Is It Safe To Diffuse Essential Oils Around Your Pets?

Researching the safety protocols of diffusing essential oils around pets leads to a mound of contradictions to sort through, since hot debate rages around the practice.

dog and essential oils
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From scary warnings on social media to cautionary tales written by experts like aromatherapists and veterinarians, there's enough anecdotal evidence for any pet parent to be concerned. Like burning incense, which is toxic to pets, essential oils dispersed into the air through diffusion can also have complications for our pets.

Whether diffusing essential oils is safe for pets is slightly more complicated than a simple "yes," or "no," says the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They suggest that using a diffuser in an area inaccessible to your pets for a short period is "not likely to be an issue."

As always, when it comes to your beloved pets, err on the side of caution, and thoroughly research different essential oils and their use in diffusers; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Then, if you decide to go forward, check with your veterinarian for her recommendations and guidance before you invest in an essential oil diffuser. And if you have a pet bird, reptile, or any exotic pet, or small pets like rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, mice, rats, ferrets, or guinea pigs, you should forgo essential oils altogether, say the experts.

Electric Essential oils Aroma diffuser, oil bottles and flowers on gray surface with reflection.
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Essential oils in a nutshell

Also known as volatile oils, essential oils are potent compounds extracted from the heart of many plants — for example, lavender, mint, or eucalyptus — through a variety of processes such as steam distillation, solvent extraction, CO2 extraction, maceration, enfleurage, cold press extraction, and water distillation. These highly concentrated natural oils capture the essence of the plant — its scent and flavor — and are used in flavorings and perfumes, as well as aromatherapy.

The use of plant aromatics for the holistic healing of mind, body, and spirit has been practiced since ancient times in the form of inhalation, massage, bathing, and compresses. Diffusing EOs is one popular method of inhalation aromatherapy; the other is spritzing EOs into the air. But, in some cases, and for some vulnerable individuals, both human and non-human, certain essential oils can be harmful.

Essential oils and cats

Many essential oils contain a compound known as phenol, or carbolic acid, which make them unsafe to use around pets. In fact, cats are particularly at risk since they are deficient in the enzyme glucoronyl transferase which breaks down phenol, which is also present in drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen (Tylenol). That being said, any essential oil is unsafe around pets when used incorrectly or in excess.

Electric essential oil diffuser isolated on pink background.
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Considerations of diffusing EOs around pets

When you're considering diffusing essential oils, your dogs and cats may fall into the category of vulnerable individuals if they have a history of breathing or respiratory problems. Diffusing oils around pets may worsen existing respiratory or liver problems, particularly in cats. During diffusion, minuscule droplets of oil are inhaled, enter the lungs, and tend to accumulate in fatty tissues such as the brain, explains Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD.

Also, due to both species' remarkable sense of smell, the aroma of essential oils will be delivered to them in mega doses well before it's reached a pleasant level for your enjoyment. Your pet may feel overwhelmed by what he considers an irritating stench, just as some people who eschew aromatherapy do when they encounter anything except the natural smell of fresh air. Imagine being stuck in an elevator with a man or woman who drenched themselves in cologne! It's kind of like that for your pet when they're enclosed in a room with a diffuser with no way to escape.

Also, consider that you may be moving around your home from room to room as EOs are diffused, while your pet is often resting or sleeping in one spot. The essential oil droplets — the more active the diffuser, the more droplets — fall onto your pet's fur and skin and not only can the absorption be toxic, but when she licks herself and ingests the oil, it can lead to poisoning. Your pet could also knock the diffuser over and be exposed to the spilled oil.

Eucalyptus essential oil and fresh eucalyptus leaves on the table
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Conclusion

Some essential oils can safely be diffused for short periods of time around your cat or dog. However, some essential oils contain a compound known as phenol, or carbolic acid, which make them unsafe to use around pets.

And, because of all the potential negatives, it's safest to thoroughly pet-proof the space where you are using the diffuser, or better yet, make it totally inaccessible to your pets. If you have small animals, like hamsters or gerbils, it's best to forgo essential oils altogether.