How to Use Essential Oils Safely Around Your Dog or Cat

Essential oils are all the rage right now, and many people hail them as natural aromatherapy remedies for a variety of ailments. But natural does not always equal safe, especially for animals. There’s a dark side to essential oils too, as they can pose potential health and safety concerns under certain circumstances.

Close-up photo of a black-and-white cat sniffing at a person's hand holding a dropper over an open essential oil bottle
Photo: Adobe Stock/elenavolf

Which Essential Oils Are Safe?

So which oils are safe to use on or around your pet? The short answer is that we don’t know. Essential oils have not been studied in depth, so, while there are several essential oils we know are toxic to dogs and cats, there is no list of oils that are known to be 100% safe to use on or around them.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to stop using essential oils if you have a pet. It just means you should talk to your veterinarian about your plans, know the risks and safety advice, and use your oils with extreme caution. If your veterinarian hasn’t researched essential oils or had personal experience with them, seek help from one who is more knowledgable on the subject of how essential oils affect your breed of pet.

Brown chihuahua dog sitting on couch with essential oil reed diffuser on a table in the foreground
Photo: Adobe Stock/New Africa

Luckily, there are some essential oils that are generally regarded as “safe” for dogs and cats when used with caution. They should never be put directly on your pet or given by mouth, but they can usually be used in a diffuser or by other indirect means (such as in the laundry with the pet’s bedding) without causing harm, although this also depends of the type of pet you have (birds, for example, should never be around any essential oils due to their extremely sensitive respiratory systems). Here are some of the safest essential oils for your pet:

  • Lavender
  • Chamomile
  • Myrrh
  • Ginger
  • Rosemary
  • Bergamot
  • Frankincense
Calico cat cautiously sniffing a wooden bamboo essential oil diffuser
Photo: Adobe Stock/Kristina Blokhin

Which Essential Oils Should I Avoid?

The list of essential oils that are known to be toxic to pets is different for each type of pet. The list for dogs is as follows:

  • Cinnamon oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Pennyroyal oil
  • Pine oils
  • Sweet birch
  • Tea tree oil
  • Wintergreen
Stuffed toy dog with tongue out sits next to wooden active essential oil diffuser
Photo: Adobe Stock/sinseeho

Cats tend to be more sensitive than dogs because their livers are unable to break down any essential oils they ingest. They are also more likely to accidentally ingest oil droplets that are diffused into the air and land on their fur because they groom themselves so often. These are the essential oils that are known to be toxic to cats:

  • All the oils listed above for dogs, plus:
  • Citrus oil
  • Clove oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Ylang Ylang oil
Tiger-striped cat in front of window sniffs an active aroma oil diffuser on the table against the window
Photo: Adobe Stock/Анастасия Стягайло

How Do I Use Essential Oils Safely Around My Pet?

Before using essential oils around a pet, talk to your vet about which oils are safest and how best to use them. Consider not only your pet’s breed but also their age and health concerns, as well as how many hours per day they’ll be exposed to essential oils. Always provide a space where your pet can escape from essential oils in the air if they so desire.

Once you’ve decided to use essential oils around your pet, work on slowly acclimating them to the scents by using small amounts at a time, preferably on your person or in a limited space rather than diffused throughout your home.

Be sure to store all essential oils and related paraphernalia out of reach of your pet.

Yellow labrador retriever lies on couch with active essential oil diffuser in the foreground
Photo: Adobe Stock/Pixel-Shot

Can I Still Use My Diffuser?

There are two types of diffusers: passive ones, which rely on evaporation, and active ones, which shoot tiny droplets of oil into the air. The former is generally safe to use, but the latter may not be, because those tiny droplets can fall directly on your pet’s fur and skin and be ingested or absorbed into the skin.

Talk to your vet and research your particular diffuser to learn whether it is safe for your pet and what precautions you may want to take. Always monitor your pet when using a diffuser and provide a location where they can escape from the oils in the air.

Sphynx cat beside bottle of essential oil on reflective surface
Photo: Adobe Stock/Jumboline/Wirestock Creators

Can I Use Essential Oils on My Pet?

If you believe a particular essential oil or blend of essential oils would help treat your pet’s health condition, calm their anxiety, prevent fleas, or benefit your pet in some other way, talk to your vet about your plans. Even essential oils that are considered safe for your breed of pet will need to be diluted with a carrier oil and may need to be used in a particular manner for safety and efficacy.

You should never give your pet concentrated essential oils directly on their fur or skin or by mouth. If you’re applying an essential oil mixed with a carrier oil to a pet’s skin, you may want to do a patch test on a small area to check for irritation. Also keep all oils away from your pet’s eyes.

Always exercise extreme caution and monitor your pet if you decide to use essential oils on them.

Orange tabby cat lies with its head on a rolled pink towel and another towel over its back as if relaxing at a spa. Beside it are a candle and some essential oil bottles.
Photo: Adobe Stock/Ольга Смоляк

Why Concentration Matters

Most essential oils do not say on the bottles how concentrated they are, and different oils are more potent than others, meaning they need to be used in lower concentrations. It’s not easy to know how much of a particular oil will affect your pet, but we do know that animals tend to be more sensitive to them than we are, so start slow and use less than you ordinarily would the first time you try a new essential oil on or near your pet.

Brown chihuahua stands alert on cozy sofa looking at a black reed diffuser and a red candle on a table in the foreground
Photo: Adobe Stock/New Africa

Signs of Toxicity to Watch For

If you accidentally use an essential oil in an unsafe way around your dog or cat, he or she may begin to show signs of a serious health concern warranting veterinary attention. Here are some signs that you should immediately stop essential oil use and consult a veterinarian:

  • Weakness or unsteadiness on the feet
  • Depression or lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Drooling
  • Muscle tremors
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Incoordination
  • Redness of the lips, gums, tongue, or skin
  • The scent of the essential oil on the dog’s coat or breath
  • Low body temperature (in severe cases)
Beagle dog puts paw up on coffee table to get a better look at a blue active essential oil diffuser
Photo: Adobe Stock/Pixel-Shot

What to Do If Your Pet Shows Signs of Essential Oil Toxicity

It may go without saying, but if your dog or cat or any other pet shows signs of toxicity after being exposed to essential oils or other potential toxins, you should contact a veterinarian or a pet poison helpline immediately.

If you end up needing to bring your pet to the vet, it may be beneficial to take the bottle of oil (or a photo of it) with you for reference. Just be sure to clean the bottle off and clean your hands after handling it to ensure you don’t cause your pet further harm.

Gray tabby cat sleeping near active essential oil diffuser
Photo: Adobe Stock/Caterina Trimarchi

Thanks for Keeping Your Pet Safe!

An important part of being a responsible pet parent is taking the time to do your research on what is and isn’t safe and healthy for your cat or dog. Thank you for taking the time to read about essential oil safety and talk to your vet about it. Great job keeping those fur babies safe!

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