Before adding essential oils to homemade cleaning products or diffusers, make sure they are safe to use around your family pets.
If you have a dog or cat in your home, it’s vital that you know which essential oils are safe to use around pets and which could pose a great risk. Some essential oils are highly toxic to animals, even in low concentrations like those used in homemade cleaners.
Essential Oils and Pet Safety
The popularity of using essential oils has soared in the past several years. When used safely, they can add a natural fragrance to your homemade air fresheners or reed diffusers, or homemade cleaning products. Some people even like to add a few drops to their bathwater. But all of these methods can pose a danger to your pets if you use essential oils that are toxic to them.
How Pets Come in Contact with Essential Oils
- Diffusing essential oils means your pets are inhaling them, too. Only diffuse pet-safe fragrances.
- Adding essential oils to cleaning products means they may come in contact with your pet’s paws or fur. Since pets groom themselves with their tongues, it’s important to only use pet-safe essential oils when cleaning.
- Adding essential oils to your bathwater, shower, or vaporizer means they’ll spread through your home’s air. Your pet will inhale them and will come in contact with droplets that settle on their fur or the floor. Only use essential oils that aren’t toxic.
Safe Plants Don’t Mean Safe Oils
Essential oils are fatty, aromatic compounds distilled from plants. The distillation process means they’re highly concentrated, with high-quality essential oils boasting 100% purity, while “fragrance oils” are typically 1-20% essential oil combined with a carrier oil and sometimes synthetic fragrances.
The higher the concentration of essential oil, the greater the risk to your pet. This is true of even essential oils made from plants you know don’t bother your pet. Many pets don’t react to a stroll through garden herbs like basil, oregano, and thyme and are not troubled eating foods flavored with those herbs. But when those herbs are distilled into essential oils, they become highly toxic to your furball friend.
Essential Oils That Are Toxic to Dogs
Two essential oils commonly used in cleaning products are highly toxic for dogs: melaleuca (tea tree) oil and pine oil. Tea tree oil is often used to treat dandruff, itching, or wounds for humans. Not surprisingly, some pet owners have reached for their bottle of tea tree oil to treat their dog’s flea bites or itchy paws, and with sad results.
Pine oil is one that humans often turn to for cleaning. If a cleaner ends with -ol or -oil, it likely contains pine oil. This essential oil gives Pine-Sol its name and is the source of the powerful smell in Lestoil cleaner, too. But dog owners need to strictly avoid using either product or adding pine essential oil or fragrance to cleaning products or diffusers for their pet’s safety.
Other essential oils can pose dangers to your dog, too. The list below is not exhaustive but reflects the essential oils most often used in homemade cleaning products.
- Peppermint oil
- Sweet birch
- Tea tree (melaleuca)
- Ylang ylang
Essential Oils That Are Toxic to Cats
Cats groom themselves all day long, so any essential oil you use to clean or which you diffuse into the air will come into contact with their fur and paws. These oils get absorbed through your cat’s skin as well as ingested. Ordinarily, the liver is responsible for eliminating toxins, but cats lack a specific enzyme (glucuronyl transferase) needed to metabolize certain toxins, including essential oils.
Cats are also susceptible to phenols and phenolic compounds, which many essential oils contain. Phenol is carbolic acid, one of the oldest antiseptic agents, which means we tend to associate its fragrance with cleanliness. Cats are incapable of metabolizing phenols, so any use of these essential oils in their home environment can lead to liver failure and prove fatal.
Three essential oils commonly used in homemade cleaning products are toxic for cats: pine oils, citrus oils, and most oils in the mint family. Several other oils are harmful to cats, too:
- Cinnamon oil
- Citrus oils (containing d-limonene, including orange and lemon)
- Clove oil
- Eucalyptus oil
- Peppermint oil
- Pine oil
- Sweet birch oil
- Tea tree oil
- Wintergreen oil
- Ylang ylang
Symptoms of Essential Oil Poisoning
The following symptoms are signs your pet has been exposed to poison or a toxic essential oil: watery nose or eyes, difficulty breathing (coughing, panting, or wheezing), drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, pale gums, low body temperature, or a low heart rate, or central nervous system issues such as lethargy, weakness, difficulties walking, trembling, tremors, or sudden stumbling.
Even with pet-safe essential oil use, it’s important to watch your pets around your diffusers and cleaning products. Never allow your pet to ingest essential oil at any dilution, and do not add it to their food. Always consult your veterinarian before adding even safe essential oils to your pet’s bath or grooming products.
What Essential Oils Are Safe Around Pets?
You should always consult your vet before introducing a new essential oil to a pet’s environment and then watch them for the preceding signs of toxicity. Most healthy, adult, non-pregnant dogs or cats are fine when the following essential oils are used in small concentrations in their home.
Dogs: Cedarwood*, chamomile*, citrus, eucalyptus, fennel*, frankincense*, jasmine*, lavender*, lemongrass, rose*, spearmint.
Cats: Cedarwood*, chamomile oil*, fennel*, frankincense*, jasmine*, lavender*, rose*.
*Safe for both.
Should You Stop Using Essential Oils?
If you have a dog or cat, keeping them safe and healthy is serious business. For that reason, many pet owners choose to stop using essential oils altogether rather than risk harm. If you enjoy adding fragrance to your homemade cleaners or diffusing it into your home’s air, there’s no reason why you need to stop — be sure to choose pet-safe essential oils and never apply them directly to your pet’s paws, skin, or fur.