Important oils and oil diffusers might be harming your pet

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When I turned to the smell of lavender, it never occurred to me that my new bedtime could harm my cat.

She often sleeps at my feet and is usually in the bedroom by the time I turn on my new oil diffuser.

But about a week after using the diffuser, I accidentally came across the information that many commonly used essential oils can be harmful to pets.

Unfortunately, while there are no known studies of how essential oils can harm our pets, the cases presented to veterinarians and animal poison helplines show that when animals are affected, it can be serious.

“When a pet comes in from exposure to essential oils, the clinical effects are often severe and require hospitalization and treatment,” said Nick Merwood, Poisons Specialist, Animal Poisons Helpline.

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Is your diffuser active or passive?

Dani Hoolahan, PetSure’s chief veterinary officer and a specialist in animal dermatology, says understanding how your oil diffuser works is fundamental to understanding how they can do harm.

“There are two broad categories of essential oil diffusers that you can buy,” says Dr. Hoolahan.

“”[They are] categorized as “active” or “passive” diffusers. “

Active diffusers

Active diffusers release oil particles into the air and create a light mist. These include humidifiers and vaporizers, glass nebulizers, and ultrasonic diffusers.

This mist can land on furniture, bedding, or your pet’s fur and can be picked up while grooming.

Passive diffusers

Passive diffusers include reed or evaporative diffusers, candle or heat diffusers.

“They emit a less intense aromatic scent because there is no mechanism that pushes the essential oil into the air,” says Dr. Hoolahan.

While both can be dangerous, active diffusers are the most worrying ones for our pets.

Dr. Hoolahan recommends playing it safe.

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Which essential oils are the most dangerous?

Dr. Hoolahan says that some of the most common essential oils that are best avoided in all pets include:

  • clove
  • eucalyptus
  • geranium
  • Penny royal
  • Tea tree
  • thyme
  • cinnamon

“”[But] As with humans, all pets are different – toxicity can also be species-dependent, “she adds.

Cats

“Cats lack the essential enzymes in their livers to metabolize and eliminate the chemical compounds in essential oils,” says Dr. Hoolahan.

“As a result, all essential oils can be toxic to cats.”

Some of the oils she says are particularly toxic to cats include:

  • Cinnamon and cassia
  • Citrus fruits (lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange)
  • clove
  • Bergamot
  • basil
  • eucalyptus
  • geranium
  • lavender
  • oregano
  • peppermint
  • Penny royal
  • Pine oils
  • Spruce
  • Tea tree
  • thyme
  • Wintergreen
  • Ylang ylang

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dogs

“Dogs don’t have the same enzyme deficiency, but they may still be at risk of irritation or toxicity due to the concentrated nature of the essential oils.”

Dr. Hoolahan says it’s best to avoid:

  • clove
  • eucalyptus
  • garlic
  • geranium
  • juniper
  • Penny royal
  • Pine oils
  • rosemary
  • Tea tree
  • thyme
  • Wintergreen
  • Ylang ylang

Birds

And for our feathered friends, according to Dr. Hoolahan’s best to avoid the use of essential oils in their environment altogether.

Dr. Rachel Peacock, chief veterinary officer of the Animal Poisons Helpline, agrees that “birds are particularly sensitive to inhaled vapors.”

“”[They] can get very sick or die, even with low exposure to essential oils and artificial fragrances, “says Dr. Hoolahan.

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It’s not just the type of pet you have, but the way they are exposed to the oil that can be critical.

Take oils orally

Oral ingestion of oils is a definite no-no.

“Compounds found in essential oils can cause burns in the mouth or esophagus and cause toxicity if they get into pets’ bodies,” says Dr. Hoolahan.

Inhale oils

“Inhaling essential oils can cause breathing problems in pets because the small particles in the air can irritate the airways,” says Dr. Hoolahan.

“Pets with existing respiratory diseases such as asthma or bronchitis are at greater risk of developing shortness of breath.

“The Animal Poison Helpline has received several calls regarding small dogs and cats who have become sluggish and unsafe after being indoors with diffusers for long periods of time.”

Directly on a pet’s skin

Dr. Hoolahan says that “applying essential oils directly to the skin can cause burns or skin irritation”.

“It also increases the likelihood that the pet will ingest the oil, as they will most likely lick it off,” she says.

“In birds, topical application of essential oils can be fatal.”

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What about other types of fragrances?

“Any artificial scent can be dangerous to pets,” says Dr. Hoolahan.

“Because the chemical ingredients can be toxic if inhaled, swallowed, or landed on the skin.”

She says this includes scented candles, wand diffusers, or plug-ins.

Passive diffusers are generally considered a safer option for pets in the home. Dr. However, Hoolahan continues to recommend speaking to your veterinarian prior to use.

What to Look For – Signs of essential oil toxicity

One of the biggest risks associated with essential oils for cats and dogs is irritation to the respiratory tract.

Respiratory irritation can occur as:

  • Watery eyes and nose
  • Throat and nose irritation / burning sensation,
  • Nausea causing drooling and / or vomiting,
  • Difficulty breathing due to shortness of breath, increased breathing rate, wheezing, coughing, or wheezing.

Dr. Hoolahan’s advice is if you notice any of these to get your pet some fresh air. However, if symptoms persist or you are concerned, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.

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As a Parent, Can You Use Oils Safely?

Dr. Says Peacock, “If people want to burn or vape essential oils in their homes, it is always best to use dilute solutions in well-ventilated areas. Of course, avoid the oils listed above if possible.”

She says the approach should be safe “as long as owners can keep their pets from lying next to or under the diffuser for long periods of time.”

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This is just general advice, and we always recommend that a pet owner speak with their own veterinarian to discuss any concerns about using essential oils at home.