Whether it’s the calming of lavender or the energizing burst from orange or lemon scents, aromatherapy has long been used to help humans relax and rejuvenate. Essential oils are commonly found in many homes, as they can help with common maladies such as nasal congestion, anxiety, sleep problems, sore muscles, and skin conditions. There are plant extracts in almost every product we use around the house, from laundry detergent to shampoo. It leads to the question: can essential oils be beneficial to our pets, too? Or, can they be dangerous? In honor of National Pet Poison Prevention Week (the third week of March), let’s review the answer.

Essential Oil Basics

What exactly are essential oils? Simply put, they are plant compounds that have been carefully extracted and distilled, to leave drops that can impart the properties of the plant – the “essence” that describes “essential oils.” They can enter the body through three different methods: the skin, inhalation (when diffused in steam), or ingestion. They are absorbed into the bloodstream and affect the organs rapidly. Used properly, essential oils can have therapeutic effects.

Essential Oils Can Be Toxic to Pets

Essential oils can have a place in integrative veterinary medicine when used by a veterinarian. However, there are some specific oils that pets cannot process and should be avoided. Cats lack a specific liver enzyme (which dogs and humans have) that prevents them from metabolizing certain oils effectively. This can lead to liver failure. Birds also have extremely sensitive respiratory systems, and essential oils should never be used around them.

Since the compounds essential oils contain are biologically active, they can cause myriad dangerous side effects and even organ damage if used improperly.

Essential oils toxic to cats:

  • Cassia
  • Cinnamon
  • Citrus
  • Clove
  • Eucalyptus
  • Lemon
  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Spruce
  • Tea Tree
  • Thyme

Essential oils toxic to dogs:

  • Clove
  • Garlic
  • Juniper
  • Rosemary
  • Tea Tree
  • Thyme
  • Wintergreen

Signs of Essential Oil Toxicity in Pets

If oils are ingested, toxic signs include vomiting, diarrhea, and central nervous system depression. Liver failure and seizures have been reported with the use of pennyroyal and melaleuca oils in severe cases. However, pets don’t need to ingest essential oils to have toxic reactions. Simply getting it on their skin can lead to ataxia (loss of balance/motor function) muscle weakness, depression, lethargy, and behavior changes. Hypothermia and collapse may occur in severe cases. If inhaled, aspiration pneumonia may occur.

If you see any of these signs or think your pet may have been exposed to essential oils improperly, please call our Union location emergency service right away.

Essential Oils and Pet Safety

We aren’t suggesting you keep all essential oils out of your home. Follow these guidelines to ensure you can enjoy them while keeping your furry or feathered friends safe:

  • Keep oils stored out of pet’s reach
  • Never use essential oils on or near your pet without first contacting your veterinarian for guidance
  • Diffuse oils only in well-ventilated areas where pets will not come into contact with the diffuser
  • If you have pets with asthma or other respiratory illness, don’t diffuse oils in your home
  • If your pet ingests oils, call your veterinarian and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline immediately

If you have questions about essential oil use around pets, please give us a call – we’re here to help!