Essential oils can be toxic to birds as their respiratory system is highly sensitive to the compounds found within them. Introducing foreign, synthetic, or artificial oils or scents can quickly overload their delicate system and cause irreparable harm.
Therefore it is vitally important that any bird owner who wishes to use essential oils educates themselves on all aspects of them. Essential oils themselves are not the enemy here as many birds can benefit from the introduction of “safe” oils, but it must be done with care.
In this article, I will list the toxic essential oils, commercial products, and delivery systems to avoid. I will also make a few suggestions of the correct way to administer the “safe” oils. However, this is not an article about “safe” oils, so I will keep those suggestions brief and to the point.
So If you’re happy with that, let’s dive in.
The list of Essential oils toxic to birds is varied, and NOT a one size fits all solution.
This is largely due to two main factors:
- A wide variety of bird species
- Tolerance of essential oils specific to, but not limited to, their local environment.
Know that essential oils are contained in the leaves, flowers, bark, seeds, and the rinds of many plants. Therefore wild birds will be constantly exposed to the essential oils surrounding them, albeit in vastly diluted quantities.
So wild birds, unlike cats and dogs, have evolved a natural tolerance to a wide variety of essential oils. It may also be argued that the right essential oils are a critical component to their ongoing good health.
However, due to birds’ sensitive internal organs, foreign essential oils can be extremely toxic.
Therefore in reading any list, it should be acknowledged that some birds can tolerate some oils where as other birds cannot. Other factors relevant to birds’ oil toxicity may include bird size, age, health, medication, pregnancy, oil purity, dilution, application, and room ventilation.
However, even when all variations are considered, one essential oil remains particularly toxic to all birds. This is Melaleuca oil, otherwise known as Tea Tree oil, and this oil should be avoided at all costs. This includes cage cleaning and sanitizing.
List Of Essential Oils Toxic To Birds
Now I am aware that some of these oils can appear on an ‘essential oils safe for birds’ list. ‘ So there is some disagreement about whether those particular essential oils must be avoided.
However, the research carried out in this field is very low, and the findings are both limited and largely unverified. So for the sake of bird safety, I think it best that you be aware of these oils.
Please also note that ANY essential oil can be a dangerous irritant or fatally poisonous to birds. This is especially true of the “hot oils” that can create a warming or stinging sensation when applied to sensitive areas.
Simply put, wild birds are only exposed to essential oils in a highly diluted form. And domestically bred birds may have a lower tolerance level compared to their wild bred counterparts. Therefore, always remember, the higher the concentration, the greater the risk of toxicity.
I would also suggest that you do not apply essential oils directly to your bird or let them ingest essential oils unless under an avian veterinarian’s advice.
In my opinion, juvenile birds and very small birds should never come into contact with any essential oils. I believe that their respiratory and metabolic systems are just too sensitive to cope with them.
Essential oils should never be applied directly to a bird’s feathers as birds prefer to clean them individually, and so ingesting the oils will definitely occur.
Are Synthetic Or Low-Grade Oils Toxic To Birds?
All cheap, synthetic, diluted, or low-grade essential oils should be seen as potentially toxic to birds. This is because essential oils are unregulated, and the history and chemical makeup of these oils are unknown.
These oils could contain poisonous compounds, pesticides, unregistered additives, or simply unknown blends within the bottle. And as a bird’s respiratory system is quite delicate, using a non-certified oil is like playing Russian roulette with a bird’s life.
Even a high quality synthetic essential oil can seriously compromise a bird’s delicate respiratory system. Unfortunately, most of the essential oils available in the market place today are not safe to use with birds.
Therefore those unbranded essential oils found in drug and health food stores should be strictly avoided.
Purchases should ideally be conducted directly with the manufacturer, and all brands should be third-party tested. Failing that, only buy from a store committed to using premium-grade suppliers and essential oils of therapeutic grade.
Why Birds Are Sensitive To Essential Oils
The lungs of birds do not inflate and deflate but rather retain a constant volume. The lungs are connected to very fine air capillaries, and these tiny air capillaries cover a large surface area. Think of your kitchen sponge, and you will get a general idea.
Oxygen exchange takes place between the fine air capillaries and blood capillaries lining the lung walls. In this way, oxygenated blood is always available to the heart, and the bird can fly.
All of this is important to know as it explains why birds are so susceptible to airborne toxins. Toxins are fed directly into the lungs and, if they do not block the capillaries first, they will quickly enter the bloodstream.
From here, they will rapidly injure the bird internally or, more frighteningly, be a cause of sudden death.
This is the reason why miners once took canaries into the mines. And it is also why non-pure, synthetic, and uncertified essential oils are so toxic to birds and should be avoided.
Essential oils should never be applied directly to a bird’s feathers as birds prefer to clean them individually, and so ingesting the oils will definitely occur.
Why Non-Toxic Essential Oils Can Be Toxic to Birds
It has been said that “Essential oils are the oil of nature, sent by nature, the spirit of nature, and the soul of the forest.”
However, not all essential oils are processed in the same way. Nor are they of the same purity, third-party tested,100% organic, or pesticide-free, even if advertised as 100% natural.
Amazingly, 100% natural has become a well-established marketing ploy designed to catch your eye and prompt a sale. In truth, It only requires one element within the oil that is 100% natural to fulfill that claim!
So you have to be very careful in choosing and buying essential oils if you want to purchase oils that are not toxic to birds.
The adage – you get what you pay for is very true in the essential oil industry.
A true, and 100% pure essential oil, is a complex mix of aromatic substances and compounds derived from plants. Each one is delicately balanced with its neighbor and may contain fatty acids, phenols, ketones, esters, and alcohols within its many elements.
This can be as many as 900+ elements and compounds when it is completely broken down!
So essential oil companies spend a lot of time and money, ensuring that these chemical compounds have not been adulterated in any way. For them, NONE of these compounds can be compromised with any pesticides, synthetics, additives, or petrochemicals.
And if they are, they are rejected and sold on to lesser companies.
The remaining pure unadulterated oils are then third-party tested to ensure accuracy.
Third-party testing means that their product has been tested by a laboratory with no connections to the manufacturing company and is not on their payroll.
Therefore cheap, inferior, or purely synthetic essential oils, without these safeguards, can be extremely toxic to birds.
They might even be the essential oils that the reputable and transparent company rejected!
Furthermore, all of the compounds in essential oils are sensitive to heat, and this will ultimately change their chemical composition. This is why warming essential oils, even high-quality ones, are not recommended around birds. Therefore never store your oils next to a heat source.
How To Purchase Pure Essential Oils?
Never buy cheap non branded essential oils from a gift shop or drug store. And be wary of online stores whose essential oils could be supplied by, “I could be anyone” or the seller, “could be anyone.”
Unfortunately, many people selling essential oils online are usually biased, misinformed, or chasing a commission. They don’t have your best interests at heart and care little for your bird. This is also the easiest way to introduce a toxic essential oil into your household inadvertently.
My advice would be to do your research and find a reputable and transparent company specializing in essential oils. Following this, investigate their history, operating standards, and customer reviews.
All of this information should be available online.
Once done, look at their product list and pricing structure and match it to their competitors. When you are happy, make a small purchase and compare the physical article to the questions below.
Consider these questions before using essential oils bought or gifted to you:
- Have you heard of the company before?
- Can the essential oil company prove that it is third-party tested?
- Is the oil of therapeutic grade?
- Does the bottle list the Latin name for the plants used to make the oil?
- Is the price of the oil very low compared to other similar products?
- Does the label state the words “100% pure essential oil”?
- Is the country of origin stated on the packaging?
- Does the product smell like you would expect it to smell?
- Is the bottle a dark, well-sealed glass container? (essential oils degrade more quickly when exposed to heat and light)
- Does the label or packaging include a statement about the growing practices used and if it’s pesticide-free?
- Does the packaging state the method of distillation?
- Is the bottle made of plastic? (plastic contaminates essential oil)
- Does the essential oil leave a greasy residue? (pure essential oils do not)
- Is there a lot number on the bottle?
This is not an exhaustive list of questions, but they are important questions to consider regardless of this.
If you are considering using essential oils in a home containing birds, please seek a qualified avian veterinarian’s advice first. Not all essential oils are the same, and your veterinarian will be able to recommend a reputable supplier. Additionally, they will be able to offer an up to date list of “safe” oils and delivery methods.
Essential Oil Brands Who Are Third Party Tested
Do not look upon this list as being full or complete. Like any list, it is only as good as the day it was compiled, so things may have changed.
Furthermore, I am only providing this list as a starting point for you. This list has been provided to get an idea of pricing, transparency, and label quality. Hopefully, this will help to guide you when you are doing your own investigations.
- Plant Therapy
- Eden’s Garden
- Original Swiss Aromatics
- Rocky Mountain Oils
- Young Living
- Aura Cacia
- Lisse Essentials
- Mountain Rose Herbs
- Now Foods Essential Oils
So now you know which essential oils to avoid and which manufacturers to research, I have another consideration to impose.
If you plan to introduce your feathered friend to essential oils, always consult a veterinarian first. This will enable them to give advice and run blood work tests before and during the usage of the essential oils.
In this way, the bird’s health can be assured, and you will gain by having great peace of mind.
Products Containing Essential Oils Toxic To Birds
Aromatic essential oils have been used for thousands of years to improve humans, physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Today, there is a growing trend to use them to enhance our everyday products’ aroma and efficiency.
However, this can pose a significant problem for our beloved pets and, in particular, birds.
Essential oils can be found in aerosols, plug-ins, cleaning products, perfumes, personal care products, natural remedies, candles, and food and drink flavorings. And not all of these products are required to divulge the essential oil contained within.
They may even hide one oil under another!
For example, an air freshener could be listed as containing a Lavender aroma. However, the small print may show that it also contains Tea tree oil!
Although Lavender essential oil is not included in my toxic list, although some may class it as an irritant, Tea tree oil is toxic. This means that this mixture may cause a fatality, even if a bird only receives minimal exposure.
For this reason, I would encourage every bird lover to check the labels on commercial products very carefully.
If your bird shows any unusual symptoms, such as open-mouth breathing, weakness, lethargy, tail bobbing, or disoriented behavior, get it into fresh air immediately. Following this, take him to your local veterinarian for help.
DO THIS EVEN IF THE BIRD APPEARS TO BE RECOVERING AS TOXIC AIR POISONING IS ALMOST ALWAYS FATAL TO BIRDS!
Scented candles containing paraffin wax should never be burnt in the presence of a bird, regardless of the scent.
Paraffin wax is derived from petroleum, coal, or oil shale and contains several potentially harmful carcinogenic compounds, such as Benzene, Formaldehyde, Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons, and Toluene. It also gives off black soot that is known to be harmful to the health of birds.
The burning paraffin’s danger could also be compounded by a strong synthetic aroma irritating the bird’s lungs. This is one of the reasons why artificial scents of any kind should be avoided around birds.
Artificial fragrances can contain a very high percentage of synthetic ingredients, largely derived from petrochemicals, such as benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and phthalates.
Another danger could be a non-artificial essential oil being used to provide the candle’s aroma. This is because many “genuine” essential oil candle fragrances are created with a poor grade or adulterated essential oil.
Soy and beeswax candles with lead-free wicks are the safer choice for bird-owners who still wish to light candles. These types of candles offer a clean, natural burn that is non-toxic and without soot or smoke.
The Pet Poison Control Center based in the US reports that they have seen an increase in essential oil toxicity in recent years.
They report that this is due to the increase in pet owners’ desire to treat more holistically or with natural remedies using essential oils.
It is their advice to find a reliable source to gain the education that you need to keep yourself, your family, and your pets safe.
Potpourri is a collection of dried plants, twigs, essential oils, glues, cellulose, fixative, and numerous other unnamed additives. When new, it can look very enticing to a bird but be highly toxic if ingested.
Furthermore, the essential oils present in potpourri will be synthetic or of a very low grade. This means that the aroma itself may be hugely unpleasant to a bird, or at worst, fatal.
Not an essential oil, but it gets an honorary mention as it is a known and frequent bird killer. Please read my article on non-stick coatings and toxic fumes. In short, nonstick pans release toxic fumes at high temperatures that can kill a bird very quickly.
Very few birds ever recover from this type of poisoning, and these same fumes can also be emitted from a self-cleaning oven.
Essential Oils Added To Drinking Water Can Be Toxic To Birds
Essential oils are volatile compounds that can easily be an irritant or fatally toxic to birds at certain concentrations. For example, essential oils do not mix with water and will remain on the surface at 100% concentration.
This surface oil, if ingested now, has the potential to kill any bird.
For this reason, I do not recommend adding essential oils to a bird’s drinking water. Some sites, however, including dedicated avian sites, do recommend this practice. Therefore, I will share the safety information here, but I repeat, I do not recommend this practice.
It is essential to use a glass, ceramic, or stainless steel water dish when adding essential oils to water, as essential oils degrade plastic. This new plastic essential oil concoction has the ability to kill a bird either very quickly or slowly as the toxins accumulate in the bird.
Birds should also be discouraged from bathing in essential oil water as concentrated pockets of oil may be absorbed by the bird.
Furthermore, some plant oils, such as coconut oil, will adhere to your bird’s feathers, making them greasy. This grease will then clog the birds’ feathers, inhibiting your bird from regulating its body temperature in a normal way.
This will inevitably cause undue stress to the bird and could result in feather plucking or worse.
A plain water source should also be provided when you offer essential oils in water to prevent dehydration from any possible refusal.
Most importantly, always start with minimal amounts of essential oil added to water, and gradually increase the concentration over time.
The maximum concentration used for birds is one (1) drop off essential oil per liter of water. For highly sensitive or fragile birds, start conservatively with a toothpick dipped into the essential oil and then dipped into the liter of water.
Essential Oils Diffusers Can Be Toxic To Birds
Because of their especially sensitive respiratory tracts, birds are at particular risk when using essential oil diffusers. However, the risk can be minimized by consulting a veterinarian for advice and obtaining an up to date “safe” oils list from them.
However, one of the most common ways to diffuse essential oils around a bird is with a water-based ultrasonic diffuser.
These diffusers do not warm essential oil and so do not change its structure. But they add essential oil molecules into the air in a safe form for a bird. This type of diffuser also humidifies the air, which can be beneficial for a bird’s skin and respiratory tracts.
This delivery method also allows a bird to inhale the molecules in moderation over a controlled period. In this way, the bird can absorb these molecules directly into its bloodstream and gain all the benefits without creating stress.
There is a lot of evidence online that suggest sick, stressed, or injured birds find this particularly beneficial.
Although, I must be stress that essential oils toxic to birds can also be inadvertently delivered in this way.
So proceed with caution.
And always introduce essential oils slowly to your bird and monitor your birds’ reactions whilst also ensuring that there is adequate ventilation.
Other Cold Air Diffusers
Reed diffusers are another type of cold air oil diffusion that is suitable for birds. But I do not recommend them as the temptation for a bird to play with the diffuser is just too great. Remember, it only takes a small amount of pure essential oil to poison a bird.
Diffusers that atomize essential oils directly from the bottle are not recommended as the molecules will be large and uncontrolled. However, if you use these diffusers, never spray them directly at a bird or near its eyes and nostrils.
Quick diffuser tips:
- Never use oils that contain added ingredients.
- Only use 3-5 drops of essential oil at a time.
- Monitor birds closely for the first 5-15 minutes.
- Increase the amount of oil and the frequency of diffusion gradually.
- Never diffuse essential oils in a small room with no ventilation or air circulation.
- If you are diffusing oils near a bird, make sure there are plenty of airflows.
- Only use an essential oil diffuser that does not use heat.
- Avoid diffusers where the bird can gain direct access to the essential oils.
- Choose essential oils that are of pure or therapeutic grade.
- Never use oils on the essential oils toxic to birds list (even in another room)
These essential oils are generally safe to diffuse around birds:
- Floral oils such as – Geranium, ylang-ylang, rose, jasmine
- Citrus oils such as – Orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, bergamot
Frankincense is the only tree oil that also makes it to the “safe” for birds list. Please avoid all others.
There are a few “safe” essential oils that have a powerful aroma and should only be used with care, if at all, around birds.
I do not recommend diffusing these essential oils as they can quickly become a powerful irritant and toxic to birds.
- Juniper Berry
Note: There are essential oils that are safe for birds but toxic to other animals. If you have any other pets, please research what oils are toxic to them before using essential oils.
Essential Oils that are known to be toxic to birds:
- Melaleuca/Tea Tree
- Douglas Fir
- White Fir
- Synthetic or low-grade oils
- Melaleuca/Tea Tree Oil is toxic to ALL birds.
- All essential oils administered at 100% strength are toxic to birds.
- Not all essential oils are toxic to birds. (Some may be beneficial).
- Consult an avian veterinarian before using essential oils.
- Treat your bird as an individual. Not all birds have the same tolerances!
- Do not apply essential oils directly to a bird’s skin or feathers.
- Never allow a bird to ingest undiluted essential oils.
- Use only the purest therapeutic- grade essential oils.
- Never use essential oils near juvenile or pregnant birds.
- When the price is too good to be true, IT IS!
- Warming essential oils could make them dangerous essential oils.
- Essential oil and plastic are a dangerous combination.
- If the bottle is clear, it’s not an essential oil.
- The third-party tested brands are the only brands you should trust.
- Check commercial products for synthetic, toxic, or hidden essential oils.
- Never burn paraffin wax or synthetically fragranced candles.
- Avoid Teflon and self-cleaning ovens.
- Maintain a fresh air flow through good ventilation.
- Research the quality of all essential oils before use (gifted or otherwise).
- Oil and water do not mix. (Be cautious with this mixture).
- Always introduce birds to essential oils gradually.
- Never diffuse essential oil in a small unventilated room.
- Safe essential oils with a powerful aroma can be irritant to birds.
Unlike cats and dogs, birds have a greater tolerance for essential oils, and captive birds may even benefit from them. You can find plenty of heated discussion about this online! But remember that long-term research is limited, so do not take any argument at face value.
However, If using essential oils around birds, be sure that you only purchase essential oils from a trusted source. Remember, the respiratory system of birds is sensitive. So you must choose essential oils that are of pure or therapeutic grade.
Please do your due diligence and research them well.
Zulu & Zebedy, the zebra finches, will thank you for it!
It’s also important to know that Birds can absorb essential oils through their feet. So be aware of this when your birds stand anywhere on your skin where you have applied an essential oil, even if those oils are on the “safe” list, as the oil may be heavily concentrated or adulterated.
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Mark Aspland is a proud father of two boys, would be amateur actor and green living enthusiast. He has been sharing hints, tips and sustainable living content on his website Sustainability Dad since august 2019.
He now has an army of followers who are like hearted individuals passionate about the environment and how to affect positive change through peaceful action.