Are Essential Oils Harming Your Pets?

Essential oils are the highly concentrated version of the natural oils in plants and have been used for thousands of years to improve physical, mental and emotional health. In addition to aromatherapy and alternative medicine, today there’s a growing trend of using essential oils in cleaning products, food and drink flavorings, herbal remedies, perfumes, personal care products and as air fresheners. But pet owners should be aware that essential oils can pose a health risk for their animal companions.

According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), cats are especially sensitive to essential oils and there are significant variations in toxicity among specific oils. For this reason, the APCC does not recommend using essential oils in areas where pets have access unless pets are supervised or the use of the oil is approved by a veterinarian.

Tina Wismer, veterinarian and medical director of the APCC, said that the center has received calls about essential oils for many years, with a nearly-yearly increase beginning about a decade ago. The center receives more calls about inhalation of essential oils than in the past and fewer calls related to oils coming in contact with a pet’s skin.

“Any essential oils can be toxic to pets, the danger depends on the concentration, amount and route of exposure,” Wismer said. “Diffusing oils can be fatal to cats and dogs that have asthma or other respiratory issues. Topically, deaths are rare, but can occur.”

Essential oils are also a concern for other pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters. Veterinary experts at the APCC advise bird owners to avoid using essential oil diffusers because birds’ respiratory tracts are very sensitive and they may develop more serious problems. Wismer’s advice to pet owners running oil diffusers is to use them for a short period of time and only in rooms that cannot be accessed by pets.

FYI, all pet owners: these essential oils can be harmful to cats and dogs.

Essential Oils and Cats

In an article on Essential Oils and Cats on the Pet Poison Helpline website Veterinarian Kia Benson writes:

Essential oils are especially toxic to cats because they are rapidly absorbed both orally and across the skin, and are then metabolized in the liver. Cats lack an essential enzyme in their liver and as such have difficulty metabolizing and eliminating certain toxins like essential oils. Cats are also very sensitive to phenols and phenolic compounds, which can be found in some essential oils. The higher the concentration of the essential oil (i.e. 100%), the greater the risk to the cat.

Essential oils that are known to be poisonous to cats include:

  • Cinnamon
  • Citrus (d-limonene)
  • Clove
  • Eucalyptus
  • Pennyroyal
  • Peppermint
  • Pine
  • Sweet birch
  • Tea tree
  • Wintergreen
  • Ylang-ylang

Fragrance coniferous sticks or Scent diffuser

Symptoms that develop when a cat is exposed to a toxic essential oil include:

  • Drooling
  • Low body temperature
  • Low heart rate
  • Liver failure
  • Respiratory distress
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Wobbliness

Essential Oils and Dogs

In an article on Essential Oil and Potpourri Poisoning in Dogs veterinarians, Charlotte Flint and Ahna Brutlag write that essential oils and liquid potpourris contain chemicals that are rapidly absorbed orally or through the skin. According to these veterinarians, very young dogs and puppies, and dogs with liver disease are more sensitive to the effects of essential oils. In addition, they write, “Liquid potpourri and some essential oils can also irritate or burn the skin and mouth. Only a couple of licks or a small amount on the skin could be harmful to a dog, depending on the ingredients in a specific product and how the pet is exposed.”

Essential oils that are known to be poisonous to dogs include:

  • Cinnamon
  • Citrus
  • Pennyroyal
  • Peppermint
  • Pine
  • Sweet birch
  • Tea tree (Melaleuca)
  • Wintergreen
  • Ylang-ylang

Symptoms that develop when a dog is exposed to a toxic essential oil include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty walking or uncoordinated gait
  • Drooling
  • Fragrance or scent on hair coat, skin, or breath or in vomit
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Muscle tremors
  • Pawing at the mouth or face
  • Redness or burns on the lips, gums, tongue or skin
  • Vomiting

Wismer said that there are some products that contain essential oils and are for use on pets. For example, some flea control products but these usually contain less than 5 percent essential oils. When using products with essential oils the veterinarian said it’s important to follow packaging instructions and to only use products on the type of pet specified on the label. Because cats are particularly sensitive to a lot of toxins pet owners should never use dog products on cats.

“Owners sometimes try to use essential oils—or products with a high concentration of essential oils—to treat other problems in pets, such as ear mites,” Wismer said. “The dangers to pets increase with the percentage of essential oil, and many people have 100-percent essential oil products.”

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

249 comments

Sue H
Sue H2 months ago

Important information, thanks.

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JoAnn Paris
JoAnn Paris2 months ago

Thank you for this very interesting article.

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Glennis W
Glennis W2 months ago

They are too dangerous have caused many house fires in OZ Thank you for caring and shaing

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Glennis W
Glennis W2 months ago

Never use them Thank you for caring and shaing

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Glennis W
Glennis W2 months ago

Great information and advice Thank you for caring and shaing

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Glennis W
Glennis W2 months ago

Very interesting article Thank you for caring and shaing

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R2 months ago

Thank you for posting. Important information!

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natasha p
Past Member 2 months ago

thanks

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson4 months ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson4 months ago

ty

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