Most of us are aware of the common household dangers for our dog and cat companions, such as chocolate, onion, pesticides, and plants like lilies and poinsettias. However, our homes can be the source of many other dangers for our exotic pets. The list of potentially toxic foods grows considerably when dealing with birds. We also have to concern ourselves with a long list of environmental hazards, as well.
Lets deal with foods first. Chocolate, onions, caffeine, and alcohol are still off limits for exotic pets. But now we must consider additional foods such as avocado, rhubarb leaves, milk products, mushrooms, bread dough, salt, sugar, foods containing the sweetener Xylitol, food with bones, and fruit seeds- especially apple, apricot, peach, nectarine, plum, and cherry. Also, the wood from these fruit trees should not be used for toys or perches. Click here for a list of safe wood for perches, toys, and caging. Monkey biscuits have been commonly offered to weaning and adult birds. These are not intended for parrots even as treats as they contain high levels of vitamin D that monkeys require in their diet. In addition to avoiding these food items, we also need to refrain from offering food directly from the human mouth or foods that we have bitten to birds. Bacteria from our mouths can cause serious infections in birds. We wouldn’t knowingly offer moldy food items to our birds, but we need to be aware of the risks of moldy foods and potential hidden sources. Mycotoxins produced by molds are very damaging to birds’ livers. The largest sources of mycotoxins include peanuts (especially in the shell), peanut butter, sunflower seeds, corn, and bread. These should be avoided in all bird diets. Therefore, many seed mixes are potentially contaminated due to the fact that they contain peanuts, sunflower seeds, and/or corn. I will also include grit as a hazard here since it is ingested. Our pet bird species do not require grit in their diets and they will often intake excessive amounts of grit leading to gastrointestinal tract obstruction.
In reptiles, we need to be aware of the source of all prey items offered that all prey items are not necessarily beneficial or safe for your particular pet species. For example, Iguanas are herbivorous and do not need any animal or insect protein in their diets. However, it was common to feed dog food, which can cause irreversible organ damage. Another example involves insectivorous reptiles and fireflies. The chemicals that allow fireflies to glow are toxic to any reptile even in small exposures.
Next let’s look at potential inhaled toxins and irritants. Most bird owners are aware of the risks associated with toxic (PTFE) fumes from burning Teflon coated cookware. However, there are other potential sources of PTFE in our households. Curling irons, hair dryers, griddles, waffles irons, roasters, fryers, toaster ovens, drip pans, electric heaters, irons and ironing boards can have Teflon coated parts that can release PTFE if over-heated. Other respiratory irritants and toxins include aerosol sprays of any kind, perfumes, Carpet Fresh/Pet Fresh, smoke, carbon monoxide, natural gas, ammonia, bleach, and other cleaning agents, potpourri, scented oils, candles, and other air fresheners, even those used in your car.
Another source of toxin exposure includes household plants and decorations made from natural products such as wreaths. Not only could these decorations be made from toxic plants or treated with toxic chemicals, they can also become potential foreign bodies. Common household toxic plant exposures include azaleas, daffodils, day lilies, Easter lilies, holly, laurels, poinsettias, and philodendrons. Click here for a more complete list of toxic plants.
Finally, here are a few other potential hazards in the home: lack of access to fresh water, heat exposure, mothballs, heavy metals (lead and zinc), and trauma, which can occur inside the cage or following escape from the enclosure. Common sources of heavy metal intoxication include: lead based paints, galvanized metals (screws, nuts, chains, wires, staples, etc), fishing or drapery weights, solder (stainglass), antique cages, champagne bottle foil, linoleum, golf balls, adhesives, certain plastics, plaster, caulk, pennies made in 1983 or later, zinc oxide cream, snaps, padlocks, and some toy hangers. Heavy metal ingestion can be fatal and these items should be removed from your pets’ environment. Animals that escape from their enclosures are often injured by other animals in the household (including other birds) or can be stepped on or sat on unknowingly or fly or climb into hazardous situations. Click here for more tips on how to bird proof your home.
Beth R. Rodney, DVM