Anyone who shares their home with a pet knows that our furry friends can make the house smell a little less than fresh. Even with regular grooming and bathing, many pet owners opt for some extra help in the form of air fresheners. Though many of these products promise to eliminate pet odors, not all of them are safe for use around pets. Some forms of air fresheners can be toxic to animals and should be avoided in homes with cats and dogs.
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What makes air fresheners dangerous to animals?
A key ingredient in many air fresheners are volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. These chemicals are responsible for a product's volatility, or how easily it turns from a liquid (or solid) into a gas. VOCs are what cause a scent to dissipate into the air. However, VOCs are also used in paint thinners and varnishes, refrigerants, cigarette smoke, and other chemicals like formaldehyde. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, VOCs can cause negative health effects in humans and animals, including eye, nose, and throat irritation; respiratory issues; headaches; and nausea. Some VOCs can even cause more serious symptoms like liver, kidney, and nervous system damage or cancer.
The effects of VOCs will vary greatly depending on a number of different factors like ingredients and ventilation. Some pets won't experience any negative symptoms, but it's best to use caution and avoid these products entirely or use sparingly.
Sprays and plug-ins
VOCs are commonly found in aerosol sprays and plug-in air fresheners. As these can cause a variety of negative health effects, it's best to avoid these products if you have pets. If you already have these in your home, check the ingredients as most products will list VOCs and recommend using them in well-ventilated areas only. Make sure that any sprays or plug-ins are out of reach of your pets to ensure they cannot ingest them. If you notice your pet coughing, sneezing, vomiting, or acting lethargic, discontinue usage of any air fresheners and put a call in to your vet.
Essential oils are an increasingly popular product and are often touted as a pet-safe alternative to aerosol or plug-in air fresheners. While some essential oils are generally regarded as safe for use around pets, the type of oil used and the concentration (how diluted it is) are key factors in determining safety. Cats are much more sensitive to essential oils than dogs, but there are some essential oils that are safe for in-home use at the proper concentration levels. Chamomile, lavender, and jasmine are safe for use around cats, while cedarwood, chamomile, lavender, and mint can be used around dogs. Using these oils in a diffuser or humidifier will freshen up your home and are less likely to cause reactions in pets when safely diluted.
Incense and scented candles
Though incense and candles are generally a nice alternative to more chemical-based air fresheners, these can also be irritating to cats and dogs. As they are made with essential oils, some will be more or less safe depending on which oils are listed in the ingredients. The smoke from burning incense can cause respiratory irritation in pets, so it's best to have proper ventilation if you do light a nice-smelling stick. While candles are lower on the list in terms of potential danger to pets, some animals may still be sensitive to the scents - so use these sparingly and in well-ventilated areas.
Fortunately, there are a number of options for keeping your house smelling fresh without having to worry about exposing your pets to harmful ingredients.
Eliminate odors at the source by keeping up with regular bathing and grooming of pets. Vacuum and mop regularly to remove pet hair, dander, and dust - even if your home doesn't have carpet, vacuuming bare floors will remove smaller particles that a broom won't.
An air purifier can greatly improve air quality and odor by filtering out microscopic particles, including pet dander, dust mite matter, mold spores, and other allergens and contaminants. You can also improve the ventilation in your home by opening doors and windows on nice days and cleaning air filters at regular intervals.
Homemade sprays made with pet-safe essential oils are a great alternative to ones with questionable ingredients. Some essential oils like cedarwood and lavender can be used as a body spray for dogs when properly diluted. These blends also work wonderfully as a room spray.