Use of natural products and essential oils has remained popular. While you may find that using essential oils, like lavender or eucalyptus, for aromatherapy helps you relax, it’s important to keep in mind that these oils can also pose safety risks to pets and other people. Pets–especially cats and birds—metabolize things quite differently than humans and there have been reports of many essential oils being toxic to our furry and feathered friends. Since these products are natural, they should be safe for people and pets, right? Unfortunately, natural does not always equal safe.
Essential oils are the concentrated liquids of plants. They are popular in aromatherapy, alternative medicine, as additives in cleaning products and personal care products, as well as home air fresheners. Many people use essential oil diffusers to improve their health. Lavender is said to help with relaxation and sleep, while eucalyptus and peppermint oils help to clear a stuffy nose when you have a cold.
Many people use essential oils in diffusers in their homes. While this may be calming and relaxing for us, dogs and cats have many more olfactory sensors in their noses than we do. A dog’s sense of smell is somewhere between 1,000 to 10,000 times better than ours! Can you imagine being trapped in a small room with someone wearing very strong perfume or cologne? That overwhelming odor can be anything but calming and this may be how our pets feel when exposed to diffusers. Kittens and curious cats may accidentally knock the diffuser over causing the oil to spill. If the oil gets onto the cat’s fur (which the cat could later ingest while grooming), or the cat licks the spill, harmful toxic effects can occur. Birds have very sensitive respiratory systems and inhaling diffused oils may be harmful to their air sacs and lungs. Fish, reptiles and small mammals may also have increased sensitivities to essential oils.
Pets (as well as humans) can experience chemical burns with the direct contact of essential oils onto the skin. If pets lick up spills of these oils, they can experience chemical burns and other toxic effects. Cats are especially sensitive to many essential oils and even just a couple of licks can be harmful.
Many essential oils, such as eucalyptus oil, tea tree oil, cinnamon, citrus, oregano, clove, pennyroyal, peppermint, pine, sweet birch, wintergreen, and ylang ylang are toxic to pets. These are toxic whether they are applied to the skin OR used in diffusers. There are reports of oils like tea tree oil and pennyroyal oil (often used for natural flea control) causing liver damage, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and other problems.
Oil from diffusers can still be harmful since the diffuser uses water vapor to diffuse tiny oil droplets into the air. Inhaling diffused oils can cause aspiration pneumonia if the diffuser is used in a small space or if it is used for a long period of time, as well as other toxic effects.
If you are using essential oils in your home, make sure that pets have a way to escape the area if odors are too intense, always use pure products and dilute oils and do not use in the presence of birds. If you do decide to keep your diffuser, you’ll want to ensure that it is in a place where your pet cannot knock it over and potentially expose themselves to the oils. The best way to avoid exposing your pets to dangerous substances is always to err on the side of caution and by “pet-proofing” your space. However, you have a pet with breathing problems, using a diffuser anywhere in the house is not a good idea. As far as using these products on your pets, consult your vet or a homeopathic veterinarian to make sure the oils are safe, use only diluted products. Again, caution, as a dilution that is suitable for humans may still be too strong for pets. There are many natural and herbal substances that are safe and effective, but care must be used with these concentrated oils. Please remember that the physical and aromatherapy aspects of essential oils that people enjoy may not carry over to our animal companions. The bottom line is, please use extreme caution with essential oils and your pets.