Poisons and Toxins

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Poisons and Toxins: Protecting Your Birds From Danger
by Gary Gallerstein D.V.M.
(Adapted From The Complete Bird Owner's Handbook)

(AKJ 2018 - an older article, and one we have published before, but still with relevance today)

Keeping birds in our home environment presents us with many challenges. Ensuring the safety and well-being of our feathered friends is a large responsibility and one that is taken seriously by many of those that enjoy keeping birds as pets. Keep in mind that our homes are not a natural environment for birds and in many ways can be very hostile to them. To keep them from harm one should always monitor their birds when they are out of their cages.

household hazards

Two cockatoos on a play stand, amidst a variety of household hazards - electric wiring, candles, log burning stove, etc

The following excerpts are from The Complete Bird Owner's Handbook, Gary A. Gallerstein D.V.M., Howell Book House, 1994. This excellent book covers all aspects of bird care and health that is essential for both the pet bird owner and avian professional. We wish to thank the author for the permission to present this material to you. Net Pets hopes that you will find Dr. Gallerstein's information as an exceptional reference source in helping to provide a safe environment for your birds.


Route of Poisoning

  • Ingestion (by mouth)
  • Inhalation (by breathing)
  • Topical (Contact with skin)

Suspect poisoning if your bird is sick and you observe:

  • Contact with a known poisonous substance, including chewing or playing with the packaging, exposure to fumes or odours.
  • Opened or spilled containers of any poisonous substance.
  • Toxic plants recently chewed on.
  • A foreign substance noted on the feathers.

Signs To Watch

  • For Sudden onset of regurgitation, diarrhoea, coughing, breathing problems, and/or depression.
  • Bloody droppings, Redness or burns around the mouth.
  • Convulsions.
  • Paralysis.
  • Shock.

First Aid For Poisoning

1. Remove the poison to prevent further ingestion.
2. For eye contact, flush the eye with lukewarm water. For skin contact, flush the area with water. For fume intoxication, ventilate the room immediately - open windows, use a fan, or better yet, remove the bird from the area altogether.
3. Call your veterinarian.

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

Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning is one of the most common toxicities occurring in pet birds. There are a number of potential sources of lead in most homes. This type of poisoning could frequently be prevented by simply recognizing the common sources of lead in the environment.

Sources Of Lead For Pet Birds

Bird toys weighted with lead, old costume jewelry, lead caulking in stained-glass windows, fishing weights, curtain weights, and some types of screens and wires cause the majority of lead poisoning in pet birds.

Newsprint, lead pencils, and paint manufactured within the last twenty years will not cause poisoning.

As strange as it may seem, inspect branches to be used as perches before placing them in the cage. There have been cases of birds finding and ingesting buckshot embedded in the wood.

Signs To Watch For

  • Depression, weakness.
  • Blindness
  • Seizures, "walking in circles," "head wandering".
  • Regurgitation.
  • Droppings; excessively wet, may even be bloody ("tomato juice-colored" urine)
  • General signs of a sick bird.

bloody droppings

Fresh blood in droppings, resulting from heavy-metal poisoning - lead or zinc (AKJ) 

First Aid For Lead Poisoning:

Unfortunately, there is no first aid available. In most instances, the pet owner is not even aware the bird has ingested lead. Treatment is very specific, and veterinary care must be initiated as soon as possible.

"Teflon Toxicity" or Polymer Fume Fever.

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is a synthetic polymer used as a non-stick surface in cookware. The brand names Teflon, Silverstone, and T-Fal are the best known, but PTFE-coated products are also manufactured under other trade names.

As Dr. Peter Sakas states: Under normal cooking conditions, PTFE-coated cookware is stable and safe. When PTFE is heated above 530 degrees Farenheit, however, it undergoes breakdown and emits caustic (acid) fumes. Most foods cook at lower temperatures: water boils at 212 degrees, eggs fry at 350 degrees, and deep frying occurs at 410 degrees. But when empty PTFE-coated cookware is left on a burner set on the high setting, it can reach temperatures of 750 degrees or greater. Thus, if a pan is being pre-heated on a burner and forgotten, or if water boils out of a pot, breakdown of the PTFE can occur. In other words, PTFE cookware has to be "abused" to emit toxic fumes, but this is not as rare as it might seem; many people fall asleep after they put pots or pans on the stove to heat.

Birds kept in areas close to the kitchen will usually die very shortly after breathing the fumes. Even birds kept in another room are at great risk. Severe breathing difficulties, such as gasping for breath, may be seen just prior to death. Humans, dogs, cats, and other mammals are somewhat less sensitive to the very serious effects of these fumes.


Pair of Black-headed Caiques in a kitchen environment - high-risk area for birds! (AKJ)

First Aid For Teflon Toxicity

1. Remove the affected bird immediately from the home and supply lots of fresh air. Unfortunately, other than this, no first aid exists.
2. Call your avian veterinarian immediately.

Insecticide Poisoning

The most common insecticide poisoning in pet birds occurs when the house is sprayed ("fogged" or "bombed") for various pests. As already mentioned, birds have very sensitive respiratory systems. Always take the birds and their cages out of the house before spraying. When spraying is finished, open all doors and windows to help remove the odours. Use fans if needed. Do not bring your birds back in the home for at least twenty-four hours. Consult your veterinarian for the safest and most effective foggers.

First Aid For Insecticide Poisoning

1. Remove the bird immediately and supply lots of fresh air.
2. Provide general supportive care.
3. Call your veterinarian immediately.
4. Bring the insecticide along.

(Author's Note: Our homes "house" many dangerous products. There's a very real risk for pets getting into them. For birds, the kitchen poses the greatest peril. Gallerstein, The complete Bird Owner's Handbook, Howell Book House, 1994)

Common Household Poisons

Acetone, Ammonia, Antifreeze, Ant syrup or paste, Arsenic, Bathroom bowl cleaner, Bleach, Boric acid, Camphophenique, Carbon tetrachloride, Charcoal lighter, Clinitest tablets, Copper and brass cleaners, Corn and wart remover, Crayons, Deodorants, Detergents, Disinfectants, Drain cleaners, Epoxy glue, Fabric softeners, Garbage toxins, Garden sprays, Gasoline, Gun cleaner, Gunpowder, Hair dyes, Herbicides, Hexachlorophene (in some soaps), Indelible markers, Insecticides, Iodine, Kerosene, Lighter fluid, Linoleum (contains lead salts), Matches, Model glue, Mothballs, Muriatic acid, Mushrooms (some varieties, Nail Polish, Nail polish remove, Oven cleaner, Paint, Paint remover, Paint thinner, Perfume, Permanent wave solutions, Pesticides, Photographic solutions, Pine oil Plants, Prescription and non-prescription drugs, Red squill, Rodenticides, Rubbing alcohol, Shaving lotion, Silver polish, Snail bait, Spot remover, Spray starch, Strychnine, Sulphuric acid, Suntan lotion, Super glue, Turpentine, Weed killers, Window cleaners.

(Source: Adapted from Gary Gallerstein, Bird Owner's Home Health and Care Handbook (New York: Howell Book House, 1984); Sheldon Gerstenfeld, The Bird Care Book (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1981); and Margaret L. Petrak, ed., Diseases of Cage and Aviary Birds, 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Lea and Febiger, 1982 )

Common Poisonous Substances

Acids, Alkalis, Petroleum Products, Dishwasher detergent, Drain cleaner, Floor polish, Furniture polish, Gasoline, Kerosene, Paint remover, Paint thinner, Shoe polish, Toilet bowl cleaner, Wax (floor or furniture), Wood preservative.
(Source:Sheldon Gerstenfeld, The Bird Care Book (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1981)

Plants Considered Toxic to Birds
(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

Source: Adapted from American Medical Association Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants (Chicago: American Medical Association, 1985); R. Dean Axelson, Caring For Your Pet Bird (Poole-Dorset, England: Blanford Press, 1984) Gary Gallerstein, Bird Owner's Home Health and Care Handbook (New York: Howell Book House, 1984); Greg J. Harrison and Linda R. Harrison, eds., Clinical Avian Medicine and Surgery (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1986) and John M. Kingsbury, Poisonous Plants of the United States and Canada (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall, 1964).Alicia McWatters, Ph.D., C.N.C.

A recently published booklet by Louise Jakobsen also lists some common plants safe to give  to parrots and other birds, with the added advantage of some excellent illustrations. For more details visit - browse & flower ID

See also - Toxic Fumes 

Zinc and its danger to parrots