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9 December 2021 / Laura Garvin Gomez

Are essential oils bad for pets? Here's how to use them safely

It's important to know how to keep your animal friends safe.

Cat and dog lying down together.

When it comes to essential oil use in general, it’s important to remember a simple rule: just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s safe.

Essential oils are potent products that should always be used with caution, and this is particularly true when pets are involved.

Our furry, feathery, or scaly companions have different respiratory and circulatory systems to us, organs that are sensitive to different things, and physiological responses to their surroundings that we don’t experience.

Not everything that is good for us is going to be good for them, and it’s important to take steps to ensure that our wellness doesn’t come at the cost of theirs.

We've detailed all you'll need to know about using essential oils around your pets, and which oils are best to avoid in order to keep them safe.

Are essential oils safe for dogs?

A dog’s sense of smell can be anywhere from one thousand to ten thousand times keener than ours. This makes them far more sensitive to strong and unfamiliar scents, which means that unpleasant scents can upset them far more.

If a dog finds a scent to be unpleasant, they can become very distressed, anxious, and occasionally depressed. It can also have adverse effects on their behaviour. However, it is also possible that dogs can find some scents calming or uplifting in the same way that humans do.

Can you diffuse essential oils around dogs?

It’s definitely possible to diffuse essential oils safely around dogs. A passive diffuser, such as a reed diffuser, is always fine to use as long as the dog is not confined with the oils in a small space.

Reed diffusers should always be placed well out of reach so that there is no chance of the dog coming into contact with the oil. Active diffusers, such as electric diffusers, may also be used, but only in large, well-ventilated spaces.

If you do use an active diffuser in a confined space, make sure to keep your dog out of the space and air out the room before allowing them back in.

Can dogs eat essential oils?

Dogs may be attracted by the interesting scent of essential oil bottles and attempt to ingest them, so it is important that oils are always kept well out of reach.

Do NOT apply essential oils topically to dogs or give them orally. Some people may claim that you can add essential oils to a dog’s diet, but this always comes with risks, and the benefits are questionable.

If your dog does get oil on its skin or fur, then you should be sure to wash it off as quickly as possible.

What essential oils may be toxic to dogs?

In order to keep your furry friend 100% safe, it's best to avoid using any of these oils when in their presence. The list of essential oils toxic to dogs includes, but is not limited to:

It is always safer to research the essential oil you are planning on using to see if it has caused harm to dogs in the past. Learn more about the safety of essential oils for dogs.

What do I do if my dog accidentally smells or ingests a toxic essential oil?

If your dog is affected negatively by an oil, be sure to take them to the veterinarian or to an animal hospital immediately. You can also contact the Animal Poison Line to find out more information.

Symptoms of toxicity in dogs may include:

  • Vomiting and drooling
  • Difficulty breathing or panting
  • Tremors and wobbliness

Remember that there are some essential oils that are considered safe around dogs, but it's important to always consult with your vet to determine the best for your dog's sensitivities.

Cat sitting in the sun whilst dog lays in the sun looking at the camera.

Reed diffusers are ideal for use around cats and dogs if they are kept out of the way.

Are essential oils safe for cats?

Essential oils can be highly toxic to cats and cause a range of health issues.

This is partly because they have sensitive respiratory systems, but also partly because they are missing certain enzymes that give them the ability to properly process compounds found in essential oils, specifically phenols.

This leaves them vulnerable to organ failure, particularly in the liver. Particles of essential oils in the air can also lead to respiratory distress.

Can I use any essential oils around my cat?

It’s best to ensure that your cats avoid coming into contact with essential oils altogether.

Passive diffusers should be fine to use around your cats, and active diffusers may be used if the room is particularly large and well-ventilated. However, if your cat has asthma, allergies, other respiratory conditions, or serious health concerns, then you should not use essential oils around them in any way.

You should also not use essential oils around kittens or elderly cats. It goes without saying that you should never apply essential oils topically to cats or incorporate essential oils into their diet.

What essential oils may be toxic to cats?

While there are some oils that are generally considered to be safe for cats, there's a great deal more that you should avoid altogether.

This list of essential oils toxic to cats includes, but is not limited to:

It is always safer to research the essential oil you are planning on using to see if it has caused harm to cats in the past.

What are the symptoms of essential oil poisoning in cats?

If you think your cat has come in contact with a toxic essential oil, or if they start reacting negatively to one in your diffuser, contact your vet immediately.

You should also switch your diffuser off and open up any doors/windows for ventilation purposes.

Symptoms of toxicity in cats may include:

  • Excessive dribbling
  • Shaking and difficulty standing
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy, depression, or dullness
  • Difficulty breathing

White bird perched in a cage

Are essential oils safe for birds?

Essential oils may be diffused around birds, but only in small quantities and only in rooms with good ventilation.

Birds do have sensitive respiratory tracts, so it’s worth being cautious. Most essential oils should be safe to diffuse, but it is best to steer clear of more potent oils such as cinnamon or citrus oils.

You should be sure to NEVER use tea tree oil around your bird or other small pets.

Essential oils can also prove toxic to birds at certain concentrations, so they should never be applied topically. If you do use essential oils to clean surfaces or cages, you should always rinse everything thoroughly so that there is no risk of contamination.

How do essential oils affect rodents/other small pets?

Smaller animals have smaller respiratory and circulatory systems, as well as different metabolisms from larger animals.

Rodents in particular may be very sensitive to smells and will often refuse to eat when an overpowering smell is present. This can cause them to starve to death.

Even a small amount of exposure to certain oils can be incredibly toxic, so it is best to avoid using essential oils around these pets altogether.

Close up of a brown and green lizard face

Are essential oils safe for reptiles?

Reptiles can also have highly sensitive respiratory systems. However, diffusing essential oils in small quantities and in well-ventilated rooms shouldn’t be a problem – just make sure to entirely avoid topical use.

How do I use essential oils safely around my pets?

The best practice to adopt, regardless of the pets you have, is to always keep essential oils out of their potential reach.

It's also important to always consult with your vet before using essential oils, no matter how safe or unsafe they're claimed to be. This will prevent any adverse effects if your pet has a particular sensitivity.

Once you're satisfied with the safety of a particular oil, aim to only use small doses around your pet for the first couple of occasions, and keep your spaces well-ventilated throughout.

From there, you can judge your pet's reactions and determine how to best use them going forward.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can my dog smell lavender oil?

Studies have shown that lavender oil can produce the same effects on dogs as on humans. While it's considered one of the safer essential oils for dogs, it's best to consult with your vet before use.

What happens if my cat smells peppermint oil?

Peppermint oil is highly toxic to cats. If you find that your cat has inhaled or ingested peppermint oil, contact your vet immediately.

Which essential oils are considered safe for pets?

Some essential oils that are generally regarded as safe for pets include lavender, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and rosemary.

Botanical illustration

We’d all do a lot for our pets. Whilst it may be inconvenient to have to limit or modify your use of essential oils, it’s worth following the guidelines and safety information out there in order to keep your home safe for your animal companions.

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