Using an essential oil diffuser is a great way to elevate the energy in your space, and creating your own unique oil blends is a fun way to customize the mood you want to create. If you share your home with furry or feathered friends, however, you should be aware that using essential oil diffusers may have adverse and even dangerous affects on them. While there’s a limited amount of research available on the safety of using essential oils on or near pets, most sources seem to agree that there is a need for caution.
Not only do animals like dogs and cats have a heightened sense of smell, which makes them more likely to become overwhelmed by essential oil concentrations that we may find mild, but their internal organ systems also could be harmed when they inhale, ingest, or absorb essential oils.
Active, or nebulizing diffusers, use water vapour to disperse oil into the air, which is not only breathed in by your pets, but can also leave a fine mist of oil on your pet’s skin or fur, leading to irritation. Dogs, cats, and birds can all experience respiratory distress from being around active diffusers.
Essential Oils + Cats
Cats are more susceptible to experiencing more serious complications being around diffusers as they lack an enzyme that allows them to process various compounds found in oils. Also, since cats are such thorough cleaners, any droplets of oil that land on their fur could be ingested when they lick it off.
Avoid using essential oil diffusers around pets that have respiratory issues, and especially around kittens, elderly, or ill cats. They can even pose a danger when not in use, as cats can climb up onto surfaces and knock them over, get oil on their fur, or lick up spills (source.)
The following essential oils are considered toxic to cats (source):
- Clary Sage
- Tea Tree
- Ylang Ylang
Essential Oils + Dogs
Dogs are also vulnerable to respiratory illness when exposed to essential oils via diffusers, and toxicity upon ingestion. Scents can be very irritating to their sensitive noses, and some of the more curious and food-driven pups may get into trouble when tasty smelling oils are left out on the counter.
The following essential oils are considered toxic to dogs (source):
- Tea Tree
How do I know if my pet is having a reaction?
If you have been using essential oils around your pets, be on the look out for symptoms of toxicity that could require veterinary attention such as:
-difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing, panting
-watery nose or eyes
If your pet has inhaled diffused oil, take it out into the fresh air and consider reaching out to your vet if symptoms do not quickly subside. If the oils may have landed on their fur, give their coat a cleaning with light dishwashing liquid. If you suspect that essential oils have been ingested, contact your vet immediately. Never use active diffusers around birds as their respiratory systems are too sensitive (source.)
How To Safely Diffuse Oils Around Pets
So what can you do if you love using diffusers for your oils, but you’re concerned for the safety of your beloved pets?
Consider using passive reed diffusers instead of active vaporizing diffusers, as the oil isn’t dispersed as droplets into the air, which reduces the risk of ingestion or negative respiratory effects. Be careful of curious kittens, though, and always supervise your pets when you’re using oils.
Avoid using any of the toxic oils, and consider incorporating a few that are thought to be safer, such as basil, lavender, rosemary, cedarwood, valerian, copaiba, and frankincense.
Even “safe” oils such as the ones listed here can be hard on the lungs of your pets if diffused in confined spaces, so only use in open spaces where your pet is free to walk away into a more scent-neutral area. You can also open windows to allow for increased air circulation.
Reduce the level of oil concentration that you may be used to diffusing. If you have pets around, 4-5 drops of essential oil in the diffuser water is plenty.
Run your diffuser for 15-30 minute sessions rather than hours (never set the automatic timer and leave your pets unsupervised), and monitor them to see how they handle it. If they leave the room while the diffuser runs for this short time with a low oil concentration, it still may be too much for your pet.
Close the door to the room you are actively diffusing, keeping your pet out and the scent in. Always allow the space to air out before welcoming them back into the room, and remember that any oil droplets that remain on carpets or furniture can still be ingested if they lick at it, so you’d still want to stick with the “safe” list.
If you’ve been using essential oils as a way to calm a stressed cat or dog, consider using a plug-in pheromone diffuser or collar which have been shown to be safe and effective solutions for pet anxiety (source.)
Never use essential oils directly on your pets without first checking in with your vet. The ASPCA reports essential oils as one of the most common toxic causes of tremors in cats, which is due primarily to owners using tea tree oil topically on them to treat skin conditions (source.)
It’s important to remember that even though essential oils are natural, there are many plants in nature that are toxic to our pets. We also need to understand how our animals are more sensitive to potent scents, and how their organ systems can react and respond differently to the oils we may use and love.
Making the switch over to a reed diffuser, or ensuring that you only use pet-safe scents in well-ventilated, open spaces at reduced concentrations will allow you to continue using essential oils in the home, while also keeping your pets safe and comfortable.