Are Essential Oils Dangerous to Pets?
Essential oils have long been used for maladies such as nasal congestion, anxiety, sore muscles, and more. And with the popularity of oil diffusers—an easy way to release oils into the air—there is more alarm about how oils may affect animals.
Here’s what you need to know from the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, so your clients have the information they need.
Q: What are essential oils, and how are they used?
Essential oils are the natural aromatic compounds that give plants their individual scents. The oils are extracted from plants and distilled, and their potential uses and touted health benefits are wide-ranging.
You can use them to make your house smell better, repel mosquitos, improve sleep, boost moods or even help alleviate nausea. For pets, they are most commonly used for repelling fleas and helping with separation anxiety.
Due to their hydrophobic nature, essential oils are absorbed well both through mucous membranes and the skin. There are either excreted unchanged or metabolized by the liver before excretion.
Q: Are essential oils toxic?
The answer is slightly more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no” since there are various factors that come into play.
First, there is variability with the toxicities of different oil types.
Second, the oils can be found in a wide range of concentrations. Products containing essential oils—such as fragrances, shampoos, and medicinal products—often contain 1-20% essential oils. However, there has been an increase in the popularity of more concentrated essential oils, some going as high as 100%.
Third, different species have varying sensitivities.
- Cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, and hamsters may be more sensitive to dermal exposure due to their increased risk of oral exposure from self-grooming
- Birds are more likely to suffer respiratory effects from diffusers due to their specialized respiratory system
Of course, animals with underlying health issues may also be at higher risk if they can't metabolize the oil, have respiratory disorders, or have broken skin, which can allow increased absorption of dermally applied essential oils.
Fourth, the route of exposure can make a difference. Generally, oral and dermal exposure are more concerning than inhalation, except in birds and animals with underlying respiratory issues.
Q: What symptoms should you look for?
The most common clinical signs with dermal exposure seen by APCC include ataxia, muscle weakness, depression, and behavior changes. In severe cases, hypothermia and collapse may occur. With oral exposure, vomiting, diarrhea, and central nervous system depression may occur.
In severe cases, seizures and rarely liver injury has been reported with pennyroyal and melaleuca oils. If inhaled, aspiration pneumonia may occur.
Q: What advice should I give clients?
- It is best not to give or apply highly concentrated oils to pets
- If a pet has an underlying health problem, particularly a respiratory issue, it may be best to avoid the use of essential oil diffusers in the household
- Do not use essential oil diffuser in the house if there are birds present
- If using a diffuser or warmer, make sure they are out of reach of pets and that pets can leave the area if the smell is getting too strong for them
- Don’t keep a diffuser in the same room (or use a strong concentration) with animals who groom themselves
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