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Are Essential Oils Toxic To Pets?

            Essential oils have become a pervasive part of many people’s self-care routines. But when a recent Facebook post about a cat getting sick from exposure to essential oils went viral, pet owners have understandably begun to worry. According to the experts, depending on the essential oil, you may be putting your pet at risk.

Was Ernie the cat poisoned by essential oils?

            Pet owners from Michigan recently posted on Facebook about their 16-year-old cat, Ernie. After a few days of using a diffuser in the home, the owners noticed that Ernie wasn’t acting right. He was lethargic, unstable on his feet and was drooling excessively. Once he was treated, Ernie still wasn’t himself for a few days, but it seemed that he was on the mend.

            In response, essential oil vets and many essential oil distributors came out to dispute the claims that Ernie was harmed by the eucalyptus oil used. They pointed out that Murray used oils purchased on Amazon, where subpar essential oils are readily available. The FDA doesn’t regulate the essential oil industry, so unless you shop from a reputable company, you might put your furry friends at risk.

            They also claimed that Ernie’s symptoms were non-specific to poisoning. He could have been reacting to another substance, something in his water, or another issue that could be chalked up to him being a geriatric cat. In short, they claimed that there’s no way to tell for sure that the essential oils were the culprit. That doesn’t keep pet owners from hesitating before using their diffuser, and understandably so.

Potentially toxic essential oils for pets

            Cats, in particular, are very sensitive to essential oils. Gastrointestinal upset, central nervous system issues and liver damage as some of the risks associated with essential oils. Toxicity varies depending on which oil you use. When a cat inhales oils through a diffuser, the oils can cause aspiration pneumonia.

Which oils are unsafe for cats?


  • Phenols - found in thyme and oregano oils
  • Monoterpene Hydrocarbons - found in pine oils
  • Phenylpropanes - found in basil and cinnamon
  • Ketone oils - found in wormwood and pennyroyal should be avoided altogether


  • Citrus oils like orange, lemon and grapefruit
  • Wintergreen
  • Clove
  • Birch
  • Anise
  • Hyssop
  • Juniper
  • Tansy
  • Tea tree oil

Essential oils to avoid around dogs


  • Anise
  • Clove
  • Juniper
  • Thyme
  • Wintergreen
  • Yarrow
  • Garlic
  • Horseradish

Essential oils that are toxic to birds

            Birds are particularly susceptible to fragrances from household chemicals and candles. So, it goes without saying that they can also be affected by essential oil diffusers as well. Some resources online note that cedar wood, citronella, pine and melaleuca are poisonous to birds. So if you own a bird, it is best to avoid these.

How to safely use oils around your pets

            Essential oils enter the bloodstream quickly through topical application, ingestion or inhalation. Even very small amounts can have a large impact on the body — human and animal alike.

            The most important consideration is the type of oil you use.

            When introducing a new oil to your household, diffuse it for a short amount of time and pay careful attention to your pet. Make sure that the room is well ventilated and that your pet doesn’t stand directly next to or over the diffuser. Begin with essential oils that are assumed to be safe for short-term use like lavender or frankincense. Then, monitor your pet for a few hours to make sure they’re acting normally.

            Use a water-based diffuser in an open room that animals can leave if they don’t like the smell. Use only three to four drops of the oil at a time to avoid over-exposure.

            Stop diffusing the oil and open the windows if you notice your pet acting strangely. In severe cases, call or visit your vet to make sure your furry friend receives the care they need to recover from the exposure.

How to know if essential oils are harming your pets

            It’s fairly easy to spot signs of poisoning in your cat or dog. In addition to a loss of appetite and trouble urinating, your pet may exhibit running eyes, vomiting, excessive panting, rubbing face, muscle tremors, diarrhea, rashes and drooling. Birds may experience wheezing, signs of dizziness and incoordination, weakness, anxiety, seizures or depression.

            Common sense suggests that we would hear about essential oils poisoning more pets if they were highly toxic to our furry friends. But, since essential oils are a relatively new health trend, there’s an obvious lack of research on the topic. Be sure to talk to your vet before diffusing essential oils around your dog, cat or bird. Remember, what is safe for you may not be safe for your furry or feathered friend.


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