Oils and Diffusers

Alison Laurie-Chalmers, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets

Essential oils used in aromatherapies, herbal remedies and in diffusers can pose a concerning potential toxic risk to our household pets, especially cats.

Remember that our pets have a significantly higher sense of smell than we do, so even a subtle aroma to us is far more potent a smell to our pets.

These oils can be poisonous if ingested or if absorbed across skin barriers. They can be rapidly absorbed both orally and across the skin and are then metabolised in the Liver. Cats are very sensitive to phenols and phenolic compounds which can be found in the essential oils.

Essential oils in the concentrated form known to cause poisoning include; clove oil, citrus oil, pine oils, peppermint oil, oil of wintergreen, cinnamon oil, eucalyptus oil, clove oil and tea tree oil.

Some of the symptoms that develop depend on the intensity of exposure and can include; confusion, drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea, tremors, ataxia (wobbliness), respiratory distress, low heart rate, low body temperature and in severe cases toxicity from essential oils can cause Liver failure.

Passive essential oil diffusers work by evaporating the oils into the air producing a pleasant smell. Active diffusers release tiny micro droplets of essential oils into the air.

If essential oils are spilt they could be ingested or absorbed through your pet’s skin. The main hazard from essential oil passive diffusers in the home is of respiratory irritation. Contact with and inhalation of essential oils can cause symptoms such as inflamed watery eyes and nasal discharge, also inflammation in the throat and mouth tissues can cause drooling and coughing, gagging and inflammation within the respiratory tract can cause wheezing and difficulty breathing. Also the tiny micro-droplets dispersed by active diffusers can collect and build up on your pet’s fur and either be absorbed through the skin or be ingested when your pet licks and grooms itself.

Cats and dogs with pre-existing respiratory disorders, such as cats with feline asthma, are at greater risk for developing any respiratory irritation so it would be best for them to avoid using these products around the home.

With this potential concern please be mindful and very cautious when using essential oils and diffusers containing these in your home to protect your pets from toxic risk. Keep all essential oils well out of reach of your pet and never apply the concentrated oils directly onto your pet’s skin.

If you do decide to use a diffuser, make sure that it is placed high up and well out of reach where it cannot be knocked over and also make sure that the room is always well ventilated.

If you have any concerns about your pet showing any of these symptoms listed after exposure to essential oils or a known diffuser, move them immediately into the fresh air and contact your vet practice for a veterinary check-up as soon as possible.