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FEATURE


have sufficient time to get out before they too succumbed.


This susceptibility to inhaled toxins is a consequence of the unique and efficient respiratory system of birds. Each breath of inhaled air is passed twice through the lungs, and the gaseous exchange mechanism in the blood vessels is ultra-effective, thus they are able to draw more oxygen out of the air (essential for their high metabolic rate) than can mammals. However, this efficiency is not confined to oxygen – any other material in the inspired air is equally effectively absorbed.


Thus diverse materials such as scented candles or air-fresheners, paint fumes, decorating dust, feather dust, strong perfumes, and of course overheated Teflon fumes, will all adversely affect birds. The latter particularly will kill birds within minutes.


I have on many occasions through my veterinary career received a panic telephone call from bird owners describing the sudden collapse, gasping breathing, and death of much- loved pets. The major culprit in such cases is non-stick cookware. New grill pans, used for the first time; self- cleaning ovens that burn off grease by reaching a high temperature; or Teflon®-coated pans that boil dry, will all give off gases that will make us cough and splutter, and our eyes run. However, these toxic fumes will kill a bird in minutes! Post-mortem examination of affected birds shows a


distinctive bright cherry-red colour of the lungs. Histological examination of this tissue will show rupture of lung parenchyma, and infiltration with red blood cells and tissue fluid.


Birds exposed to small amounts of such gases, or at a distance from the source, may survive with prompt action. Opening windows and doors to improve ventilation is paramount, and veterinary attention with oxygen therapy and steroids or anti- inflammatory drugs is essential. However, most affected birds will be dead before such assistance can be obtained.


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