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Are Essential Oils Safe for Pets?

orange tabby cat sitting on an orange and blue distressed wood surface, smelling two small glass vials of an unidentified oil

If you have been paying attention to social media recently, you have likely seen all the discussions on social media about the use of essential oils. It’s a market that is clearly on the rise! However, many pet owners are left wondering – Are essential oils safe for pets? Let’s take a look…

I have always been interested in natural treatment options and the concept of aromatherapy. In fact, I use peppermint essential oil myself in order to manage my allergy symptoms.

However, I can’t help but notice that the popularity of essential oils has skyrocketed as of late!

This isn’t, in and of itself, a bad thing. However, we run the risk of people making a decision based on a trend rather than doing their research or consulting a professional.

Essential oils are a more natural approach, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t risks to consider.

There is one important topic that I don’t believe is being addressed enough – the information that pet owners need to be familiar with in order to ensure that they are keeping their little (or not so little) ones safe while using essential oils at home.

Essential oils are formulated for human use, however, often our pets often have different tolerance levels and sensitivities that need to be taken into account.

These tolerance levels and sensitivities vary based on species, size, and other factors.

For this reason, it is NOT recommended that you use essential oils at home to treat your pet’s medical conditions. This includes orally, topically or through aromatherapy!

If you are interested in exploring your options, there are veterinarians that specialize in alternative treatments that you can consult.

small cream coloured dog laying on a plain white floor with it's head down, 3 packages of unidentified essential oils laying on the ground in front of it's nose

What Are Essential Oils

Let’s start with the basics. What exactly ARE essential oils anyway?

Essential oils are concentrated compounds that are extracted from plants, often referred to as the ‘essence’ of a plant.

These natural compounds can be found in the roots, seeds, flowers, or bark of various plants.

As Johns Hopkins Medicine defines it: “Essential oils are basically plant extracts.”

Practitioners of alternative medicine have found that many of these compounds have healing properties when used orally, topically or through aromatherapy.

This includes potentially treating or reducing:

  • Nausea
  • Low appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress levels
  • Dry mouth
  • Allergies/Sinus conditions

As well as a long list of other conditions.

The Big Question – Are Essential Oils Safe for Pets?

Oral/Internal Use and Dangers

The biggest mistake that many plant owners make is to apply information pertaining to same human consumption to their pets.

Animals and humans react differently to various substances.

Essential oils that can be taken orally by humans may cause serious reactions in our pets.  

Never give your pet essential oils unless you are under the supervision of a professional.

One extremely misleading piece of advice that I have seen circulating is the ‘fact’ that you can dilute essential oils in your pet’s water, making them ‘safe for consumption’.

This overlooks the fact that the oils will sit on top of the water, rather than mixing in.

When your pet goes to take a drink, they will ingest high quantities of the oils which can lead to serious consequences.

I am in no way saying that there are no benefits to the use of essential oils for medical purposes.

However, this should be done with the advice and supervision of a professional to ensure that all important factors are considered.

Related: ‘12 Easy Ways to Save Money on Pet Food

Topical/External Use and Dangers

Another popular use of essential oils involves the application of the oils topically.

Essential oils are highly concentrated and can lead to skin irritation if applied in too high of a dose.

Additionally, pets have different tolerance levels, meaning a safe dosage for you may not be safe for your pet’s sensitive skin.

In addition to the risk of skin reactions, many pets will groom themselves by licking their fur and/or skin.

This means that oils applied to your pet topically may be inadvertently ingested, leading to complications.

Much like oral/internal use, it is recommended that oils are used topically only under the advice and supervision of a professional.

This includes direct application of oils to your pet’s skin/fur, the use of essential oils in your pet’s bath water or any other situation in which they would have direct contact with the oil.

Aromatherapy Use and Dangers

Another common form of essential oil use is aromatherapy through the use of a diffuser.

This approach is used both for medical reasons as well as simply adding a more pleasant scent to your home.

Pets generally have a heightened sense of smell, meaning that they will feel the effects of essential oils in the air much quicker and more intensely than we will.

This can quickly lead to negative reactions and complications in your pet.

For this reason, it is recommended that pet parents limit a pet’s exposure when using oils for aromatherapy purposes.

What does ‘limit a pet’s exposure’ look like?

If you are diffusing an oil that has been deemed safe by an experienced holistic veterinarian, make sure that there is always an escape route available for your pet.

This will allow them to leave if they are overwhelmed by the scent of the oil.

If you are diffusing an oil that is considered ‘unsafe’ (or if you are unsure – always err on the side of caution), restrict your pet’s access to the space.

This can be done by diffusing in a closed room or enclosing your pet in a room safely away from the exposure.

Don’t forget to properly air out the room following use.

You will also want to clean any exposed surfaces that may have accumulated oil residue during the process.

Finally, if you are unable to contain the exposure in a separate room, consider the use of hot, steaming water to diffuse your oil.

Add a few drops of oil to a bowl of hot water. Then place your head over the bowl with a towel covering your head and the bowl, containing the vapor.

NOTE: If there is too much steam, or the steam is too hot, this can be dangerous.

If you do choose this route, know that it is not free from risk of exposure!

Always do this in a well-ventilated space, away from your pet, and clean up fully immediately afterward.

calico cat laying on a tan coloured carpet in front of a wooden essential oil diffuser, investigating it

Accidental Exposure Dangers

As I have mentioned above, your pet may be exposed to essential oils unintentionally.

One way that this can happen is due to the contact risk of oil residue on shelves, counters, containers, and other surfaces.

Any time that you are handling oils, be sure to carefully clean the area.

Another risk that is often overlooked is the oil residue that can often be found on our own skin after handling oils.

This can easily be transferred to your pet when handling them.

Additionally, your pet may be enticed by the smell, licking the oils off your hands.

Always wash your hands between handling oils or oil-related supplies and touching your pet.

Ensure that your oils are always stored safely out of reach of your pet.

Not only is there a risk that they could access the contents of the containers, there may also be oil residues on the bottle.

Animals are naturally curious and may get into a cupboard or shelf if they are accidentally left open or easy to open by the animals themselves.

Toxicity Signs and Symptoms

Depending on the type of essential oil and the dose that your pet was exposed to, reactions can vary.

Signs and symptoms or toxic exposure to be aware of include:

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Head-Shaking
  • Tremors/Wobbliness (Ataxia)
  • Lethargy/Low Energy
  • Low Heart Rate
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Low Body Temperature

Toxicity from exposure to essential oils can lead to a number of complications including (but not limited to) headaches, irritation of the lining of the mouth or throat, gastrointestinal upset, and liver damage.

If you have any reason to believe that your pet may have been exposed to essential oils, contact your veterinarian immediately!

Time is of the essence, so don’t hesitate. Exposure can be fatal if left untreated.

Related: ‘11 Must-Have Apps for Pet Parents in 2020

Essential Oils You Should Avoid with Pets

The following is a list of essential oils that have been found to be dangerous to pets in one way or another.

Note: This list is NOT species specific, meaning that some of these oils may be safe for some species.

If you are unsure and interested in using one of the oils mentioned, contact an experience holistic veterinary professional for more information.

  • Anise
  • Bergamot
  • Birch
  • Bitter Almond
  • Boldo
  • Cajuput
  • Calamus
  • Camphor
  • Cassia
  • Chenopodium
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Cypress
  • Fir
  • Garlic
  • Goosefoot
  • Grapefruit
  • Horseradish
  • Hyssop
  • Juniper
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Mandarin
  • Mugwort
  • Mustard
  • Neroli
  • Orange
  • Oregano
  • Pennyroyal
  • Peppermint
  • Petitgrain
  • Pine
  • Red or White Thyme
  • Rue
  • Santolina
  • Sassafras
  • Savory
  • Spruce
  • Tangerine
  • Tansy
  • Tea Tree
  • Terebinth
  • Thuja
  • Wintergreen
  • Wormwood
  • Yarrow

Benefits of Essential Oils for Pets

There are some essential oils that are safely used by professionals for a number of medical reasons.

While this article has largely focused on the risks, I do want to take a moment to discuss some of the benefits that you may see.

NOTE: This is NOT a recommendation to use these oils freely on your pet at home. If you are interested in exploring these benefits, consult a holistic veterinary professional prior to any use!

Lavender: Provides relief from stress, allergies, burns, ulcers, insomnia, car ride anxiety and car sickness

Spearmint: Helps to reduce weight, balance metabolism, stimulates gallbladder and provides relief for diarrhea, nausea, and colic

Frankincense: Boosts immune system, reduces tumors and external ulcers, increases blood supply to the brain

Cardamom: Diuretic and anti-bacterial, provides relief from heartburn, nausea, coughs, and colic, and normalizes appetite

Fennel: Helps to break down toxins and fluid in the tissue, balances pituitary, thyroid and pineal glands

Helichrysum: Anti-bacterial, helps repair nerves, promotes skin regeneration, reduces bleeding in accidents and helps to lower the risk of cardiac disease

orange tabby cat sitting on an orange and blue distressed wood surface, smelling two small glass vials of an unidentified oil with the title text 'are essential oils safe for pets?'

Have you ever asked yourself – Are essential oils safe for pets before?

Were you aware of the risks mentioned?

Do you currently use essential oils in your home? If so, what steps do you take to ensure that your pet is safe?

About Author

Britt is a digital/social media marketer and the owner of The Social Alternative. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending her time with her ‘pack’ which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs Daviana and Indiana and their 2 cats Pippen and Jinx. A proud pet mom, she shares all her pet-related tips, tricks and funny pet antics on Shed Happens.

38 Comments

  • Ruth Epstein
    September 18, 2020 at 8:24 pm

    I do not have any essential oils in my house because of Layla’s allergies. I see so many people using them without thinking of their pets it actually kills me and have had many arguments over it. I do have which I spray on Layla’s bedding to calm her is a Lavender spray made for pets which helps relax her. Great post

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 18, 2020 at 10:29 pm

      They do have some great benefits. Honestly, peppermint oil has done WONDERS for my allergies. However, as a pet owner, I have to be extra careful about how and when I am using them. Their safety is priority #1!

      Reply
  • Emilia
    September 18, 2020 at 8:30 pm

    I use hydrosols. They are the by-product of the distillation product. I do not use them on my cats or diffuse them but I use them myself. I don’t like to use any essential oils around the cats. They have lower liver enzymes to deal with phenols. Kitties are more sensitive than dogs. I know there is a vet that uses her own line of EOs and says they’re safe, and some distributors say their oils are safe but for me I’ll pass on the risk even I personally would expect to see benefit of my chronic condition. My furballs are too important.

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 18, 2020 at 10:28 pm

      I won’t use essential oils on my pets unless I am expressly doing so under the guidance of our vet. She is very well known as a vet in the traditional sense as well as alternative medicine, so I trust that she knows far more than I do on the subject. That being said, I do use peppermint for my allergies but I am very careful to ensure that the pets have no contact with it.

      Reply
  • Kelly Martin
    September 18, 2020 at 9:13 pm

    Essential oils are so popular these days so I think this is a really important article. It would be awful to poison your pet unknowingly with essential oils.

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 18, 2020 at 10:25 pm

      I have seen SO many conversations about the oils and their different uses, but it’s important to recognize that we could be causing harm to our pets! Don’t get me wrong, I do love the benefits and use essential oils myself – but we have to be smart about it.

      Reply
  • Nancy
    September 18, 2020 at 10:51 pm

    I have been curious about essential oils but tend to follow a rule of thumb to avoid fragrances with pets unless it’s from their own food. Animals have super sensitive smell, which something normal for us can be extremely potent to them. Essential oils are confirmed safe for humans but I rather not test it out on an animal myself. Thanks for sharing this important reminder! Just because we use it for good doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for animals!

    Nancy ✨ exquisitely.me

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 23, 2020 at 5:04 pm

      Exactly! While there have been some studies into the benefits for pets, I would never recommend anyone try that without the direct supervision of a professional.

      Reply
  • Scott J DeNicola
    September 19, 2020 at 7:38 am

    Wow, so just about every essential oil we diffuse in our home is bad for our pets. I knew about tea tree oil and avoid that at all costs but not so many of the others. Good to know and from now on I need to be more cognizant of what I am using. I find them very helpful to me during allergy season when I find it harder to breathe.

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 23, 2020 at 5:02 pm

      I LIVE for peppermint oil for my allergies, but it’s something that I have to be so careful about using with pets. I make a point of only using it in a closed room away from them and do a full clean up after to avoid any risk of exposure.

      Reply
  • Stephanie S.
    September 19, 2020 at 11:37 am

    Such a great read, and very detailed. I was wondering if it was safe for pets. I use essential oils all the time for myself, but I always wondered if, and what amount of oils was safe for pets. We currently don’t have any pets, but I will send this information along to a few of my friends that do own pets. Thanks so much for sharing this information!

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 23, 2020 at 4:57 pm

      Thank you! They can be used for pets but it is SO important to do so under the supervision of a professional. Too many risks involved not to take them seriously!

      Reply
  • Tiffany McCullough
    September 19, 2020 at 12:29 pm

    I love essential oils, but have limited my use of them because I have cats and dogs. So many people don’t know the risk essential oils can pose to their pets. Thanks for sharing this information!

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 23, 2020 at 4:56 pm

      Yes! I have to limit use for the same reason – but their health and safety is so important!

      Reply
  • Angela Schneider
    September 19, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    I love that you jumped on this trend to warn about the hazards. I tend to stay away from these things. It all seems like woo to me.

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 23, 2020 at 4:56 pm

      I do use some for myself and have seen great benefits. That being said, alternative medicine is still medicine and should be approached with a similar mindset. You wouldn’t drug your dogs with something just because a human can take it over the counter. In the same way, it’s important to consult a professional and make sure that essential oils are used safely and that they are the best choice for the situation.

      Reply
  • Jana Rade
    September 19, 2020 at 5:40 pm

    Dilution is the most important strategy when using essential oils for dogs. So far, I have only used them for aromatherapy but, as always, I’m open to things. I’ve been using lavender and jasmine oils for aromatherapy.

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 23, 2020 at 4:54 pm

      I have read some great reports about the benefits that they can carry, I definitely don’t discount that. We just have to due our due diligence so that we are aware of the risks and keep our pets safe!

      Reply
  • Kamira G.
    September 19, 2020 at 11:34 pm

    This was a very interesting and informative read. I also use essential oils in my home. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about impacted any pets at the moment however your tips make perfect sense. Many of these tips are the same procedures you’d follow for humans. (ie: Diluting essential oils with steam or a carrier oil like coconut oil) Thanks for sharing, I’ll be pinning this post!

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 23, 2020 at 4:52 pm

      They have great benefits, but not without risks – That’s why it’s so important to do our due diligence!

      Reply
  • Marjorie and the Dash Kitten Crew
    September 20, 2020 at 4:28 am

    I would put the part “For this reason…….” in screaming great capitals because most people would do a lot of harm by giving their pets the wrong kind of oil. I would only ever give an oil for a very specific purpose under veterinary supervision for safety’s sake..

    Essential oils can be extremely powerful and I am so glad you mention accidental spillage and that cleanliness is critical.It is easy to be careless!

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 23, 2020 at 4:50 pm

      I can’t imagine giving something like this to our pets without first getting the advice and guidance of a professional. While it may be a more natural alternative option, it’s still something that can carry such serious risks!

      Reply
  • Lyosha
    September 21, 2020 at 9:54 am

    very important post! not everything good for human is equally good for animal and wise versa. I remember the rescued fox in my area. His owner turned all organic vegan fighter. Not only she made him go vegan in a day but also used oils and other ‘natural treatments’ to make his life better. oils and aromatherapy were a must for her on a weekly basis

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 23, 2020 at 4:45 pm

      Too many people fail to see that’s what safe, or even healthy, for us could be incredibly unhealthy or dangerous for our pets!

      Reply
  • Smita
    September 21, 2020 at 10:20 am

    Such a useful article Britt! As popular as essential oils are – some with valid claims, some seemingly dubious – using them on pets without a vet’s recommendation is something I’d never do either. The safety of our pets is our first and foremost responsibility.

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 23, 2020 at 4:44 pm

      Exactly! I’m not saying they have no benefits – I use essential oils myself. However, it’s SO important to exercise caution and do our due diligence before exposing our pets to something like, either directly or indirectly.

      Reply
  • NKEM
    September 22, 2020 at 5:54 am

    Since I don’t have pets currently, and hadn’t used essential oils whenI had them, I was kind of surprised to learn that there were essential oils that were unsafe for pets. I know human animals and other species are different, but it makes me question just how much safer these things can be for us as humans, too, no?m

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 23, 2020 at 4:28 pm

      Definitely a good question. I know that straight use of some can cause adverse reactions requiring the to be diluted, but I’m sure there are many people who don’t (or don’t know to) take that step.

      Reply
  • Kat
    September 22, 2020 at 6:32 am

    Wow, so many oils to avoid, it really seems like it’s better to stay away from essential oils when it comes to pets, unless it is something specifically designed to use on an animal. I’m sure there are many other ways of treating pets’ conditions that are safer and more recommended.

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 23, 2020 at 4:27 pm

      They have their benefits but it’s definitely not something I would even entertain the idea of without first speaking with a professional.

      Reply
  • Erica (The Prepping Wife)
    September 22, 2020 at 8:05 am

    I try to limit where in the house that I am using them, to help keep my munchkin away from them. He hates any citrus-related smells anyway, and especially peppermint. If I’m using it, it is in my bedroom, where we keep the door closed and him out almost all of the time. Periodically I’ll open the bottle in my office because I get headaches often from too much screen time, and it helps. He simply stays out of my office when that happens. Luckily for me, he is pretty self-regulating when it comes to anything affecting him, and he simply stays away. I can always tell when the air is “clear” again for him. I had honestly never considered using essential oils on my cat before. Do people really do that?!

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 23, 2020 at 4:26 pm

      Sadly, there are many people who assume that something being safe for us means that it’s also safe for our pets – which just isn’t the case!

      Reply
  • Beth
    September 22, 2020 at 12:50 pm

    Thanks for sharing this information! We are always very careful when using essential oils near our dogs. My sister stopped using them altogether once she got a cat.

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 23, 2020 at 4:24 pm

      I have heard some horror stories about reactions in cats in particular – they are even more sensitive than the dogs in our lives!

      Reply
  • College Apps Abroad
    September 22, 2020 at 2:15 pm

    I just watched a documentary on Netflix about essential oils. I’ve been thinking about getting some diffusers for the house but may reconsider for the sake of my two pups!

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 23, 2020 at 4:24 pm

      It’s definitely something worth discussing with a professional first. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in the benefits of essential oils, but you can’t be too careful when our pets are concerned!

      Reply
  • Mrs. P&P
    September 25, 2020 at 9:55 pm

    Great info! I don’t think people new to using oils get this information ad much as they should! You definitely have to be careful.

    Reply
    • Britt
      September 27, 2020 at 11:14 pm

      It’s always better to be aware of the risks so that you can make an educated decision and keep your family safe.

      Reply

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