Essential Oils and Parrots

February 22, 2012 § 22 Comments

In the past several months I’d been slowly hearing and reading about more and more people touting the health benefits and healing properties of essential oils for their parrots.  My gut reaction was: no!  Anything scented is something that I don’t want near my parrots at all, ever.  I’m pretty extreme in that regard: not only have I ruled out air fresheners, candles, incense, scented sprays, and similar products in my home, but I myself no longer wear perfume or scented cosmetic products either.  But when I’d read that a holistic avian veterinarian also promoted the use of essential oils along with some of my most trusted and knowledgeable parrot owning friends, I decided to do some more research.

What I learned was very fascinating.  Yes, it’s true– in general, most scented items like the ones listed above are indeed harmful for our birds.  But, some (very few actually) extremely high quality and high grade essential oils can actually be incredibly beneficial.  I’ve learned so much over the past few months that it’s difficult to compile it all; in writing this post, I changed my “starting point” three times.  But finally I’ve chosen somewhere to start: at the beginning, with the essential oils themselves.

What exactly are essential oils?  At their most basic, they are aromatic, volatile liquids found in plants, and as their name suggests, they are vital for a plant to grow and live.  One website calls them “living energy” and a friend of mine describes them as the life blood of a plant: just like we wouldn’t survive if we didn’t have blood, a plant wouldn’t survive without its essential oils.  They support various life processes and regulate plant functions.  Different oils have many different properties, from healing to purifying to protecting.  Many are antibacterial and antifungal.  Research shows that they may have been used as early as 4,500 BC, and the Ancient Egyptians used them for treating illnesses as well as for religious ceremonies and rituals.

They sound pretty incredible– but there is one big caveat.  Essential oils come in many different grades, and can be easily adulterated with different chemical and synthetic additives in order to make them cheaper to produce for companies.  These essential oils are the reason why the vast majority of parrot owners have always been told that essential oils are a big no-no: these essential oils are actually harmful and toxic to parrots.  Over 90% of essential oils on the market are not of therapeutic grade quality, and even of those that are therapeutic grade, there are differing levels of quality.  This is why it is incredibly important only to buy certain brands of essential oils.

In my research, only two companies are producing oils that are therapeutic grade and high enough quality (with the testing to prove it) to use around parrots.  The most highly recommended one that I have come across is Young Living, who create pure, unadulterated, therapeutic grade essential oils.  They begin with the soil: their plants are only grown on virgin land that has never been treated with pesticides or other harsh chemicals.  Once plants are harvested, they are distilled using a gentle steam-extraction technique that leaves their chemical composition and healing properties in tact.  Every single batch of oils produced is then completely analyzed for purity before being sold, ensuring the highest possible quality.  And unlike any other company, their spectrometry testing is actually available for each oil.  Many big believers and users of essential oils swear by Young Living and only use their oils, exclusively.

But why use them in the first place?  I don’t normally need to “heal” anything in my flock, since (knock on wood) we are lucky enough to be in good health.  (Ironically, we had an emergency situation with Sabrina this week, but the vet has been taking great care of her.  Otherwise, we’ve all been in great health as of late.)  For a few months I wasn’t interested in essential oils, simply because I thought they were more medicinal than anything else.  But when I began reading several reports of essential oils not only healing birds but helping birds’ moods and behavior and hormones, I became fascinated.  I’ve read testimonials of essential oils helping to calm hormonal birds, helping birds overcome the loss of mate or a friend, helping to increase birds’ appetites, helping to reduce screaming, and more.  Even more alluring to me were the many reports I’d read that essential oils also helped the parrot owners themselves: they felt less stress, more calm, more happy, and more at peace when using certain essential oils.  Parrot owners could also safely wear “perfumes” again in the form of essential oils.  But perhaps the most interesting facet of my research on essential oils was that almost all of these reported changes were instant: I saw many people purchase their diffusers and oils and report positive experiences within days!

After several months of deliberation and discussion with many essential oil users (thank you to all of you who answered my barrages of questions!) and essential oil producers, I finally decided that we would also try diffusing and using essential oils.  Although we are all healthy, I would love to see if perhaps some oil blends like Peace & Calming can help to calm down Sabrina a bit, or perhaps encourage her to get along with Charles a bit better.  I’m also interested in Thieves, which many swear by for its cleansing abilities as well as its immune system support.  It’s supposedly an all natural antifungal, antibacterial, antimicrobial essential oil that is 100% safe and non-toxic to use around birds.  I finally took the plunge and purchased a diffuser, a model recommended by a holistic vet, along with a few oils to begin with.

I’m taking things very slowly at first while I am still getting started, but hopefully I will have more to report soon.  My diffuser should arrive here on Thursday, and my fancy shmancy oils should be here soon after.  Once those arrive, I’ll post more about how to choose a diffuser and some benefits of different oils and oil blends.  This isn’t an inexpensive investment, but I truly believe that the rewards will be great.

For anybody interested in using essential oils with their parrots, don’t take my word for it: visit Dr. Melissa Shelton’s website on essential oils and animals, or visit the excellent Essential Bird group website.  Read more about Young Living Essential Oils in particular or to get started.  (If you do decide to get started, let me know if you need a referral number as they work through distributors and referrals.)  A little research never hurt!

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Fresh and Clean Soaps!

June 19, 2011 § 6 Comments

I am very impressed with Quaking Canopy Soap Co. and for the first time I can say I absolutely love soap!  Quaking Canopy goat milk soaps, at least.  I have never gotten excited about soaps before.  In fact, I’m one of those people that really dreads buying soaps because I hate scents, I have sensitive skin, I am into buying chemical and usually fragrance-free products for both my and the birds’ sake, and I also try to be as sustainable as possible.  A lot of soaps contain petroleum products (well, dish soaps, but it’s still a pain– Dawn, for example, is a petrol-based soap) and if it’s not petrol then it’s palm oil, which is rapidly causing the habitat destruction of orangutans and general deforestation.  So as you can see, I am nitpicky and neurotic to the maximum.  I use organic, fair trade, all natural baby soaps for most of my needs because they are super gentle and generally the least offensive to my nose.

Well, I really needed to buy a gift for an older couple I don’t know very well, but I wanted it to be thoughtful, which makes it difficult.  Quaking Canopy was participating in a sale on Avian Avenue, so I decided to check them out.  Usually, I think that soap is a pretty lame gift that I hate getting myself, but the woman really loves soaps.  I was a bit hesitant because I thought that would really make the gift solely for her rather than both of them, but I checked out the website anyway and lo and behold, Quaking Canopy also has shaving soap and a great shaving bristle brush!  I thought it would make a lovely gift for the both of them, so I ordered some adorable soaps (in the shape of goats, no less), some lotion, and the shaving soap and brush set.

My gift order from Quaking Canopy Soap Co.

Free Samples!

I thought I’d be done at that point, but the order arrived so quickly (less than 48 hours!) that I was even more pleased than I already was.  It even came with free samples!!  Expecting to hate them all, I smelled the Clean Linen soap and LOVED it.  The scent was light, clean, and very fresh– not overpowering, artificial, or flowery at all.  I also loved the Honey Almond Oatmeal and the Bamboo Vanilla Sugar Cane.  I got curious and began thinking about an order for myself…

But I realized I should probably inquire about ingredients and whatnot due to my sensitive skin as well as the fact that they were not fragrance free.  I exchanged several emails with the owner, Amanda, about her ingredients, the sources for her ingredients, scents, sustainability, and more– and I am so impressed!  Not only did she actually answer all of my crazy questions, but she makes a serious commitment to sustainability and responsibly sources all of her materials.  She pays more to use sustainably forested palm oil, and even supports a sustainable goat farm by purchasing their goat milk as well.  All of her scents use only high quality essential oils, and everything is hand made by her, so she knows exactly what goes in.

I simply had to place a second order for myself and I am so happy with my selections.  Another favorite scent is the Day at the Beach, which came as a sample on my order.  I think I might be a regular customer from now on!  Thank you to Quaking Canopy for making sustainable, fresh, and lovely soaps with delicate scents and safe ingredients that I can feel confident using myself and around my birds!

Cleaning the Rest of My Home

May 17, 2011 § 5 Comments

Here’s another question I get very, very often, and since I recently wrote an entry about my cleaning protocol for my bird items, I figured I’d address how I clean the rest of my home as well.  I’m a big believer in keeping a chemical-free home.  Not just because of the birds… in fact, this is something I’ve always believed in, but having birds and knowing about their sensitive respiratory tracts and the importance of clean air to them just reinforces my decision to keep my home chemical-free.  That said I am also a neurotic neat freak and germophobe, so when I first made this decision, I was a little bit nervous that “all natural” cleaning products couldn’t possibly be as effective as chemical ones that killed anything and everything within a hundred foot radius.  But I made the switch anyway, and couldn’t be happier.  I actually think my home is far cleaner now without the lingering smell of harsh chemicals… in the bathroom especially!  I no longer feel the need to wear rubber gloves for fear that any harsh cleaning product will dry out my skin, nor do I have to hold my breath when I scrub. And it’s not just me– I very frequently get comments from my guests about how remarkably clean and fresh my place seems.

Seventh Generation cleaning products for the bathroom

I have tried a few brands, but so far my favorite by far is Seventh Generation.  I really like that their products are 100% all natural and non-toxic, and they specify that they are not only safe for the environment, but also safe for families, children, and pets.  What’s more?  They work!  Pictured above are some of the products I use to clean my bathrooms.  It’s what you’d expect: a glass cleaner, tub and tile cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, and a disinfecting bathroom cleaner.  Although I always prefer unscented products, it seems like they are actually pretty difficult to come by in terms of bathroom cleaning products, even among all natural brands.  I guess they assume most people want to cover up scents in the bathroom.  After many different offensively scented other brand products, I’ve found that Seventh Generation’s tend to be the lightest and although they neutralize any existing odors, their scents don’t last very long, which is what I want.  I also use disinfecting wipes, which are a BIG staple here, and I keep a canister in every bathroom and the kitchen as well.

More Seventh Generation cleaning products

Here are a few more that you’ll find around my home.  I use the Seventh Generation laundry detergent and their dryer sheets (not pictured), both of which are unscented.  Lola loves climbing all over me and hanging about from my clothes, and much to my dismay, chewing them.  I’d never feel comfortable letting her do that with clothes washed in standard, petroleum-based laundry detergents or normal dryer sheets (which contain many carcinogens).  I also use a Seventh Generation all purpose cleaner, as well as their Dish Liquid.  Again, I do not use petroleum-based dish liquids, neither for the birds’ bowls nor my own dishes.  And yes, it absolutely does cut through grease and gets my dishes squeaky clean!

Dr. Bronner's Magic All-in-One Soap

Here’s a non-Seventh Generation product I love: Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-in-One Soap!  These amazing soaps are not only made with organic oils, but they’re also fair trade.  I use the Baby Mild one, which is unscented.  It is incredibly versatile and can be used for just about everything, but I usually use it for all purpose cleaning (including dish washing!) and as a body wash as well.  It lathers up REALLY well and leaves no scent at all whatsoever, which is important to me for any body wash, since I handle my birds a lot of course.  Yes, all the rest of my personal products are also all natural and organic as well.

I’m missing a few products here, but hopefully you get the gist of it: chemical-free is the way to go!  It’s so much safer, for you, for the birds, and for the environment too.  Some of these products might seem more expensive, but the great thing about all of them is that a little truly goes a long way.  I feel very much that I am getting great value from these products, all things considered.

Cleaning Protocol for New Toys and Items

May 7, 2011 § 5 Comments

I’ve gotten this question a few times recently so I figured I would just address it here.  I would like to first recognize that this is probably not in any way the norm and that I do realize that yet again I probably seem like a bit of a nutcase here.  I’m okay with that.  I make no exceptions: I do not bring anything into my bird room unless it has been strictly cleaned and sanitized (including disinfection).  I do this to different degrees with different items; first I will explain how I determine what is necessary and then I will explain what I do, and what I use.

Generally I only purchase my bird supplies from bird-free stores that do not accept returns, which is the first and most important policy.  I do in fact ask every single store I patronize, before I place an order, about their facilities, how their items are stored, whether or not they are parrot owners, etc.  (I myself also visit bird stores, but never purchase anything, and always change clothes and try to rinse off before I step into the bird room.)  I can only think of one store for which I do make exceptions because it has an excellent reputation for extreme cleanliness and I have spoken to the owner at length and really respect his philosophies on bird care and bird store ownership.  He does not allow visiting birds nor does he sell baby birds but allows his own birds to visit the store every once in a while.  Even then, however, I limit myself to buying only those items that are non-porous and therefore able to be disinfected fully (acrylic items).

So, first is the bird-free policy, and second I take into consideration the “degree” of how bird-free a store is.  Some stores are simply separate rooms within a parrot owners house.  This, to me, is not actually “bird-free,” as there is a shared air space.  I do however make few exceptions for very trusted parrot owners– usually I have to know them personally or have spoken with them at length; they cannot have added to the flock recently, their birds must be in good health; they cannot frequent places with other parrots, etc.  I think there are probably two stores that fall under this category that I patronize.  The next “degree” of stores would be the majority of stores I support: operated out of bird-free facilities separate from the home, but owned by parrot owners.  Finally, there are those rare gems who are truly bird-free as the owners do not have parrots themselves but are still invested in their care and enrichment.

I don’t patronize Petco or Petsmart, almost any other brick and mortar pet or bird store that keeps birds, home-based businesses owned by people with lots of birds or people that add to the flock often or recently, etc.  Those are all personal choices.  I’m sure many of them have great products that would be perfectly safe, but at this time I don’t wish to take any chances.  And no, shopping from drop-ship stores only isn’t ideal for me either, simply because that means that all of the stock items are coming from a bevy of different stores that could all have different policies, and just one toy coming from a bird-filled environment spoils the entire warehouse.  So generally I prefer small businesses, but again, I make exceptions or compensate with my cleaning protocol as necessary.

Mango Pet Focus Disinfectant

F10 Biocare Disinfectant

Once an order is home, that’s when the protocol kicks in.  I have to admit, even though I do recognize that probably nobody goes as nutty as I do with the cleaning and disinfecting, I do think it is a good idea to do at least something.  I sometimes cringe when I see birds going through a newly opened box of items just arrived in the mail, or given toys straight from a bird store. It’s probably just me, but, it’s really not that much effort to spray something down once and let it dry.

I have a few indispensable items in my arsenal.  My two disinfectants of choice are Mango’s Pet Focus and F10 Biocare.  Absolutely everything is sprayed down with one of these two disinfectants.  If it is from a truly bird-free store owned by somebody with no parrots, I will usually clean first, then disinfect (two separate steps).  To clean, I will simply rinse the items to rid them of any debris (sometimes debris and organic matter can negate the effectiveness of the disinfectant), and allow them to fully dry for 24 hours or more as necessary.  To disinfect, I pick a disinfectant (either F10 or Pet Focus; I don’t really have a preference these days), spray the items down, let them fully dry for at least 24 hours, and then they’re good to go for me.  If it’s from a bird-free store owned by somebody who does have parrots, I will do the same, but usually give them a few more days to dry each time around as a sort of mini-quarantine before I give them to my parrots.  If it’s from a home-based store, I will usually actually do all that and then even bake the items in my stove if they are bake-able, and if not, I just give them a longer quarantine to compensate.  This is why, a lot of the time, I’ll get something in the mail but won’t post about it until several days later, and even then it’s usually just a photo of the products and not necessarily my parrots playing with them just yet.

So, that’s what I do, and yes, I am well aware that I am a nut.  🙂  Unfortunately I have suffered and witnessed so many terrible, terrible things happen, from freak accidents to unexplained sickness to unexplained death that I don’t take my chances anymore.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard parrot owners say that they have no idea how their parrot got sick or how he/she would’ve been exposed to a disease.  I would guess that the number of home-based businesses sprouting up as well as the pervasiveness of toys and perches and products being sold in facilities with other parrots, combined with the fact that so many people buy online now and can’t see for themselves nor think to ask, is allowing disease to spread much further and perhaps more rapidly than it would have in the past.

More Sprouting Supplies and Others

May 5, 2011 § 7 Comments

I absolutely love ordering from Kathie at My Safe Bird Store.  I usually place a small “nuts and bolts” (staples, like food and supplies) order with her every so often, and I am always so pleased with the amazing packaging, care, and lightning fast shipping!  On top of that, she has unbeatable, low prices and a great variety of items, and is even willing to special order anything you don’t see on her site (more on that below).

My beautifully packaged order from My Safe Bird Store

Here is what my order looked like out of the box.  Kathie carefully wraps every single item: the smaller ones in tissue paper and then a plastic bag, tied with a bow at the top, and larger boxed or already wrapped items with just the plastic.  Then she tops it all off with some lovely, bright, and often seasonal tissue paper.  I love the care that she puts into this because it ensures that none of my items will be cross-contaminated with anything else that might be mingling among the other boxes during shipping, especially other boxes with items that could leak.  I love getting packages as is, but opening up Kathie’s packages is like opening up a beautifully wrapped gift!  She also always includes a special something, and this time it was an adorable crafted sign for the home (in the little yellow gift bag).

This “nuts and bolts” order consisted of some of my flock’s staple items and some new items as well.  Wrapped in green on the right are three packages of Totally Organics All-in-One Seed Mix, my super high quality sprouting mix of choice.  I also ordered a second Easy Sprout because I love my first sprouter so much that I decided to try a second so that I can have two batches going at once!  I did at one point have a second but it must have gotten lost in transit when I moved this summer.  Next to the Easy Sprout are two bottles of Mango Poop Swoop Wipes, which make cleaning such a breeze.  I get so many questions about how I keep my carpets and especially my natural white cotton atoms and crawlers so clean, and my secret is this stuff!  They’re super convenient wipes with bird-safe cleaners that just melt droppings away.  It’s very similar to Poop Off, but in my opinion smells far better.

Lola on her new bamboo pedicure perches

This time, I was also looking for some cool bamboo pedicure perches in particular that HungryBird posted about, and Kathie was nice enough to special order them for me!  I have a really hard time finding pedicure perches, especially because of my stainless steel hardware-only rule.  So far, I haven’t found a single company that makes pedicure perches with stainless steel hardware.  I also strongly prefer pedicure perches that are smooth on the top, and only rough or sandy on the sides, so that they do not irritate the feet.  The only one that met my requirements that I could find was the Safety Pumice Perch by Sweet Feet and Beak, because it used plastic cage attachments rather than metal hardware, and had the sandy parts only on the sides.  I’ve been using those with Lola and they do work very well, but I have to be honest– they stick out like a sore thumb in her cage because they only come in bright sea green, bright strawberry pink, purple or blue, and … well, let’s just say they look like a type of toy, but not a bird toy, if you know what I mean.  (If you saw a picture of one, you’d get it.)

This is why I was so pleased to see HungryBird’s photos of these bamboo ones (by the same company actually)– they have smooth tops with sand on the sides only for comfort, and they also use plastic cage attachments!  (I should mention though that inside the plastic attachment there are two non-stainless screws that are completely inaccessible unless, of course, your bird chews through the perch.  I would replace them if you have a big chewer.)  But best of all, they look far more natural as they are actually made of bamboo rather than brightly colored plastic.  I emailed Kathie about special ordering them and as she always does, she got them in promptly and sent them straight to me.  She also told me, unfortunately, that the company is discontinuing them, so I suppose that I’ll have to make these two last.

I am really pleased with these perches.  Strangely, Lola was terrified of them at first.  She has never, ever been afraid of a perch, except for the pumice / pedicure ones I’ve purchased.  It’s very unusual.  Many, many treats later, I got her to perch on them for the above photos, and with lots of praise and walnut pieces, she is now totally comfortable on them.  Thanks so much Kathie!  We love My Safe Bird Store!

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