Why are Essential Oils Toxic to Pets?

A Brief Guide to Why Essential Oils are Toxic to Pets

More and more people are adopting a holistic approach to healthcare. That alone is a very good thing, but it has led to some unfortunate consequences. Many pet owners fail to realize that essential oils interact with animals differently than humans. They might use their essential oil diffuser around their pet or even try to apply oils topically to treat the pet. This can often lead to disaster as certain essential oils toxic to pets can cause serious harm.

This doesn’t mean that you should avoid essential oils altogether if you are a pet owner. It’s entirely possible to maintain a healthy and holistic lifestyle while living with your furry friend. What’s important is that you understand how essential oils interact with pets and why certain oils are toxic to them. You can then avoid causing unwanted harm to your animal.

person petting cat

Essential Oils and Cats

Cats are believed to be at the highest risk among common pets when essential oils are involved. The cat absorbs the oils orally and through the skin and problems begin to occur within the body. The feline metabolic system is very sensitive. More importantly, they lack the specific enzyme that is needed to metabolize the essential oil and eliminate the related toxins.1

Many essential oils also contain phenolic compounds. These are hydrocarbons that are also present in various household cleaners and fragrance items. Unfortunately, phenol is very toxic to most mammals. It’s particularly problematic for cats because they lack the ability to remove the toxin from their body.

The phenol compounds will build up in the cat’s bloodstream and eventually cause harmful side effects. It can lead to liver failure, neurological problems, thyroid disease, and possibly death. These conditions typically require the essential oil to be applied to the skin or ingested. Nonetheless, it is best to avoid diffusing any essential oils that contain phenol if your cat is in the room. Some oils with high concentrations of phenol include:

– Wintergreen


Ylang Ylang



The inhalation of diffused essential oils is not quite as severe as a topical or oral application. However, it can still lead to unwanted and potentially harmful symptoms in your feline friend. Cats have an extremely sensitive sense of smell and the essential oils may be overwhelming. It’s also possible for the diffused oils to lead to respiratory irritation.2 If your cat is showing any symptoms of respiratory problems, then it’s a good idea to avoid using the diffuser around them.

woman petting dog

Essential Oils and Dogs

Dogs can handle essential oils more efficiently than felines. There have even been studies involving the use of aromatherapy on dogs. One study found that aromatherapy with lavender could help control excitement in traveling dogs.3 But that doesn’t mean you should start letting your dog borrow your diffuser. There are still some toxicity risks to keep in mind and the above study was handled by trained professionals who understood this.

First and foremost, you should never give your dog any essential oil product orally. It’s usually a good idea to avoid applying them topically as well. They don’t face the same metabolic setbacks as cats do, but the oils can cause serious skin irritation. Certain oils are also toxic to dogs and when applied to the skin it can lead to poisoning. Oils that should absolutely be avoided with dogs include:

Tea Tree

– Citrus

– Pine

– Cinnamon

– Wintergreen

Of these oils, tea tree oil is the most common cause of toxicity in dogs.4 Some pet owners see that tea tree oil is used in certain pet shampoos and flea products. This leads to the assumption that it must be safe to apply to the skin if they are suffering from fleas. Unfortunately, the concentration in pure essential oils is much higher than that found in shampoos. The toxins are absorbed by the skin and cause several harmful side effects, such as hypothermia, vomiting, and paralysis.

The best way to ensure that the oil you are using is safe for your dog is by speaking with a vet. They should be able to tell you very clearly whether the oil is potentially toxic for dogs. They can also tell you how to safely use the oil and what warning signs that you should look for.

Not all essential oils are harmful to dogs. For example, in the previously mentioned study, lavender essential oil was used to calm the dog. It’s also helpful for dealing with anxiety, car sickness, and allergies. However, it is not safe to use lavender oil if a cat is in the room.

A few other oils that are considered safe to use with dogs include thyme, chamomile, and cardamom. All of these oils can be safely used in a diffuser without harming your pet. They can even produce some beneficial side effects.

As with cats, dogs have a very sensitive sense of smell. It is possible that the essential oils will overwhelm their senses and cause discomfort. It is also possible for it to irritate the respiratory system. Watch for the warning signs, such as a runny nose, eyes, or labored breathing.

essential oil diffuser

Safely Using Essential Oils

How to safely use essential oils and which oils are acceptable depends entirely on your pet. Other pets, such as birds or rabbits face their own unique problems as well. As a pet owner, it’s your responsibility to educate yourself regarding how to safely use essential oils with your pets in the home and to learn the essential oils toxic to pets.

If you do choose to use an essential oil diffuser with an animal in the room make certain that it is placed in a pet-proofed area where the animal can’t reach. The inhalation of the oil might not cause any harm, but if they were able to knock over the oil and get it on their skin, then it could cause a serious problem. And always keep an eye on your pet to see how they are reacting to the oils and whether they are showing any symptoms of distress. As long as you keep this advice in mind you should be able to enjoy the benefits of essential oil therapy without putting your beloved pet at risk.

Photo credits: JaromirChalabala/shutterstock.com, CristinaConti/shutterstock.com, AfricaStudio/shutterstock.com, Chendongshan/shutterstock.com

Savannah W.

By Savannah Wilson

Savannah is an aromatherapy enthusiast who takes pride in knowing everything about essential oils, from ylang-ylang to chamomile. When taking a break from learning more about essential oils, Savannah likes to spend her time reading books or working out.

Favorite MONQ blend: Sexy

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The above information relates to studies of specific individual essential oil ingredients, some of which are used in the essential oil blends for various MONQ diffusers. Please note, however, that while individual ingredients may have been shown to exhibit certain independent effects when used alone, the specific blends of ingredients contained in MONQ diffusers have not been tested. No specific claims are being made that use of any MONQ diffusers will lead to any of the effects discussed above.  Additionally, please note that MONQ diffusers have not been reviewed or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. MONQ diffusers are not intended to be used in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, prevention, or treatment of any disease or medical condition. If you have a health condition or concern, please consult a physician or your alternative health care provider prior to using MONQ diffusers. MONQ blends should not be inhaled into the lungs.

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