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Are Scented Products Safe for Pets? Here’s How to Pass the Smell Test.

It's the question on everyone's minds these days. Are scented products really toxic to our pets? Let’s learn what to look for when using these products and sniff out some alternatives.

Woman sits on bed with cat burning candle

As pet parents, we want our soulful sidekicks to be healthy and happy. And if you’re like millions of other households, you love burning candles and using essential oils in your home.

The toxic materials in some of these scented products (not to mention smoke and open flames) can be hazardous to our pets. Let’s learn what to look for when using these products and sniff out some alternatives.

Air fresheners and scented candles in the US round out the top categories of scented home products, with nearly $4 billion in sales in 2020.

If you’re like me, you also love all things scented, from candles and incense to essential oils. But wagging tails and zoomies can make for a dangerous combination with lit candles. Wax can be harmful when consumed, and strong fragrances can be toxic, too.

I’ve used all these for years while keeping lit candles and wax burners out of my pup’s reach. (He’s tiny, so it’s not hard.)

Despite taking these precautions, I noticed that the new essential oil plug-ins I had been using caused my dog to exhibit common allergy symptoms such as a runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing. What changed? Answer: the specific essential oils inside.

Your cat or dog may be a stinky contributor to the need for fun fragrances in your home, but they also have an even stronger sense of smell than we do.

Researchers estimate that a bloodhound has 230 million olfactory cells. That’s about 40x as many scent receptors as we have!

Your pet may be sensitive to smoke or essential oils, whether you notice a reaction or not. Eating toxic candle wax or flowers is also a risk.

In this blog, we will discuss some common scented products that you may have in your home, how to identify safer alternatives, and symptoms to look out for.

The Safety of Candles, Essential Oils, and Flowers for Pets

Are candles safe for homes with pets?

Candles are a great way to set a relaxing ambiance or enjoy a seasonal mood. You may have even seen candles marketed specifically for masking pet odors.

However, an open flame can be hazardous for climbing cats and wagging tails. Smoke, wax, and other ingredients can also be harmful, especially when ingested.

Safety tips for enjoying candles with pets

  • Keep candles out of your pets' reach.

  • Consider burning candles in rooms that your pets cannot access.

  • Use the jar's lid or a snuffer to put out candles, reducing smoke exposure.

  • Consider using a candle warmer to melt wax instead of burning the wick.

Is incense safe to have around pets?

While the lit end of an incense stick may be small, knocking over the burner can have similar consequences to knocking over a candle. Additionally, consuming the actual ashes or sticks can be hazardous.

Pets are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of incense, as they can inhale smoke and develop respiratory issues.

The hazy effect created by incense is part of the experience for humans, but smoke lingering in the air extends your pet’s exposure to it. This could potentially harm your pets at greater distances than, for example, a single candle in another room.

Safety tips for enjoying incense with pets

  • Keep incense sticks and burners out of your pets' reach.

  • Consider burning incense in a separate room from your animals.

  • Ventilate any space where you've burned incense before the pets return.

Are essential oils safe to have around pets?

Essential oils are popular for their therapeutic properties, but pets can have adverse reactions. The severity of these reactions can differ between cats and dogs and can depend greatly on the concentration, quality, formulation, and length of exposure.

It is important to note that diffusers are not the only sources of essential oils. Many common household cleaning supplies and personal care items, such as hand lotions, also contain essential oils.

Which essential oils are dangerous to cats and dogs?

Cats are particularly sensitive to essential oils, and ingesting them can result in gastrointestinal upset, central nervous system depression, and even liver damage.

Several of the most common essential oils are harmful to cats and dogs, including peppermint, pine, eucalyptus, and tea tree.

Here is a more comprehensive list for cats and dogs:

Unsafe Essential Oils for Dogs
  • Cinnamon

  • Eucalyptus

  • Pennyroyal

  • Pine

  • Sweet birch

  • Tea tree (melaleuca)

  • Wintergreen

Unsafe Essential Oils for Cats
  • Cinnamon

  • Citrus (limonene)

  • Clove

  • Eucalyptus

  • Pennyroyal

  • Peppermint

  • Pine

  • Sweet birch

  • Tea tree (melaleuca)

  • Wintergreen

  • Ylang Ylang

Source: Pet Poison Helpline

Safety tips for enjoying essential oils with pets

  • Keep pure essential oils out of reach of pets.

  • Restrict your pet's access to handmade soaps, candles, lotions, and other products that may contain essential oils.

  • Consult with your veterinarian when in doubt.

Some people believe that essential oils can provide beneficial aromatherapy for animals, just like humans. However, there is not much scientific evidence to support this claim.

If you believe your pet can benefit from essential oils, it's best to proceed cautiously, dilute thoroughly, limit exposure, and work with trusted professionals.

Are plants and flowers safe to have around pets?

Pets can have adverse reactions if they ingest certain plants or flowers. These reactions can include vomiting and gastrointestinal upset and apply to live plants, cuttings, and dried flowers.

The degree of toxicity depends on various factors, such as the type and breed of animal, the amount ingested, and, in the case of plants, the part of the plant eaten (e.g., the bulb, leaf, or flower).

Cats often have access to the surfaces where we display floral arrangements, and it's common to find unsafe plants in these bouquets, such as lilies, which may also shed leaves and pollen as they wilt.

If you're a pet parent with a green thumb, you may already be aware of these concerns. If you're not much of a plant person, reviewing these precautions the next time a birthday bouquet of flowers arrives at your doorstep is especially important.

Unsafe Plants
  • Aloe

  • Begonia

  • English Ivy

  • Eucalyptus

  • Fig Tree

  • Golden Pothos

  • Jade

  • Lily of the Valley

  • Lemon Tree

  • Philodendron

  • Tulips

Safe Plants
  • African Violets

  • Boston Ferns

  • Cast-Iron plants

  • Money

  • Orchids

  • Prayer

  • Spider

Safety tips for enjoying plants with pets

  • Keep plants and flowers out of your pets' reach, and be mindful of accessible countertops.

  • Consider restricting your pet's access to rooms where plants are located.

  • Choose pet-safe plants the next time you shop at the garden center.

  • Establish a clear plant zone and work on boundary training with your dog.

If you have a beloved houseplant on the list, you may consider buying or making pet-deterrent sprays. If you try this method, triple-check the ingredients to avoid solving one problem while creating another.

Learn more in our guide on dogs and houseplants, or check out the most common plants harmful to cats.

Aromatic Alternatives to Unsafe Options: 

Have you done everything possible to keep your home from smelling like a dog? Maybe you’ve even switched to pet-safe cleaning products, but you’re still missing that delightful rotation of your favorite scents.

Thankfully, some options pass the smell test. Here are a few pet-safe alternatives for scented products:

  • Soy or beeswax candles

  • Flameless electric candles

  • Potpourri (kept out of reach)

  • Ultrasonic diffusers (instead of candles or incense)

  • Air fresheners or room sprays labeled as safe for pets

  • DIY pet-safe cleaners and sprays

It’s worth noting that “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean safe. Check ingredient lists before immediately trusting a flashy label.

As always, ask your vet about anything you’re unsure about.

What to Do if Your Pet Has a Reaction

Being aware of risks and taking precautions can help keep our pets safe. Identifying symptoms of a reaction is also important. If your pet reacts to an unsafe smell, remove them from the area and seek veterinary care if necessary.

Symptoms of exposure can include:

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Loss of appetite

  • Lethargy or weakness

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Excessive drooling

  • Seizures

  • Tremors

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Unsteadiness, collapsing

  • Depression

  • Low body temperature

If you suspect your pet has ingested or been exposed to a harmful substance, immediately contact your veterinarian or a pet poison control center. Early intervention can make all the difference.

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 426-4435

Safety first; smell ya later

We all love to stop and smell the roses, and houseplants are more popular than ever, but pet parents know that the safety of their furry friends is of the utmost importance.

The good news is that with the right knowledge and proper precautions, you can have your candles and burn them too.

Always consult your veterinarian when you doubt the safety of scented products for your pets.

While you’re here, check out our guide for keeping pets safe around the holidays or some dangerous items your dogs may chew on.

Dylan M. Austin is a highly caffeinated writer and creator in Seattle. When offline, he's hanging out with his Chihuahua Terrier rescue, Will, and adding to his increasingly excessive houseplant collection.

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