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Are Essential Oils Safe for Pets?

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Essential oils have become a very popular trend. The calming aromas are diffused into the air, applied to skin and hair, added to hygiene products, and more! But before you go running for your oils, we invite you to sit back, relax, and ask yourself, “Are my essential oils safe for my pet?” 

We know what you’re thinking – “They’re natural!” “They have so many health benefits!” and “Why wouldn’t they be?” Well, you may be surprised to learn that there are a variety of potential dangers when it comes to essential oils and pets. If you use essential oils in any capacity (or are considering trying them out) and have pets, read on for answers to common questions about using essential oils in pet-friendly homes.  

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 First off…What exactly are essential oils? 

Essential oils are volatile molecules extracted from plants that provide the plant’s individual fragrance. The extraction process involves distillation, cold-pressing, or chemicals (note that there is a common concern that oils produced with the aid of chemicals are not pure).  

People mostly use essential oils to make their environment smell better, but oils are also often promoted to aid in the relief of health ailments such as nasal congestion, insomnia, and gastrointestinal distress. 

How are essential oils used? 

Oils are often applied directly to skin, hair, or on objects such as pillows or jewelry or added to products such as body wash, soaps, shampoos, etc. Diluted oils can also be diffused into the air – there are both passive and active diffusers available. Ultimately though, essential oils are absorbed very easily through the skin and mucous membranes. Then, they are either eliminated by the body unchanged or metabolized by the liver.  

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So…are essential oils safe for my pet?  

There are very few studies that examine the safety of essential oils for pets, and many of the studies that do exist looked at the effects in laboratory animals rather than in the “real world.” There is a concern that the active metabolites (compounds created through metabolism) may be more toxic than the original essential oil. Since different animals have different metabolic rates and pathways, these limited studies don’t provide adequate proof that essential oils are safe or that they are effective for the intended use.  

That being said, if all essential oils in all forms were highly toxic to pets – there would be many more sick pets due to the number of people who use essential oils regularly.   

If you do have pets & you do choose to use essential oils, here are a few established guidelines to follow 

  • Do not use essential oils in any fashion in any home with a pet bird – their respiratory tracts are especially sensitive!     
  • Do not use oils in homes that have pets with respiratory issues (especially cats with feline asthma).  
  • Keep diffusers and oils out of your pet’s reach.
  • Do not use oils topically since animals may lick or swallow them. Ingestion is generally associated with the most severe clinical effects. 
  • Always be aware of the concentration levels within your oils. Oils with higher concentration levels can be more dangerous to pets!
  • And lastly – and this one may seem obvious – steer free of oils that are toxic to pets.

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Toxic!? Which essential oils are toxic to mpets   

Pennyroyal Oil, Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca Oil), Wintergreen, and Pine Oil are the most common sources of essential oil toxicity cases for both dogs and cats. Other common toxic essential oils to cats and dogs include cinnamon, citrus, clove, peppermint, sweet birch, thyme, and Ylang Ylang. Additionallyanise, garlic, Juniper, and yarrow are also toxic to dogs. Eucalyptus, oregano, and lavender are also toxic to cats.  

 Note: This list includes the most common toxic essential oils, but is not limited to just these ones.

What are symptoms to look for?   

Symptoms of topical or oral exposure to essential oils include vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, oral irritation, skin irritation, and wobbliness. In severe cases, symptoms include a drop in body temperature, collapse, and neurological effects. Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca Oil) and Pennyroyal Oil have been linked to seizures and liver failure.  

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Do essential oils work as flea treatment for my pets 

There are websites out there that encourage pet owners to use Pennyroyal or Tea Tree Oil to treat their dog’s fleas. DO NOT follow this advice from Dr. GoogleAs already mentioned, Pennyroyal and Tea Tree Oil are toxic and dangerous to pets. Instead, talk to your family veterinarian about safe and effective preventatives and treatments – as well as any concerns when it comes to your pet’s health!  

What about liquid potpourri? Would this be safer alternative to freshen my home? 

No, liquid potpourris are not a good alternative as they are very hazardous to pets! Liquid potpourris contain chemicals called cationic detergents. If eaten, liquid potpourri can cause severe chemical burns in the mouth, as well as fever, difficulty breathing, and tremors. This is especially dangerous for cats! Solipotpourri can also be toxic and cause an intestinablockage if eaten.

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What should I do if my pet is exposed to essential oils?  

If you believe your pet swallowed or licked up any essential oils, DO NOT attempt to induce vomiting, as there is a risk of aspiration pneumonia. Instead, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 for veterinary advice. If they recommend seeking veterinary treatment or if your pet is displaying symptoms after oral or topical exposure, contact your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital for treatment. 

We all want to keep our pets healthy and safe, which is why we strongly encourage essential oil users to research their oils and how they use them. Look for credible sources and information, such as trusted pet health websites like ASPCAIf you have any questions or concerns, talk to your family veterinarian.  

Written as a collaboration between Elizabeth Bruns, DVM, and Janine Hagen (Marketing Assistant).  

Dr. Bruns, ER vet, emergency veterinarian, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

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