Recently, a parrot that I had never met, but had heard countless stories about was lost to the emissions from non-stick coated cookware. The loss hit hard. This rescue bird had just found a new home.
The morning following bringing home their new bird, a couple brought him into the kitchen while they prepared breakfast. They knew about the dangers of cooking with a teflon coated pan, but they were under the impression that it was the food cooked in these pans that was toxic to parrots. This turned out to be a tragic mistake. Within minutes, their bird went into respiratory arrest. The lungs quickly filled with fluid. The bird, gasping for air, collapsed and died.
The necropsy showed lungs that were black and filled with blood after blood vessels had burst. This was a horrible, and preventable death. It took only moments. His new caregivers were distraught and overwhelmed by guilt.
Teflon, which was invented by Dupont in 1946, was supposed to revolutionize modern cooking, but it was found that the surfaces coated with this product were brittle and easily damaged resulting in flaking. The flakes wound up in our food. The upgraded and more durable version was Silverstone. Including Analon and Circulon, there are several non-stick cookware coatings still on the market. One thing they all have in common is the emission of PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) gasses. Their names may be different but their components are the same, and the off-gassed chemicals are just as deadly.
A big misconception is that in order to cause the off-gassing, you need to leave an empty pan on the stove over a very high temperature. This is true, and your room will quickly fill with PFTE gasses. BUT, recent studies have shown that the gasses are emitted at much lower temperatures than previously thought, and with food present in the cookware. Another myth is that only damaged or old nonstick coating will off-gas. This is just not true. Some enamel cookware also uses an outer non stick coating.
In humans, PTFE poisoning will cause flu-like symptoms. Your parrots fragile respiratory system will be quickly overcome by these undetectable fumes and there will be nothing you can do to stop the process once it has begun. Very few parrots survive this, usually because they weren’t in close proximity to the toxin. Those that do have suffered severe damage to their lungs that requires ongoing medical assistance throughout the remainder of their lives. It is a wise idea to just keep your parrots out of the kitchen altogether while you are cooking. Aside from the many burn related accidents that can happen, burning foods produce smoke.
On the market today is Thermalon, a product made from silica and oxygen, basically glass, which does not off-gas and is safe. A couple of choices are GreenPans and Martha Stewart’s green pans. I use Martha’s frying pans (mostly because I love that she has a Moluccan cockatoo!) and stainless steel in my kitchen. This new technology is affordable and it works. There is no good reason to use anything else.
Please consider downloading our free e-book on Household Dangers and feel free to share it with all your bird friends so we can keep as many parrots safe as possible:
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.