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Please Don’t Use Diffusers Around Pets

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Whiskers, Paws and Love Inc. Team

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    Aromatherapy poses risk to your pets

    Aromatherapy, or essential oil therapy, which infuses the air in your home with essential oils or fragrances has become extremely popular. Many claim that they are safe to use around pets. However, depending on the ingredients and methods of diffusion, many are not and can be extremely dangerous to use around animals.

    Types of diffusers

    Aromatherapy uses the following methods to permeate the air with aroma:

    • (1) Passive diffusers (reeds and heat) that work by evaporating the essential oil and emitting a pleasant smell

    And, even more hazardous 

    • (2) Active diffusers (nebulizing and ultrasonic) that spray very small particles of oil into the air in addition to emitting aromas. While the droplets are tiny, they have the potential to cause health problems ranging from skin irritation to neurological symptoms.

    Remember to read the instructions

    We recently read the instruction manual for a humidifier (one that has the option to add essential oils) and were pleasantly surprised that it includes excellent advice: A warning to exercise caution when using essential oils around pets; a recommendation to keep all essential oil and aromatherapy products (like diffusers) out of the reach of pets, and that they are placed in a well-ventilated area with the option for the pet to be able to leave the area; advice to the owner to carefully observe how the animal responds and, if irritation occurs, to discontinue using them. Hopefully, people will read and pay attention to warnings such as these if they buy this type of product.

    List of oils that are toxic to cats and dogs

    The following list of essential oils are known to be toxic to both cats and dogs: anise (more toxic to dogs than cats, but a large amount is harmful to both), cinnamon, citrus, clove, eucalyptus, juniper, lavender (more toxic to cats than dogs, but a large amount is harmful to both), pennyroyal, peppermint, pine, sweet birch, tea tree, thyme, wintergreen, yarrow, ylang ylang, AND liquid potpourri products. Even if you do find an essential oil that is non-toxic, aromatherapy could still cause your pet to develop seizures, vomiting, difficulty breathing, liver failure and aspiration pneumonia. It’s important to keep in mind that cats and dogs are much more sensitive to fragrances than humans are. Compared to the human sense of smell, a cat’s is 14 times more sensitive, while a dog’s sense of smell is believed to be 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than a human's. Although essential oils are dangerous to all pets (including cats, birds, dogs, gerbils, and other small animals), cats are the most at risk because they are missing an enzyme in their liver that helps them to metabolize essential oils as well as certain drugs such as acetaminophen, propofol, carprofen, and aspirin.

    Oral consumption and skin absorption

    Obviously, in addition to inhalation, aromatherapy products are dangerous if consumed orally or absorbed through the skin. Cats are likely to ingest oil droplets that have landed on their fur from diffusers during the grooming process; cats might also accidentally knock over the diffuser causing the oil to spill and giving them the opportunity to either lick the spill or to get it onto their fur. Pets can experience chemical burns from direct contact of essential oils on their skin. If your pet gets oil on their skin or fur, wash it off immediately using mild, non-scented soap and water.

    What about candles?

    Candles containing essential oils are likely to cause the same problems as diffusers. Many contain poisonous chemicals that are also used as pesticides or plastic softeners. They can cause your pet to experience breathing problems, or they can build up in the pet’s system over time and increase the risk of cancer. Pets, especially dogs, may be interested in the smells of the oils in a candle. For instance, if a candle smells like a dessert many dogs will taste it, resulting, at the very least, in digestive problems.

    Common symptoms

    Some common symptoms of poisoning to watch out for are: Drooling or licking lips more than normal; pawing at the mouth or face; redness or burns on the lips, tongue, skin or gums; vomiting; difficulty breathing (a common symptom with aerosolized products, which are especially dangerous to use around cats and birds); fatigue; weakness; difficulty walking or stumbling and muscle tremors. (The ASPCA identifies essential oils as one of the most common toxic causes of tremors in cats.)

    The best way to protect your pet from essential oils is to be extra careful and mindful of their use when you have animals in your household.