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5 min read / 1 December 2023 / yasmin sharp

Is Citronella Safe for Cats?

Examining whether citronella is a safe option for cats in various environments.

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People looking for a natural insect-repellent often find that citronella essential oil can be effective, especially during the summer months when there are more flying bugs and pests.

However, if you are a cat owner, you may have to take extra care to ensure the potency of the oil does not affect their health.

So, is citronella oil safe for cats? We explain more about whether you should use citronella products around your cats and what you need to keep a close eye on.

What is citronella oil?

Citronella essential oil is an oil extracted from the leaves and stems of the Cymbopogon (lemongrass) plant, which is native to Sri Lanka.

Whilst there are more than 30 species of the plant grown across the world, only two are used to make the essential oil.

The Ceylon oil type is derived from Cymbopagan nardus, whilst the Java oil type is extracted from the Cymbopagan winterianus.

It is used extensively in candles, soap, perfumery, cosmetic and flavouring industries, with the oil adding a distinctly refreshing lemony scent.

Is citronella oil safe for cats?

Citronella essential oil is not safe for cats, as its toxic properties can cause serious damage to their health.

This applies to both topical, oral and aromatherapeutic applications, which means you should ensure that wherever possible your cat does not come into contact with the oil or its fumes.

The oil can affect cats in different ways, causing issues such as:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Headaches
  • Wobbling
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Low heart rate
  • Low body temperature
  • Liver and/kidney failure

Every cat reacts differently to interactions with citronella oil, but you should restrict or avoid using it around them to minimise any potential health risks.

Two sleeping cats on a sofa, one on the main seat and one on the upper level

Is a citronella candle safe for cats?

Because citronella essential oil is not considered to be safe for cats, you should be careful about how you use the oil around them, even in outdoor spaces.

Due to citronella’s insect repellent qualities, many people burn citronella-infused candles and torches in their gardens to ward off bugs and pests during the warmer months of the year.

If a citronella candle is burnt in a part of the garden where your cat doesn’t spend much time, it shouldn’t pose any issues. And if your cat doesn’t like the citrus smell, they may just decide to stay clear.

This is something to bear in mind when it comes to burning citronella candles indoors. The fumes will be more concentrated in a confined space, even with the windows open, so it is not advisable to burn a citronella candle indoors if you own a cat.

Are garden torches safe for cats?

When used with citronella, garden torches are not safe for cats if they spend time close by to the feature.

Garden torches serve two functions: firstly, to provide ambient lighting in the garden, and secondly, when combined with citronella oil, they can help to ward off flying insects and bugs.

Compared to candles, citronella-infused garden torches usually contain higher concentrations of the oil, so you should ensure your cat is kept well clear as much as possible.

If they do come into contact with the oil or fumes, it could cause severe health complications.

Ginger cat sat in a window

Is citronella incense safe for cats?

As is the case with citronella candles and garden torches, you should also keep your cat away from burning citronella incense.

This applies to burning incense in outdoor and indoor spaces, as the fumes can irritate your cat and cause various reactions.

This can range from sneezing and coughing, through to more serious issues such as headaches, nausea, breathing problems and potentially even kidney damage.

Are any essential oils safe for cats?

The general rule is that you should avoid using any essential oil on and around your cats and any other pets you own.

Whilst some cats may not have any adverse reaction to citronella oil, it can seriously damage the health of others, so it is not worth taking the risk.

How to keep your cat safe from citronella oil

If you have citronella essential oil in any form in your house, be it in a bottle, candle, incense or garden torch form, you can use the safety tips below:

  • Keep all citronella oil products out of the reach of your cats (on high shelving or in secure cupboards).
  • Read and follow the instructions provided on the labels of citronella products.
  • Do not apply citronella essential topically to your cat’s skin.
  • Keep your cat away from any citronella-infused product, whether it is being used indoors or outdoors.
  • Do not allow your cat to ingest citronella oil.

ginger kitten looking at something above/behind the camera

What should I do if my cat has a reaction to citronella oil?

If you believe your cat has come into contact with citronella oil or any other essential oil that has affected their health, you should call your local vet as quickly as possible.

Even if the initial reaction may seem mild, their condition could quickly change, and because you do not know how it could be affecting them internally, they should be attended to by a medical professional.

Also bear in mind the following:

  • Do not induce vomiting in your cat or give them activated charcoal, as this could worsen their condition.
  • Place the product packaging responsible for causing the reaction in a sealed plastic bag or container and bring it to the vets.
  • If there is any oil on your cat’s skin or fur, wash it off using warm water and washing up liquid.

black and white botanical illustration

Citronella essential oil is not safe to use around cats and should be kept away from them to protect their health.

Whether inhaled, ingested or applied topically, the oil can cause a variety of issues, ranging from sneezing and coughing through to far more serious complications that could seriously impact their health.

This is also true of all essential oils due to their high concentration levels, so to keep your cats, dogs and other pets safe, keep them away from products containing oils or seek out alternatives.

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Medical Disclaimer

The content in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to take the place of medical advice. Please consult your personal physician for any advice or treatment regarding specific health questions. Neither the article editor, writer, nor the organisation of Nikura takes any responsibility for possible health consequences following the information given in any article. All readers should consult their physician before taking any advice given within these articles.

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