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Essential oils and pets

The use of essential oils to create pleasing aromas in the home environment has become vey popular in recent years. Popular fragrances such as lavender, mint, sandalwood, cedar, and lemon are dispersed using a range of methods: tea lights, nebulizers, sprays, ultrasonic diffusers, etc.

While essential oils may be safe for humans when used properly, they may pose a risk to pets. If you’re a pet owner, here are a few things you should know before using essential oils in your home.

Dogs and cats are very sensitive to smells. The olfactory senses of both dog and cats are far more highly developed, so what might seem like a pleasing gentle aroma to us can easily irritate our pets. According to scientists, a dog’s sense of smell is “10,000 to 100,000 times as acute” compared to humans. If you do use essential oils in one part of your home, be sure your pets have a place they can go to escape the aroma if they choose. Essential oils should not be used around dogs or cats with existing respiratory conditions, as the aromas might worsen breathing problems.

Essential oils are highly concentrated. Since they are designed to be diffused in air, essential oils are packaged and sold in highly concentrated form. If accidentally eaten or licked by a dog or cat, these concentrated oils can be toxic. In fact, essential oils are listed as a common cause of tremors in cats, along with DEET. So be sure to keep both the oils and the diffuser out of the reach of your pets.

Essential oils can be absorbed transdermally. Skin exposure to undiluted essential oils can also be hazardous to pets. Concentrated aromatic oils that contact your pet’s skin directly may be absorbed into the bloodstream and cause a range of problems—from skin irritation at the exposure site to organ failure due to toxicity. These risks reinforce the need to keep essential oils and diffusers from direct contact with your pets.

It’s not just the oils, but the compounds used to diffuse them. Essential oils designed for use in diffusers or vaporizers consist of compounds that contain not only the aromatic oil, but also chemicals that help the oil better disperse into the air. (Cats in particular may be affected by essential oil additives based on their difficulty metabolizing phenols and phenolic compounds.) These additional ingredients vary from product to product, and can potentially cause health problems in pets—especially if ingested.

If you have small animals, skip the oils altogether. Small pets like hamsters, gerbils, or birds are extremely sensitive to changes in their physical environments. Birds, in fact, have an olfactory system entirely unlike that of mammals, and are highly sensitive to unfamiliar aromas. If you have small pets, your best bet is to avoid using essential oils completely.  

We hope these tips will help you make informed, pet-friendly choices about the aroma products you purchase for home use.


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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