Is there anything more confusing than the topic of essential oils and pets?!
Not a day goes by without Facebook posts from people asking which essential oils are safe to diffuse around their cat/dog/hamster.
This is an incredibly polarizing topic. Opinions vary widely – you’ll find everything from people saying “Go ahead! It’s totally FINE!” to the other extreme of “If you diffuse essential oils your cat will DIE!”
So, why haven’t I written about this topic before? Put simply: this is not my area of expertise. When you study aromatherapy at college, you’re trained how to work with humans. You’re not taught the anatomy and physiology of animals.
Animal aromatherapy is a specialist area in which few people are properly educated and experienced. It’s not something I have ever studied – mainly because I don’t own any pets, so it’s never been an issue for me! Whenever people ask me for advice about animal aromatherapy, I always refer them to the experts. I know what’s out of my scope.
But, as I’m asked so often about this, I thought it would be useful to put together some reliable sources so you have a starting point for research. There’s so much conflicting information out there, and it’s hard to know who to trust.
What’s the deal?
So, are essential oils toxic for pets? Can we safely diffuse around our cats and dogs? Should we completely avoid using essential oils when our furry friends are around?
As I explained above, I’m no expert – but here’s a list of tips I’ve learned from people who are!
1. There is no “list”
If you’re looking for a list of safe essential oils to use with cats and dogs, you won’t find one here. The reason? Because there is no definitive “list”. You’ll find lots of different lists online – in general, I would avoid anything you find on Pinterest. Animal aromatherapists consider safety on an individual basis. As this article explains, “one size does not fit all” when it comes to aromatherapy and animals.
2. Some caution is required
Just as we need to exercise caution using essential oils with humans, it’s obvious that we should also take care around our pets. If essential oils affect us, why would they not affect animals too? Essential oils cannot be powerful yet completely benign (read more about this here).
3. Balance is key
It’s best to take a balanced approach. The experts suggest only diffusing in a well-ventilated area, preferably where your furry friends have the option of leaving the room (but be aware that they won’t necessarily always leave the room!). Common sense is required – don’t place your diffuser right next to your pet’s cage or tank.
4. What about cats?
The general consensus is that cats are more of a concern than dogs. Essential oils can be toxic to cats, as they lack the required enzyme to metabolize them. Everyone has their own perspective on this, and some people will insist they diffuse oils around their cats all day long and “they’re fine”. But just because you haven’t noticed a problem doesn’t make it safe for everyone else (read more about anecdotal fallacies here). Animals can react in individual ways, just as we can.
But, if you have cats, don’t despair! You don’t need to chuck all your oils in the bin. It’s okay to diffuse “while the cat’s away” or enjoy them in the bath. In fact, Robert Tisserand thinks low levels of diffusion can be safe around cats, providing it’s in a well-ventilated room with access for them to easily make a swift exit (read more about this here).
5. Use sparingly
As always, less is more. Only apply essential oils topically if you know what you’re doing (and if you MUST apply topically, don’t use them neat!)
Don’t allow your pets to ingest essential oils – no matter what brand they are. For this reason, it’s perhaps not a good idea to mop your floors with essential oils when pets are roaming around. And please watch “10 Reasons to Avoid Raindrop Therapy” before considering this for your furry friend!
6. Don’t go Crazy
Just as I advise for humans, constant diffusion is not a good idea. Overexposure is harmful for everyone, whether you have two legs or four. Diffusing for 30 minutes is usually more than enough (read more: Why you don’t need to diffuse all day)
7. Beyond diffusing
You can enjoy aromatherapy without diffusing essential oils all the time. Personal inhaler sticks and aromatherapy jewellery are both great options that allow you to enjoy essential oils without affecting others in the room. And don’t forget about hydrosols – these can be a safer option to use with pets.
8. Just because it’s natural…
People feel safer diffusing essential oils rather than using synthetic air fresheners, and this is completely understandable. But we’ve often talked about the “appeal to nature” fallacy – in other words, claiming that something natural is therefore safer or more superior. Just because essential oils are natural, it doesn’t mean they are automatically safe and risk-free for everyone. You still need to be aware of how to use them safely.
9. You know your pet
Just like us, animals are individuals – and can react in individual ways. Keep a close eye on your pet’s response, and if you notice any worrying symptoms then STOP using essential oils and have them checked out by a vet. Adverse reactions can range from confusion to vomiting, or even death. Don’t be misled by claims that the oils are so pure they can’t do any damage.
10. Don’t ignore safety advice
It’s frustrating when someone shares a story of an adverse reaction online, only to be met by comments like “Well, the oil obviously wasn’t therapeutic grade…”
Safety advice is there for a reason, folks. You can choose to ignore it, but that’s at your own risk. Be aware that you might not see any effects until further down the line, at which point it might be too late. Choose your sources of aromatherapy advice carefully!
If you’re looking for a trustworthy book, I’ve heard excellent things about Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals by Kristen Leigh Bell. It’s not a book I own, but I think it needs to be added to my collection!
Facebook can be a great platform for asking questions, but it’s important to use trusted sources. I’d recommend a group called Animal Aromatherapy (Safe Use). This group is run by Kelly Holland Azzaro, a highly respected and experienced animal aromatherapist. It’s currently closed to new questions, but you can search the files and previous posts. I know some people find this frustrating, but there’s a lot of great information there – particularly as you tend to get the same questions cropping up again and again, so it’s likely that your question has already been answered. You’ll find some very detailed and informative PDFs in the Files section, and you can also enter specific terms in the search box.
If you’re interested in studying this topic, check out Ashi Therapy which offers an Animal Aromatherapy Practitioner Certification course, run by Kelly Holland Azzaro (see above).
I hope you found this list useful! Feel free to share this post if you think it will help others. If you have further questions, I would suggest exploring the resources mentioned above.
I’m not here to tell you what to do – but, if you do choose to use essential oils with your pets, please consult reliable sources for advice first.
Read more: englisharomatherapist.com