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Airborne Toxicity

Chickens are highly sensitive to exposure to airborne toxins. This is related to the uniqueness of the avian respiratory system, which allows for birds to breath more effectively then mammals.

The cross-current airflow and blood allows for the chicken's blood oxygen levels to be higher than their oxygen levels when they expire a breath. The negative consequence of this is it increases their risk of absorbing higher amounts of toxins from the air, thus causing them to reach toxic levels quicker than mammals.

Clinical signs of toxicity may be delayed several hours after the initial exposure.

Clinical Signs

Increased respiratory effort
Open-mouth breathing
Exercise intolerance
Sneezing and/or coughing
Tail bobbing
Nasal discharge
Sudden death


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Radiography - Useful to rule out other causes of respiratory disease and evaluation of heart and lungs for secondary complications. May not be apparent until advancement of the disease.
  • Hemogram
  • Endoscopy
  • Lung biopsy
  • Necropsy

Reported Cases

  • Case 1: Tea tree oil intoxication in a Cockatiel A one-year-old, male cockatiel was presented for clinical examination due to a serious despondency episode after the application of 3 drops of tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifoglia) directly on the cutis of his right wing. The subject was urgently hospitalized and blood tests were performed. Serum biochemical values showed severe liver damage and slight renal involvement, complete blood count (CBC) parameters indicated a moderate neutrophilia a moderate neutropenia. Warm subcutaneous fluids and vitamin (VIT) B12 were administered, and after 8 h of fluid therapy the clinical condition of the patient improved. The subject was discharged after 48h of hospitalization, in stable conditions. Ref

  • Case 2: Smoke-induced respiratory infection in a Parrot A 4-year-old female blue-headed pionus parrot presented repeatedly for acute smoke inhalation. The protracted clinical course and secondary respiratory infections with multiple pathogens represented characteristic sequelae to smoke inhalation and toxicosis seen in other species. Ref

  • Case 3: Aerosol toxicoses in a Two American kestrels Aerosol toxicoses were diagnosed in two unrelated cases. In one case, two American kestrels died within 30 minutes of each other after showing respiratory signs minutes prior to death. Both birds were housed in a room where an oven was used immediately prior to the onset of their respiratory signs. The oven had been repaired weeks earlier for a gas leak. Both birds had red, wet lungs on gross examination and no other gross or microscopic findings. The second case involved seven of seven indoor parakeets that died in a 24-hour period. The lungs of the two birds submitted were dark red and wet and histologically there was marked pulmonary congestion, hemorrhage and edema. The owner regularly used teflonn-coated cooking pans. Polytetratuoroethylene (PTFE) gas, the cause of teflon toxicosis, is released when non-stick surfaces are heated above 360oC, a temperature that can be attained when teflon-coated pans boil dry or food burns. PTFE sources include non-stick cookware, drip pans, irons, ironing board covers, self-cleaning ovens, the heating elements of some reverse-cycle heat pumps and heat lamps. Ref


Removal from the source
Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
Intensive careOxygen therapy and fluids.
Antianxiety analgesicTerbutaline (0.01 mg/kg IM q6-12h or 0.1 mg/kg PO q12-24h) or butorphanol (0.5-2 mg/kg IM)
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)Meloxicam (0.5 mg/kg PO q12-24h)
Dexamethasone0.2-1.0 mg/kg IM once or q12-24h
Dexamethasone sodium phosphate2 mg/kg once or q6-12h
DiureticsMay be indicated if heart failure is present.
AntimicrobialsFor potential secondary infections.



  • Do not expose birds to plug-in, wick, or spray air fresheners. This includes Fabreeze.
  • Do not expose birds to scented candles
  • Do not expose birds to candy cooking flavorings such as peppermint or spearmint.
  • Do not expose birds to paint or gasoline fumes, methane, glues, solvents, bleach, ammonia, propellants and grooming products (nail polish, hair spray, etc.), aerosols, or self-cleaning ovens.


Varies depending on the length of exposure and chronicity of the resulting disease.

Scientific References

Risk Factors

  • Secondary exposure to humans smoking regular or electronic cigarettes.
  • Exposure to high amounts of dander and dust
  • Exposure to burning fumes from a fire, whether intentional or accidental.
  • Exposure to scented commercial items such as air freshers, scented candles, aerosol sprays, nail polish, hair grooming products, etc.
  • Exposure to gasoline fumes, glues, propellants, methane, paint fumes, etc.
  • Exposure to cleaning or disinfectant products such as bleach, self-cleaning ovens, ammonia, and solvents.
  • Recent fire or burning of materials resulting in the release of smoke into the environment.