Are Essential Oils Safe for Birds?

Dodo the Monk
Photograph by Asim Bharwani / Getty Images

Essential oils are becoming more and more popular as a way to do everything from ease anxiety to treat certain health conditions. Traditionally used in aromatherapy, these potent oils are sometimes considered to be natural, alternative options to traditional medicine—and people are increasingly using them in their homes for a variety of purposes, but is it okay to expose your pet bird to these oils? The short answer is not likely, but it all depends on the oils you use, how you use them and, most importantly, what your vet has to say.

Are Essential Oils Safe for Your Bird?

Made from highly-concentrated plant substances, essential oils are considered to have an array of health and wellness benefits for humans, and some holistic veterinarians are even incorporating essential oils into their treatments. However, the use of essential oils to combat illnesses and other conditions in animals is relatively new—and there hasn’t been enough research to determine whether they are truly effective in treating, or even remotely benefitting, our pets.

Therefore, whether you share your living space with a dog, cat, or bird, there are always precautions that should be taken. For birds in particular, you'll want to be sure to always consult a veterinarian, as caution should always be taken when using any form of essential oils around your feathered friends.

Dangers of Essential Oils for Birds

Many essential oils are volatile compounds, and thus can prove potentially toxic to birds at certain concentrations—because what’s safe for humans isn’t necessarily safe for your pets, especially when the oils remain in their original form of 100 percent concentration. The trouble is that many essential oils users rely on diffusers and warmers to release the oils into the air in their homes, which makes it impossible to completely eliminate any risks to your bird or other pets. Birds can be particularly sensitive animals, so bird owners should always use extreme caution when using essential oils.

If using essential oils carefully and appropriately, such as being sure to dilute them, never getting them into your bird’s eyes and having clear instructions from your vet, you don’t necessarily have to completely avoid the oils in your home. Some bird owners might even consider using essential oils for both cage cleaning and air freshening—anyone with a bird knows that caring for these pets can sometimes be a stinky business, and essential oils seem to offer a more natural alternative to commercial chemical cleaners with synthetic fragrances. Rinsing everything you clean with essential oils is a must to ensure that your bird can't accidentally consume it or get the oil on its feathers.

Warning

Bird owners should note that there are some essential oils that are never safe for their birds (or most animals in general), such as tea tree oil, as they can prove to be very toxic to small animals. Make sure to get a list of toxic and non-toxic oils from your veterinarian or a specialist to ensure you're not accidentally poisoning your bird.

While some humans ingest essential oils for their healing properties, it’s usually not a good idea to add the oils to your bird’s water. The oils might not mix properly and remain too concentrated—this can potentially harm (and even poison) your pet.

Similarly, while you might apply essential oils to your own skin, you never want to apply essential oils to a bird unless under the strict direction and the advice of your veterinarian (which is likely never). Applying essential oils to your bird’s feathers will make the feathers heavy and most likely cause stress to your pet.

Safely Exposing Your Bird to Essential Oils

As long as you have the go-ahead from your vet, there are a few ways to safely use confirmed-non-toxic essential oils sparingly without harming your bird.
Diffuser: One common way to use essential oils around your bird is with a cold air diffuser. Oils such as geranium, lavender, and lemon are generally considered safer options, but confirm this with your vet before using them. Diffusing can add the potentially healing molecules of essential oils into the air, allowing both you and your bird to breathe them in and become absorbed into the bloodstream. This method of using essential oils can potentially help reduce stress and anxiety in your bird like they do in humans, such as when helping a new bird become accustomed to an unfamiliar environment. It also has the capability of eliminating harmful bacteria and mold in the air. However, it is crucial to keep it to three to four drops of oil for less than an hour at a time, and never diffuse oils in a small, closed room with no ventilation, windows, or air circulation. 

Misting: Another common use of essential oils is misting, which can help freshen up the room that contains your bird's cage. While conventional air fresheners may contain harsh ingredients, a DIY essential oil mist can be made from a bird-friendly essential oil, water or flower hydrosol like lavender hydrosol, and rubbing alcohol in a fine mist spray bottle. A few spritzes around the room will go a long way; just be sure to spray away from your bird, and always avoid their eyes.