Which essential oils are bad for birds?

Did you know that one of the fastest-growing segments of the herbal product market is essential oils? It is also a largely unregulated market, saturated with cheap, low-grade, and synthetic oils that are potentially toxic to animals and even humans. Even pure therapeutic grade essential oils could have harmful side effects, if not used with care. Even though pure oils consist of natural compounds, the concentrations are high enough so that, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. Diffusing essential oils in the home has become very popular and so extra care should be taken with pet birds. Some people consider that essential oils are bad for birds, while others argue that it all depends on oil purity and how to use them. While the debate continues, we recommend those bird owners who want to use essential oils in the home, first chat with a holistically trained veterinarian.

Are essential oils potentially bad for birds?

Essential oils are highly concentrated compounds, distilled from the bark, stems, flowers, and leaves of plants. They have many therapeutic benefits for humans if used correctly and may even prove beneficial to animals. Slowly more veterinarians are incorporating it into their treatments. One such holistic vet, Dr. Melissa Shelton has had much success over the last 10 years in treating with essential oils. She has authored several books and in 2014, released her own line of medical grade essential oils for use on animals directly.

Her parrot Emmett had wart-like tumors which she successfully treated with essentials oils over a brief period of time. Needless to say, the tumors shrunk and there were no side effects. Although the story of Emmett had a good ending, many other animal stories do not. This is large because the average user lacks basic knowledge of essential oils and forgets that the respiratory and metabolic systems of animals are different than ours. The lungs of birds for example are different from ours as they do not deflate or inflate but remain at a constant volume. For this reason, diffusing essential oils can be potentially hazardous for animals in the home, especially birds. Their lungs do not deflate or inflate for example but remain at a constant volume. They are known to be sensitive to airborne toxins. That is why miners took them into mines to see if it was safe to go in.

Know which essential oils are bad for birds

This list of essential oils that are bad for birds is by no means comprehensive but provides an overview of the most common essential oils considered bad for birds. Tea tree oil specifically is very toxic for birds as it contains compounds called furanocoumarins which may cause paralysis.

  • Arborvitae
  • Clove
  • Cinnamon
  • Citronella
  • Eucalyptus
  • Oregano
  • Peppermint
  • Pine
  • Tea tree

Helpful tips for using essential oils around your pet bird.

  • Follow clear instructions from your vet if you want to use essential oils around the home and/ or treat your feathered friend. Ask them for a list of essential oils that are safe to diffuse in the home. Two examples of ‘safe’ oils are Frankincense and citrus oils.
  • Generally, essential oils should always be diluted before use. Remember that the higher the concentration the higher the risk factor.
  • Avoid getting essential oils into your bird’s eyes or into their feathers.
  • Never put essential oil in your bird’s water unless instructed to do so by your vet.
  • Choose an oil diffuser that does not use heat.
  • Diffuse for only an hour at a time, using only 3 to 4 drops of oil diluted.
  • Never leave the pet bird unattended whilst the diffuser is on. Do not diffuse in a closed or poorly ventilated room. Make sure there is enough air circulation with the diffuser a distance away. Never diffuse next to the cage.
  • Only use pure therapeutic or medical-grade essential oils in the home, especially if you share them with pets. Cheap, low-grade oils with synthetic fragrances should all be avoided.
  • Do research. Having at least a basic knowledge of essential oil use around animals will go a long way in helping to create a safe environment for your bird. We recommend the following great book by Dr.Melissa Shelton (author):

The Animal Desk Reference II: Essential Oils for Animals 

(Paperback March 23, 2018)

Are essential oils bad for birds? and birds

Last thoughts on essential oils that are potentially bad for birds

Creating a safe place for animals inside our homes is the least we can do since they trust us so unconditionally. When it comes to essential oils and birds the key points here are quality essential oils, how you use them (safely and sparingly), where you use them, and following the directions of a holistic veterinarian. Remember too that just like us, every bird may respond differently to essential oil, depending on size, species, medical condition, or age. Even so-called ‘safe’ oils could be potentially harmful to your bird, never mind essential oils that are bad for birds. Lastly, Know your bird. When you see the first signs of unusual behavior, promptly stop using essential oils.

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Cautionary note: Sunny Life Mag is a digital magazine for entertainment. The articles published are not here to diagnose or treat any animal health or medical conditions. Not any of these statements have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration or any veterinarian. Please consult a veterinarian with any animal health concerns you might have.

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Photo by Sharath G. from Pexels

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