Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, Teflon) Toxicosis in Ducks

Monday, March 8, 2021

(NY) Three ducks were submitted for necropsy following sudden death due to exposure to polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), more commonly known as Teflon©, a synthetic chemical that is highly toxic to birds when inhaled. The healthy ducks were housed together in a large (8’x10’) room with closed windows and found dead approximately 12 hours after a new heat lamp coated in PTFE was installed. On necropsy, the ducks had evidence of pulmonary congestion and edema consistent with respiratory compromise due to a caustic agent. PTFE is a synthetic chemical often associated with products that are used in prolonged, high temperature situations due to its non-reactive characteristics. It is also used as a shatter-proof coating for heat lamps to prevent barn or coop fires. PTFE will begin to degrade when it is heated to temperatures over 280 degrees Celsius, releasing toxic pyrolysis byproducts. These products are small enough to be inhaled, and the particulates in combination with the release of acidic gases can lead to respiratory compromise. Birds are extremely sensitive due to their respiratory physiology, and this sensitivity is exacerbated when exposure occurs in poorly ventilated areas.

Although there isn’t a breadth of literature on this topic, a study on budgerigars demonstrated that exposure to PTFE pyrolysis products for 9 minutes or longer resulted in clinical signs and death in 97% of the birds. Clinical signs of PTFE toxicity in avian species include respiratory distress, neurological signs, and death. It is not uncommon for birds to be found dead with no premonitory signs. Currently, there is no antemortem or post-mortem test available to confirm PTFE toxicity, and diagnosis is based on history, gross lesions, and histopathology. Prevention relies on awareness of this toxic agent and avoidance in using PTFE products with birds.

Poppenga RH. Environmental Toxicology: Avian Toxicology. In: Gupta RC. Veterinary Toxicology Basic and Clinical Principles. 1st ed. London: Elsevier/Academic press, 2007:684.