why are candles unsafe for parrots?

Can You Burn Candles Around Parrots? (Scented vs. Unscented)

Candles are a common feature in many homes. They’re relaxing, soothing, and perfect for creating a cozy ambiance. But certain types of candles can be dangerous for parrots. This is because candles emit fumes, soot, and fragrances that can be harmful to your parrot’s respiratory health.

Most wax candles are unsuitable around parrots. They’re made from paraffin, which doesn’t burn cleanly and releases toxins into the air. Fumes and smoke are absorbed by the respiratory system and can make them ill. Essential oils, lead core wicks, and synthetic fragrances are all candle ingredients to avoid as they’re toxic to parrots. Beeswax and soy candles offer a healthier alternative.

While it’s tempting to light a candle at the end of a busy day, you must bear in mind that even small quantities of smoke can have a detrimental effect on the health of parrots. You might want to consider removing candles from your home altogether to keep your parrot safe from harm.

Why Are Candles Unsafe For Parrots?

As previously mentioned, most wax candles are made from paraffin, which is a derivative of petroleum. Paraffin doesn’t burn cleanly and releases toxic smoke and soot into the air.

Under the Animal Welfare Act, all owners must provide their animals with good levels of care. If you use candles around your parrot, you need to ensure adequate ventilation levels around the home to keep the bird safe. By failing to do this, you’re breaking the law.

Zinc Alloy

Most candle wicks are also made with zinc or zinc alloy, which can also be toxic to parrots when burned. By lighting candles around parrots, you’re exposing them to additives, essential oils, and fragrances that may irritate your parrot’s respiratory system and make it seriously ill.

are candles okay for parrots?

Carbon Monoxide

All flames release a certain amount of carbon monoxide (CO). Parrots are affected by this toxin. Birds have an efficient respiratory system because they need to absorb lots of oxygen when flying. This means that carbon monoxide is easily absorbed by parrots, as is smoke and other fumes.

This is also the reason why birds were used in coal mines to detect carbon monoxide and methane. If a bird fell off its perch, the miners knew that dangerous chemicals or toxins were nearby and evacuated the mines.

House Fire Risk

As well as the fumes, the candle flame itself can be a hazard. Vet Times explains how parrots are curious in nature and often encounter a range of dangers around the home, including candles and fires.  

Birds are at risk of flying into the open flames that candles produce. Parrots can easily knock candles over without noticing, especially when flying, causing a fire hazard inside the home as their wings fan the fire. Therefore, parrots should never be left unsupervised around lit candles.

Harmful Ingredients in Candles

When checking the ingredients of candles, look out for the following. These should be avoided to prevent your parrot from becoming sick:

Essential Oils

Essential oils like tea tree oil, ylang yang, and eucalyptus are toxic to parrots. Some oils don’t mix or dilute properly. If these substances touch the parrot’s eyes, pain or temporary blindness could occur.

Many essential oils require diffusers and wax warmers to release the fragrances, which are hazards in themselves. It’s difficult to know how a parrot will react around oils. Sensitive birds are more prone to becoming ill, and you don’t always realize until your parrot becomes very sick.

Similarly, citronella candles contain essential oils that fend of mosquitoes. Once heated, they become toxic, so candles should never be lit around parrots.

Lead Core Wicks

Some, though not all, candles are made with lead core wicks that release dangerous amounts of lead into the air. A study by the University of Michigan found that 30% of candles in the USA released a higher amount of lead considered safe by the EPA.

While legislation banned lead-core wicks, imported candles still make their way into U.S. stores. When buying a candle, make sure it has a cotton wick. Wicks with a metal base are hazardous and should be avoided.

Synthetic Fragrances

Scented candles contain anywhere between 3,000 to 5,000 different chemicals, many of which haven’t been tested. Not only do they cause headaches, but they release toxins such as formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, limonene, alcohol, and esters.

These chemicals can adversely affect a parrot’s ability to breathe and can even lead to cancer if lit regularly. Yankee Candles, in particular, are a best-selling fragranced candle brand and should also be avoided.

What Candles Are Safe For Parrots?

Most standard candles have a detrimental effect on a parrot’s health. However, beeswax, soy, and other plant-based waxes can be healthier.

Beeswax

Beeswax is a natural ionizer, which helps to clean the air supply. Ionizers work by neutralizing particles from air pollutants while naturally removing harmful toxins.

Beeswax also burns at a lower temperature and more cleanly than most other wax, releasing fewer toxins and particles into the air.

However, not all beeswax candles are created equal. Scented candles sometimes contain hidden chemicals that can affect your parrot. When it comes to scented vs. unscented beeswax candles, opt for unscented, and always check the ingredients list for anything that may cause harm.

Soy

Soy candles are thought to be the only kind that is safe around parrots, especially if they have a cotton wick. Soy candles are made from soybeans, making them safer than paraffin waxes derived from fossil fuels.

Soy wax candles don’t produce soot or release cancer-causing carcinogens into the air. However, they should always be kept away from your parrot because the flames can easily burn the bird or cause a fire.

Can You Burn Incense Around Parrots?

If you thought candles were bad for parrots, incense is even worse. Burning incense sticks produces chemical compounds that irritate a parrot’s lungs and respiratory system.

A study by Environmental Chemical Letters found that smoke from burning incense created both fine and ultrafine particles that are almost as harmful as cigarette smoke.

are scented candles toxic to parrots?

Exposure to these particles can cause long-term damage to a parrot’s lungs and air-sacs. Symptoms of respiratory disease or infection include:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Gasping
  • Nasal discharge
  • Open-mouthed breathing
  • Pneumonia
  • Wheezing or gurgling
  • Eye infections
  • Sticking eyelids
  • Eye discharge
  • Head bobbing or shaking
  • Abnormal head or neck postures
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Decreased thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Listlessness
  • Dehydration 
  • Lethargy

Respiratory problems caused by candle or incense smoke should ease once incense has been removed from the home. But, depending on the severity of the parrot’s breathing problems, the bird may require treatment.

Supportive care is usually offered to the parrot to make it more comfortable. Some antifungal medications or antibiotics can successfully treat the problem, but sometimes a flush of the nasal and sinus cavities is also required. 

In the case of allergies to candle soot, antihistamines and topical lotions are an effective treatment.

What To Do If A Parrot Is Exposed To Candle Toxins?

Homes aren’t natural environments for parrots to live in. It’s easy for owners to forget that candles and other household items pose a threat. As parrots have sensitive respiratory systems, candles are more deadly than they seem. 

If a lit candle seems to be making your parrot ill, blow out the wick and remove the parrot from the affected room. Provide ventilation by opening windows and doors to let fresh air filter through and remove smoke, fumes, and soot.

You might also want to take your parrot outside for some fresh air. However, be sure to keep it in its cage in case it flies away. Once your parrot’s breathing returns to normal, and you’re confident the fumes are gone, you can return the bird to its usual living area.

If your parrot exhibits breathing problems that don’t get better once the candle and fumes are removed, take it to an avian vet to get checked over.

Also, you might want to consider lighting candles far away from your parrot’s living space to prevent future health issues.

How To Make A Parrot-Safe Candle

If you’d prefer not to give up candles, you might want to consider creating your own parrot-friendly candle instead. This soy-based candle is easy to make and is safe to burn inside the home where your parrot resides.

To ensure a fully clean and safe burn, don’t add any fragrances or essential oils that could harm your parrot.

Ingredients

  • Soy wax
  • 100% cotton wick
  • Mason jar

Method

  1. Melt the wax in a slow cooker or using a pan on the stove. Melt slowly on a low heat so that it doesn’t burn.
  2. Set the wicks using something to hold them in place while you pour the wax into the jar. Chopsticks or clothes pegs are effective.
  3. Pour your melted wax into the jar around the wick. Be careful not to pour the wax onto the wick.
  4. Let the wax set. Place the jar in a room temperature room so that cracks don’t form. Leave it overnight until the wax hardens and trim the wick.

While the health risks that candles pose to parrots are concerning, large quantities of smoke and soot do the damage. Lighting a candle occasionally is unlikely to cause any long-lasting health problems, but you need to consider if your parrot will like the odor of candles.