast iron pans are heavy, hardy, and long-lasting. They are safe to use around parrots, as they do not have a non-stick coating. They, therefore, do not emit any toxic fumes that may be dangerous for birds.
Before using a cast iron pan, you need to season it to prevent food from sticking. Seasoning a cast iron pan involves applying a light coating of oil. The pan is then heated to at least 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Never season a cast iron pan in the same room as a parrot. The fumes emitted by the oil alone could make your bird sick. Ensure your bird is at least 3 rooms away and that the house is properly ventilated.
Not all cast iron pans are safe to use around parrots. Some cast-iron pans contain other materials as well as iron. This usually serves to create a coating inside the pan that removes the need for seasoning.
Be wary of any cast iron pan that claims to be non-stick, as it may contain PFASs. Always check with the manufacturer if you’re unsure.
Cast iron cookware is heavy. This may make it unsuitable for those who have trouble lifting or carrying heavy objects. Cast iron pans also tend to be quite expensive to buy.
Are Ceramic Pans Safe for Birds?
Ceramic cookware is a popular alternative to Teflon coated non-stick cookware. There are two main types of ceramic cookware:
- Pots and pans made from ceramic (clay), with a hard enamel coating
- Cookware made from metal, such as aluminum or cast iron, with a shiny ceramic coating on the inside (such as Le Creuset)
The term ‘ceramic’ can be used to refer to either type of cookware. The main draw of ceramic cookware is that its smooth, shiny enamel coating is naturally non-stick. It doesn’t use PTFE and can easily be wiped clean.
Enamel coated and ceramic cookware is generally safe for parrots. However, always read the packaging and instructions carefully before using it in a house with birds. Some ceramic cookware brands may use PFASs, such as PTFE, to boost the pan’s non-stick abilities.
Brands such as GreenPan and GreenLife use ceramic coatings inside their non-stick pans. These brands are popular among parrot owners, as they do not use PFASs or heavy metals.
Is Hard Anodized Cookware Safe for Parrots?
Hard anodized cookware is made from treated aluminum. The anodization process treats the metal to prevent it from reacting with certain foods (e.g., acids). It also makes it more durable than untreated aluminum.
On its own, anodized aluminum has non-stick properties. This makes it a popular choice for cookware. It’s more convenient than using cast iron pans that need to be seasoned frequently. It typically doesn’t contain a Teflon or PTFE coating, making it safe for parrots.
That being said, some hard-anodized aluminum pans may have an additional coating to enhance the non-stick abilities. Before purchasing an anodized pan, ensure that it is uncoated and does not contain harmful chemicals.
Is Stainless Steel Cookware Safe for Birds?
Stainless steel pots and pans are completely safe to use in the same home as a parrot. However, you must ensure that they are uncoated and made from 100% stainless steel. Pure stainless steel pans should be silver in color, with a shiny, smooth finish inside.
If the pan’s interior looks black or has a matte (dull) finish, then the pan probably has a coating. The packaging should indicate what the coating is made of. Don’t use the pan in the same house as your parrot unless you’re sure it’s PFAS free.
If you’ve never cooked with stainless steel cookware, it can take some getting used to. Because stainless steel pans are uncoated, they aren’t non-stick. This means you must use oil or fat while cooking to prevent your food from sticking. Cooking on a low-to-medium heat can also help.
Carbon steel pans are also safe for parrots. These pans are made of steel that hasn’t been treated, so they can rust if not properly dried. Again, ensure that the pan doesn’t have a non-stick coating before buying.
Is Titanium Cookware Safe for Parrots?
Titanium cookware isn’t traditional, but it’s becoming more and more popular. It’s a durable, scratch-resistant metal, but the main draw is that it’s lightweight. This makes titanium pans easier to hold and carry for people who find cast iron too heavy.
The problem with titanium pans is that titanium does not have any natural non-stick properties. This means that titanium pans are often coated with a non-stick substance such as Teflon or PTFE. This makes titanium cookware easier to use, but it also makes it dangerous for birds.
If you’re considering purchasing titanium cookware, check what it’s coated with (if anything). The packaging should clearly state that it is free from all PFASs, including PFOA, PTFE, and PFOS. A “PFOA free” label on its own is meaningless, as it may contain other PFASs.
Are Crock Pots Safe for Parrots?
Crock pots, otherwise known as slow cookers, are appliances designed to simmer food at a low temperature. Most crock pots are made of ceramic, porcelain, or stainless steel. They do not usually have a coating that contains PTFE and are therefore safe for parrots.
However, you must read the packaging and instructions carefully before using a crock pot around your parrot. Some crock pots have non-stick coatings on the inside that contain harmful chemicals.
Crock pots usually don’t get hotter than 300 degrees Fahrenheit. PTFE cookware starts to release toxic fumes at 500 F. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Avoid buying or using any crock pot unless you’re sure that it doesn’t have a PTFE coating.
If the packaging doesn’t mention PFASs, or the language used isn’t clear, contact the manufacturer for advice.
Bird Safe Cookware Brands
Any cookware brand that does not use PFASs (like Teflon, PFOA, or PTFE) is safe for birds. Some examples of bird-safe cookware brands include:
- Le Creuset (ceramic-coated cast iron range only)
- DeBuyer (carbon steel and stainless steel ranges only)
- All-Clad (stainless steel range only)
Before purchasing any new cookware, always check the packaging. Do not buy cookware labeled as non-stick unless the packaging explicitly states that it is free from all PFASs, including PFOA and PTFE. It’s best to contact the manufacturer if the packaging uses ambiguous terminology or doesn’t mention PFASs at all.
Regardless of the cookware you use, your parrot shouldn’t be in the kitchen with you while you’re cooking. This is because parrots are sensitive to fumes and gases of any kind.
Parrots can get sick from the fumes given off by cooking spicy, highly flavored, or smoky foods. Birds are also sensitive to the vapors emitted by cleaning products. Always clean your oven, stove, and pans with a natural cleaner, such as vinegar or baking soda. Avoid using chemicals like bleach or ammonia in the same house as a parrot.
While cooking, cleaning, or using any appliance that heats up or emits fumes, you should ventilate your home. Open as many windows as possible, and ensure your parrot is 3 rooms away, behind closed doors.