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5 min read / 9 November 2023 / yasmin sharp

Is Citronella Safe for Dogs?

Exploring the safety of citronella for your furry friend's well-being.

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Two dogs running along a dirt path


Because citronella oil is such a popular insect repellent used in candles and diffusers, dog and pet owners are also curious to learn if their pet can benefit from it too.

However, whilst essential oils are safe for most humans to use, this is not always the case with dogs, so you need to take extra care with the products you use in your home.

In this article we examine how dogs interact with citronella, whether it is safe for them to use and more.

What is citronella?

Citronella essential oil is extracted via steam distillation from the stems and leaves of different types of lemongrasses.

The oil is often used as an insect repellent that allows it to be added to lotions, creams and sprays.

Once applied, the oil’s fragrance helps to cover up certain scents that tend to attract insects.

This keeps bugs and insects away from pets, people and places that are prone to attracting unwanted, and sometimes harmful, pests.

Citronella 50ml bottle from nikura on a white surface

Is citronella safe for dogs?

Citronella is not considered safe for dogs.

The toxicity of the plant means that your dog is likely to become sick if they eat or come into contact with anything containing it.

Of course, dogs have an extremely sensitive sense of smell and can become attracted to the scent if you have citronella plants or citronella-based products in your home.

If they become curious and ingest the product or plant, it could create health problems like vomiting or diarrhoea.

In more extreme cases, interaction with citronella could lead to lower body temperature, loss of coordination, muscle weakness, and in some cases, even death.

If you suspect that your dog or pet has accidentally consumed part of a citronella plant or citronella-based product, you should get in contact with your local vet as soon as possible.

Some owners may also be tempted to use citronella collars, although these may contain alcohol, pesticides and refrigeration coolant (tetrafluoroethene), which can also be harmful to their pets.

Can I diffuse citronella oil around dogs?

Ideally, you should also not diffuse citronella oil around dogs.

Ingesting the plant or oil can be dangerous for your pet and the properties contained in the oil, even when emitted through a diffuser, can irritate their skin.

Citronella oil may contain a compound called methyleugenol, which have shown can act as a carcinogen (an agent known to be responsible for causing cancer).

Shiba dog sat on a yellow armchair

Is citronella oil safe for dogs to breathe?

Dogs breathing in the properties of citronella essential oil could also experience health problems.

This is why it is advisable not to diffuse citronella or burn citronella candles around your dog.

If you do want to diffuse citronella or burn a candle that contains the oil, you should ensure your dog is not in the room and that the space is well ventilated.

When you have finished, do not allow your dog back into the room until the air has been fully cleared.

Does the smell of citronella bother dogs?

The smell of citronella essential oil may also prove to be too much of a temptation.

Dogs are curious souls, who love to investigate and taste the things that invigorate their sense of smell.

Diffusing the oil could tease them into sniffing or even tasting the oil, which, as we explained above, can be responsible for causing several health issues.

Citronella 50ml from nikura with a sandy water background

What oils are not safe to diffuse around dogs?

Aside from citronella oil, other essential oils you should be wary of using around dogs include:

  • Anise
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Garlic
  • Juniper
  • Pennyroyal
  • Peppermint
  • Pine
  • Sweet birch
  • Tea tree (melaleuca)
  • Thyme
  • Wintergreen
  • Yarrow
  • Ylang ylang

This is not a definitive list, as your dog may be sensitive to other types of essential oils.

To be safe, if you spot signs of irritation or sensitivity in your dog after they have interacted with an oil, stop using it immediately to see if this makes a difference.

Is citronella safe to diffuse?

In general, citronella is safe to diffuse around humans. This is an important distinction, as it can provide a host of health benefits that can be good for the mind and body.

Of course, there are instances where some people will have a sensitivity or allergic reaction to the diffusion of citronella.

This is why first-time users are advised to complete a patch test, as will provide a clearer indication of its suitability.

However, if you are a dog owner, it is advisable to avoid diffusing citronella essential oil around them for the reasons explained earlier in this article.

Cat owners should also be extremely wary of using citronella oil around their pets, as it can also be extremely toxic and dangerous for them to interact with.

What essential oils are safe for dogs?

Most vets agree that dogs and essential oils are not a good mix.

The natural toxicity of the oils can affect their wellbeing, so it is advisable not to spray around them or even apply a diluted mixture to their fur or skin.

Black and white illustration of citronella

Whilst citronella does contain some natural properties that allow humans to use it as an insect repellent, this is not the case with dogs.

Whether in plant or oil form, citronella can be extremely toxic for your dog, causing serious health complications if ingested.

This is also true of many essential oils, so it is generally advised to avoid using them on or around your pets.

If you want to enjoy the health benefits of citronella essential oil, make sure that your pet is not in the room when burning a candle or using a diffuser and fully ventilate the space before they are allowed back in.

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