An article covering basic guidelines for diffusing for birds.
As a general rule, we feel that operating a diffuser is usually the best method of applying essential oils to birds for several reasons. Birds have air sacs (similar to lungs) all over their bodies and a diffuser will distribute the essential oils into the air sacs so as to be absorbed throughout the bird's body very effectively. Then, while topical application may be required in extreme cases (organ diseases, tumors, broken bones etc), it carries risks. For example, you can't use most essential oils undiluted on a bird's skin, and you can only dilute essential oils effectively in carrier oils (olive, almond etc.), which means that you can damage a birds' feathers by applying the diluted essential oils to the skin since the carrier oils will matt the feathers. If topical application is needed, then application to the bottom of the feet is probably the safest method, since the feet can handle the carrier oils, and the essential oils will still enter the bloodstream via the feet, but a diffuser should work just as effectively most of the time.
1. The only brands of essential oils that we can recommend for safe use with birds are therapeutic grade essential oils from Young Living or Original Swiss Aromatics. These are the only brands of essential oils that we trust to be truly pure, unadulterated and safe, and they are the only brands we have used with our own birds. Not all of the essential oils sold by Young Living and Swiss Aromatics are safe for birds (see #3 below) but we have seen excellent results with those that are. Other brands of essential oils may be adulterated with chemicals that could prove fatal to your bird.
2. Except in emergency situations, whenever you diffuse a new essential oil or blend for your bird start with very short periods of diffusing for several days and increase the length of time slowly over the next couple of weeks. Three to five minutes is a good starting point. When using a new essential oil, always stand and watch the bird during the first several diffusing sessions and for at least ten minutes following the diffusing sessions to make sure there are no negative reactions. For the first couple of days, check on the bird frequently. Never leave a bird unattended with a diffuser running. Please refer to the information under HOW TO USE below.
3. Do not use essential oils that have any toxicity warnings for birds or humans. This includes essential oils from plants that are toxic to birds such as cedar. Search the internet for information on the toxicity to birds of the plant or tree from which the essential oil is derived.
HOW TO PURCHASE:
Diffusers come in different price ranges. The cheaper ones work well for short term use but don't seem to hold up over time. Also, you cannot use the thicker or resin-based essential oils in the cheaper diffusers. Thick or resin-based essential oils include German chamomile, frankincense, patcholi, and myrrh. Essential oil blends that contain these oils may also be thick and resinous. With any diffuser you purchase, make sure to ask if the essential oils you want to diffuse will work in the diffuser you want to buy. Never use heat based diffusers to diffuse essential oils because heat may eliminate the therapeutic properties of the oils.
A high quality well and jet style diffuser is worth the investment and is a necessity for diffusing the essential oils mentioned above. DiffuserWorld.com and AbundantHealth.us are two websites that sell these high quality diffusers. Young Living also offers a well and jet style diffuser. These diffusers differ from less expensive models, because the well for the oil is separate from the nebulizer. Oils are placed into the well and automatically drawn into the jet side of the diffuser base. A glass nebulizer covers the jet side of the diffuser base and the pump directs air through the jet to send the essential oil up into the nebulizer.
HOW TO USE:
You need to use diffusers in small birdrooms or else you need to partially enclose the bird's cage in order to create enough essential oil concentration to be beneficial. Place the diffuser at eye level, approximately two to three feet away from the bird. As stated above, always watch the bird for signs of stress including respiratory changes, changes in dropping consistency, hyperactivity, lethargy etc. In the beginning, run the diffuser for no more than five minutes, take a break, and if there are no problems, repeat this. Slowly build up to anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes per session. Sessions can be once per day or numerous times per day. It has been our experience that as little as 15 - 20 minutes of diffusing may produce results. Once you have made progress with a particular issue, you may be able to diffuse on a maintenance basis for 20 - 60 minutes. Each case varies.
When you place the oil in a well and jet style diffuser, the oil will be drawn out of the well into the jet section so that no oil will be visible. In order to determine how much oil you have left in the diffuser, and in order to draw excess oil up into an eye dropper for storage, you must tip the base of the diffuser towards the well. In this way, all the oil should flow into the well for easy calculation or removal.
While diffusing, you should hear a bubbly noise which indicates that the oil is rising up the glass properly. If you only hear the sound of air, with no bubbling, this means the oil has run out or is not reaching the glass. Sometimes the glass may need to be cleaned with hot soapy water, but usually the problem is that the oil level is low. To avoid low oil level problems, I like to prop up the well side of the diffuser with a towel so that it tips toward the jet/glass side; this allows the oil to diffuse for longer periods without running out.
Since oils dissipate when exposed to air, it is necessary to cover the well while diffusing in order to seal and protect the oils in the base. You can use tape if you can make it stick, or you can use an upside-down, empty essential oil bottle with the top removed - this should easily fit over the opening of the well and form a cover for the oils in the base.
Make sure that you store any unused essential oils in dark bottles away from heat and light at all times. You will need an eyedropper to pull up the excess essential oil from the diffuser once you finish using it. If you leave the essential oils sitting in the diffuser in between sessions, they will degrade. If you plan to diffuse for more than a few days in a row, make sure to take a break for a couple of days to give the birds' systems time to process the essential oils. An easy way to achieve this is to diffuse for five days of the week and take the weekends off or to diffuse for 3 days on and 1 day off.
Diffusers clog fairly easily. When this happens, it is necessary to use hot soapy water plus a solvent such as CitraSolve (available in health food stores) and soak the base and glass for an hour or so. After rinsing, it is then necessary to thoroughly dry the unit before using again.
For further information on which essential oils we have personally used with our birds, please refer to the article titled SAFE USE OF THERAPEUTIC GRADE ESSENTIAL OILS FOR BIRDS.
Lainey Alexander and Leanne Burton
DISCLAIMER: Please bear in mind that the authors of this article are not doctors, veterinarians, or otherwise qualified practitioners, and so cannot be held accountable for results that may occur from these suggestions. We provide this information for educational purposes only. Use essential oils at your own risk.