Are There Pet-Safe Essential Oils?
Find out how to safely use essential oils around your pets, which ones to avoid, and how to keep your home pet-friendly and safe.
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I’m a master herbalist, but I’m still cautious with essential oils around pets. Dogs and cats can be sensitive to essential oils, cats more so than dogs. But some are safe to use around pets, and the right ones can be beneficial.
It bothers me that so many people think these little bottles of oil are completely harmless. I mean, how bad could a few drops of sweet orange-scented oil really be? But essential oils are potent. And they can cause significant problems for pets when the user doesn’t know what they’re doing.
I use essential oils in cleaning products, in calming diffuser blends and as part of my anti-flea and tick regimen. Some oils like clove oil can be used as an insect repellent. But I use them in low concentrations, mixed with neutral carrier oils and/or water, and only ones I know are safe.
Let’s take a look at pet-safe essential oils for cats and dogs, how they’re used, and the dangers of misuse.
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Essential Oil Sensitivities
Cats and dogs differ significantly in their metabolism and how they process essential oils. Cats are particularly sensitive due to their lack of certain liver enzymes, making them more susceptible to toxic effects. Factors like size, breed and age can impact how your pet responds to essential oils.
Essential Oils to Avoid for Pets
Some essential oils are toxic to pets. Examples include tea tree, eucalyptus and cinnamon, but there are many others, too.
Signs of essential oil poisoning in pets may include drooling, vomiting, tremors, neurological changes and difficulty breathing. If you suspect poisoning, contact your veterinarian immediately. Don’t wait; essential oil toxicity can be fatal.
If you still want to use essential oils in your home, make sure you only buy high-end therapeutic-grade oils. Lower-quality oils often contain impurities and potentially harmful compounds. Others are intended as fragrance oils only.
Pet-Safe Essential Oils Used Topically
I don’t use essential oils topically around my pets, apart from geraniol (geranium essential oil), peppermint oil and thyme oil, heavily diluted with almond oil or fractionated coconut oil to repel fleas, mosquitoes, and ticks.
And when I say diluted, I mean really diluted. I use approximately 1% each of the essential oils and 93% almond oil. Any stronger than this and your animals might get sick.
I use this mixture as a squeeze-on once per month during peak parasite season for each of my dogs and cats.
If you don’t want to mix it yourself, you can get a similar commercial product from Only Natural Pets in a squeeze-on or slow-diffusing collar form.
Essential oils are potentially dangerous for your pets, so it’s best to err on the side of caution. There are plenty of safer, more effective natural options for topical applications.
What if Your Pet Ingests Essential Oils?
Put them in the car and take them to the veterinarian, even if you only suspect they’ve ingested a small amount. Call the emergency veterinarian from the car, safely and hands-free. Don’t delay or wait for symptoms to appear. The faster you get your pet treatment, the better the chance for a good outcome.
Pet-Safe Essential Oils for Diffusers and Burners
As a rule, avoid diffusers and misters around pets. They work by spraying the essential oils into the air, sending them everywhere — on surfaces, on your pets, on their bedding, your furniture and even in their food and water bowls.
Reed diffusers are a slightly better choice because they only slowly release small amounts of oil. I use an oil burner I’ve had since I was a kid, and only when I’m trying to create a calming atmosphere for my older dog before fireworks. I use a tiny amount of lavender and chamomile oils mixed with water and make sure my cats are safely out of the way.
Note: Low concentrations of safe essential oils, like geranium oil, are preferable and safer for pets than some of the heavily fake-fragranced air freshener products. Diffusers that spray chemical scents are incredibly dangerous to dogs and cats.
Are Cleaning Solutions Made With Essential Oils Safe for Pets?
It depends. You don’t want your cat or dog to ingest the oil, or have it directly contact their skin, particularly if it’s not diluted.
I rarely bother with essential oils when cleaning. Instead, I use regular white vinegar mixed 50/50 with water in a spray bottle. It’s non-toxic, safe for people and pets, and a potent cleaner with antimicrobial properties.
On those occasions when I need extra freshness, I add a few drops of rosemary essential oil to the bottle. In low concentrations, it’s safe. You could also use geranium. But I’d still avoid spraying this on areas where your pets hang out a lot.
Pet-Safe Essential Oil Alternatives
Essential oils are a minefield and should be used with extreme caution. If you’re even a little unsure, look for a pet-safe alternative. And there are plenty.
If you want a natural, fresh fragrance in your home, create a simmer pot on your stove. Add hot water, cloves, citrus or fresh herbs to an uncovered pot and let it simmer for a few hours. You can also put the mixture in your slow cooker, set on low, and leave it all day. The fragrance will permeate your home.
You can also boil some fresh rosemary sprigs on the stove for 30 minutes. Then, once it’s cooled, use the water for your vinegar/water cleaning mixture for a fresh, herby scent.
Never use undiluted oils directly on skin, and never use even heavily diluted oils on broken or damaged skin. To clean and soothe an irritated area while waiting to see your vet, choose leucillin spray, manuka honey or pet-safe colloidal silver gel.
For natural flea and tick prevention, try food-grade diatomaceous earth mixed with yarrow powder and applied to your pet’s coat. Avoiding the face; it can cause an irritated throat if inhaled.
For dogs only, try pure neem oil (not essential oil) mixed with apple cider vinegar and water. Be careful; it’s toxic to cats.
Grooming your pets regularly, supplying a fresh species-appropriate diet and regular vacuuming all reduce the risk of fleas and ticks. There are also pet-safe wipes imbued with citronella that repel fleas and ticks before you go for a walk.