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 (and around their pets) for a variety of purposes.

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 a significant amount of research to determine whether or not they are truly effective in treating our pets.

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

Which Essential Oils Are Safe for Your Bird?

Pet birds like parrots, parakeets, and macaws can be affected by health complications just like their humans, including conditions such as the flu, cough, fatigue, diarrhea, and even stress-related issues. So it's no surprise that bird owners who believe in the power of essential oils may opt to turn to these oils in an attempt to cure their pet’s ailments.

If using essential oils carefully and appropriately—such as being sure to dilute them and never getting them into your bird’s eyes—there’s no reason to avoid the oils in your home and even your pet care regimen. Bird owners should also 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 toxic.

The essential oils that should be safe for your bird include: cedarwood, roman chamomile, eucalyptus, frankincense, clary sage, lavender, oregano, lemon, grapefruit, and geranium.

Essential Oils in the Air

One way to use essential oils around your bird is with a cold air diffuser. Oils such as geranium, lavender, and lemon are good options. 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 blood stream. This method of using essential oils can help reduce stress and anxiety in your bird, and may even help a new bird become accustomed to an unfamiliar environment. It also has the capability of eliminating harmful bacteria and mold in the air. The key is to keep it to 3 to 4 drops of oil for less than an hour at a time, and never diffusing oils in a small, closed room with no ventilation, windows, or air circulation.

Another common use of essential oils is misting. It can also 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, particularly away from their eyes.

Consuming Essential Oils

While some humans ingest essential oils for their healing properties, it’s never a safe idea to attempt to add the oils to your bird’s water. The oils might not mix properly and the oil will remain too concentrated—this can potentially harm your pet. If you choose to add an essential oil, such as oregano oil, to moist bird food, using one drop on a toothpick to mix with the food can potentially boost your feathered friend's immune system. The oil’s regenerative antioxidants have even been said to help heal certain respiratory ailments.

Topical Treatments With Essential Oils

While you can sometimes apply essential oils to the skin of pets like dogs, oils should only ever be applied to the feet of birds. Applying essential oils to your bird’s feathers will make the feathers heavy and most likely cause stress to your pet. This method may prove most beneficial with oils like lavender, cedarwood, and frankincense, and on days when your bird may experience added stress, such as a nail or wing clipping day, or when there are a lot of unknown people in the house. You’ll also want to be sure to dilute the oil properly. You can do this by adding one drop of essential oil to one teaspoon of olive oil or fractionated coconut oil.

The oils can also be applied topically if your bird has a wound; an essential oil salve may help keep the wound moist to promote healing as well as disinfect and fight off bacteria that could cause infection. A salve can be made by mixing an oil like lavender with shea butter, and applied to the wound with a clean popsicle stick once or twice a day. 

Cleaning With Essential Oils

When it comes to using essential oils for bird owners, they can be also be used for both cage cleaning and air freshening. As anyone with a bird knows, caring for these pets can sometimes be a stinky business, and essential oils can offer a more natural alternative to commercial chemical cleaners with synthetic fragrances. An effective cleaning solution can be made by combining a bird-friendly oil like lavender or geranium with natural cleaners like white vinegar and liquid Castile soap. The cage can be sprayed with the cleaning solution, and wiped off with a microfiber cloth after soaking for a few minutes.