Pet Safety Warnings for Our Bird and Reptile Friends

September 19, 2019

a lizard near a computer

Pets such as birds, reptiles and amphibians face different toxins and dangers than our dog and cat friends do. That’s why it’s important to be aware of potential toxins and dangers in your pet’s environment that may pose a threat to these wonderful companions. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center wants to highlight three of the biggest threats when it comes to these types of pets:


What you feed your bird, reptile or amphibian friend is very important. There are many foods that aren’t appropriate for these types of pets and may result in illness, injury or death when ingested. 


While avocados are a favorite human treat, they are deadly for birds. Avocados contain persin in the skin and in the fruit. When ingested by birds, this compound may lead to heart damage and even death. Keep this common veggie away from your bird and seek veterinary attention if accidentally ingested. 


Though insect-based diets are common for some reptiles, fireflies should never be fed to any reptile as they contain a toxin called lucibufagin. This toxin causes severe nausea, is cardiotoxic—meaning it can damage and weaken the heart—and will often result in death within a few hours. Bearded Dragons are especially prone to being poisoned by fireflies due to their indiscriminate eating habits. However, all reptile and amphibian species are at risk of poisoning from this insect. Be mindful of your pet’s eating habits and when you’re purchasing food for them.

Airborne Toxins

Birds and amphibians are more at risk for airborne toxins like PTFE (Teflon), which will kill a small bird within a few minutes of exposure when overheated. Some PTFE products will outgas even at normal temperatures. Inhalation of these fumes will lead to pulmonary congestion and liver failure in these types of pets.  

Birds breathe via a system of air sacs; this allows for more prolonged exposure to inhaled toxins due to the way that the air moves through their bodies.  

The skin of amphibians is very permeable to toxins which means they face a larger risk from airborne toxins than do mammals. Smoke may be especially dangerous as it displaces oxygen and fills airways with toxic gases that may lead to asphyxiation. Small particles can lodge in airways of amphibians and further damage tissue. Even secondhand cigarette and cigar smoke can cause skin, eye and respiratory disease. 


Like in most dogs, cats and horses, plants are another source of potential toxicity when ingested. Because birds like to chew on plants and many reptiles and amphibians are either partially or totally herbivorous, it’s important to carefully research and consider exactly what plants are safe to bring into their spaces. 

Plants such as azaleas, laurel and rhododendrons contain grayanotoxins that interfere with sodium channels in the body. Ingestion of these plants can lead to GI signs and potentially cardiac damage. Yews can also damage the heart due to the taxine that they contain. Unfortunately, there is no antidote for these toxins and treatment is supportive. It’s important to keep these types of plants away from your birds, reptiles or amphibian friends.

Other plants to be careful of include castor beans, sago palms and some ivy. Consult our full toxic plant list before putting any new plants into an area where you are keeping your pets.

When in doubt about a new food source, cleaner or other item you are bringing into your pet’s home, be sure to research any potential hazard that it may cause. Also, be sure to keep poisonous substances out of your pet’s space and be mindful. A little bit of care and research will bring your pet many more healthy years with you in your happy home! 

If you have any reason to suspect your pet has ingested something toxic, please contact your veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center’s 24-hour hotline at (888) 426-4435.