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Cats and essential oils

Q: My friend has a liquid potpourri pot that scents her home with a welcoming fragrance. I want to get one too, but I’m concerned about my cat’s safety. Please advise.

A: Your concern is warranted. Cats are more sensitive than most species to the essential oils found in reed diffusers, electric diffusers and simmer pots that hold liquid potpourri. Most such products contain not just essential oils but also cationic detergents that are corrosive, particularly to the gums and tongue.

If your cat were to investigate your liquid potpourri by putting a paw in the pot and then licking her paw while grooming, toxic signs would be evident within four to twelve hours. They include burns and ulcers in the mouth, drooling, gagging, vomiting, loss of appetite, coughing, breathing difficulties, hiding, lethargy and fever.

Essential oils can be used safely around pets if precautions are taken:

  • Allow pets the option of leaving the room since they are very sensitive to odor.
  • Don’t use your liquid potpourri pot or a diffuser in an enclosed space or for longer than 30 minutes at a time.
  • Position the diffuser so it doesn’t spray oil on pets or their bedding or dishes.
  • Use diluted essential oils, which are less toxic than concentrates.
  • Remain in the room when your potpourri pot is in use, especially if it is warmed by a candle. Put your pot away when you’re not using it.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at askdrlee@insurefigo.com.

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