Health & Wellness

Essential oils and pet safety

Some oils are particularly toxic

Despite how much we love our pets, they don’t always smell great. From mucky paws to poopy butts and beyond, it’s hard to live pet parent life stink-free. So you may be tempted to mask the smell of kitty litter, wet fur or other common pet odors with fragrant essential oils or sprays. But you should think twice before adding that dab of peppermint oil to their fur—essential oils can pose serious health risks to dogs and cats.

Keep reading to find out which essential oils could be toxic to your pet, how to spot symptoms of toxicity and what you can do to keep your best friend safe.

Are essential oils safe for dogs?

In a word: No. When you add an essential oil to your dog’s shampoo or detangling spray, for example, it gets absorbed through their skin, which can be toxic to their system. The same goes for ingesting an essential oil directly—you want to make sure any diffusers or bottles are out of reach of nosy pups.

You might notice that some brands include essential oils in topical products, like hot-spot treatments. Before you add to cart, make sure you ask your vet if it’s ok to use on your dog, and always follow their recommendation. The less your dog has access to essential oils in their environment, the better.

Make sure to keep your dog away from these specific essential oils to avoid any possibility of a toxic reaction: 

  • Tea tree
  • Wintergreen
  • Cinnamon
  • Citrus
  • Pennyroyal
  • Peppermint
  • Pine
  • Sweet birch
  • Ylang ylang
  • Anise
  • Clove
  • Thyme
  • Juniper
  • Yarrow

Are essential oils safe for cats?

The reaction to essential oils in your cat could be even more severe, since cats lack an enzyme in the liver that breaks down the essential oil to eliminate the toxins.* To be totally safe, you should probably stay away from having things like reed diffusers or diffusing humidifiers in your house—if your curious cat accidentally knocks it over or walks through a scented mist, microdroplets could collect on their fur. Those tiny droplets could then be absorbed through their skin or ingested while they’re grooming themselves. 

If your cat has other respiratory issues like asthma, they’re at even greater risk for toxicity from essential oils since the droplets irritate the respiratory tract. Plus, all cats, regardless of their health issues, face the risk of pneumonia if oils are inhaled.**

According to Texas A&M University’s Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, the essential oils known to cause poisoning in cats include:

  • Basil
  • Bergamot
  • Bitter almond
  • Cinnamon
  • Citrus
  • Clove
  • Eucalyptus
  • Geranium
  • Juniper
  • Lavender
  • Lemongrass
  • Mint (including wintergreen, spearmint, and peppermint)
  • Myrrh
  • Pine
  • Rose
  • Rosemary
  • Sandalwood
  • Sassafras
  • Tarragon
  • Tea tree
  • Thyme
  • Wormwood
  • Ylang ylang

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How to keep pets safe around essential oils

The most important thing to remember is to talk to your vet before adding an essential oil into your pet’s healthcare. They will be your best resource for understanding how these oils work and why they’ve been added to a certain product. Trust their judgement and follow their advice.

And just to be safe, don’t ever put an essential oil directly onto your pet’s skin or give it to them orally. It’s most likely going to do more harm than good. It’s also a good idea to avoid snuggling with your pup or kitten if you’ve just lathered your own skin in some kind of essential oil. 

Finally, make sure that any oils in the house are stored out of reach from inquisitive paws, and closed tight so they definitely won’t spill. 

Common toxicity symptoms for pets

This is the worst-case scenario, but you should be aware of what the side effects look like if your pet gets into essential oils. Keep in mind that smaller and younger pets often experience more severe side effects. While it often depends on the oil your pet is exposed to, here is a list of common symptoms:

  • Drooling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue/Weakness
  • Difficulty walking or stumbling
  • Muscle tremors
  • Pawing at the mouth or face
  • Redness or burns on skin or gums
  • Vomiting

If you suspect your pet has come in contact with essential oils, this is an emergency—call your regular vet immediately or take your pet to an emergency hospital. It will help if you bring the bottle with you so your vet has a better idea of what issues your pet may face. Your veterinarian may also advise you to call the Pet Poison Helpline at 855.764.7661 or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888.426.4435.

* Pet Poison Helpline

** According to Texas A&M University

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Photo by Biel Morro by Unsplash

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