Are Essential Oils Harmful to Pets?

Ask PHP Pete!

Dear PHP Pete,

I recently purchased an essential oil diffuser. I plan to use it for the holidays but I’ve seen warnings about pets being exposed to essential oils. I have dogs and cats. Can it harm them?

Stressed About De-stressing

Dear Stressed About De-stressing,

Essential oils occur naturally at low concentrations in plants, and have been used for centuries for their therapeutic properties. These oils are fragrant because they are volatile (that is, they evaporate easily). The current popularization of essential oil diffusers has brought up concerns over pet safety.

Risk Factors of Essential Oils

  • Oils are concentrated: Concentrated oils can irritate the skin. Cats and dogs have very sensitive noses; small amounts of oil can be intense.
  • Differences in metabolizing (breaking down) of oils: Cats in particular have difficulties processing phenols found in some oils, which can cause toxic buildup.
  • Incorrect use of products containing oils: Examples include rubbing oil on a pet because it “helps with fleas,” or misusing a commercial product containing oils.
  • Easy access to oils: Oils are easily absorbed through the skin or ingested when pets come into contact.
  • Pre-existing conditions: Oils can exacerbate conditions such as asthma.

Oils of Concern

While not an exhaustive list, here are some common essential oils that may cause health concerns in pets:

  • Menthol
  • Nutmeg, Clove, and Cinnamon oils
  • Tea tree (Melaleuca)
  • Pennyroyal
  • Lemon (limonene), and Orange oils
  • Wintergreen and Peppermint oils
  • Pine oil
  • Sweet Birch
  • Ylang Ylang
  • Eucalyptus

General Tips

  • Avoid using the diffuser where pets have access to the oils.
  • Do not use in enclosed areas where your pet cannot escape.
  • Do not leave your diffuser operating unattended, and limit the time it’s used.
  • Use oil-containing pet products only as directed; never apply undiluted oils directly to your pet.
  • Watch for signs of toxicity. Symptoms include gagging, vomiting, drooling, difficulty breathing, itching or rash, and changes in behavior (depression, stumbling, tremors, etc.)

If your pet does exhibit any of the symptoms of toxicity, move the pet away from the oil and get help (such as calling the Pet Poison Helpline and your vet).

Your vet may also have suggestions for oils that are pet-friendly. The bottom line is that you don’t have to give up your diffuser. By taking a few precautions, both you and your pets can be safe and less stressed this winter.

Happy Holidays,

PHP Pete

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