Essential oils, diffusers and candles pose potential risk to cats

Before you set the stage for romance this Valentine’s Day with essential oils, diffusers and candles please read our advice covering the potential danger these products can pose to cats!

A number of our supporters have recently expressed concerns about whether essential oils (found in plug-in diffusers, humidifiers, candles etc) are harmful to pets after seeing a viral Facebook post in which an owner claimed they had unknowingly poisoned their cat by using a diffuser to alleviate a head cold. And so, we contacted the Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS) to find out more and they had this to say:

‘Essential oils are a potential hazard, but it depends on the form, the route of exposure and the oil (some are more toxic than others). Certainly, any neat essential oil applied to the skin is a potential risk and would not be recommended.

Reed diffusers contain hazardous ingredients particularly petroleum distillates. These products are hazardous and can cause gastrointestinal and dermal signs if ingested or spilt on the skin.

The amount of essential oil in a candle or diffuser oil is small since it is only there to provide perfume and these oils have a strong scent. The signs this cat developed may have been due to the solvent carriers rather than the oils, particularly if there was prolonged exposure or in a confined space.’

Following this advice from the Veterinary Poisons Information Service we would urge all cat owners to exercise caution when using these products in their home.

The main thing is to prevent your cat from ingesting or coming into direct contact with these products. Do not use diffusers in your cat’s room eg, where their food is, and make sure they are not locked in a room with a diffuser, and can get away from it if they don’t like it.

We also urge all cat owners to make themselves aware of the signs of poisoning – which will vary according to what the cat has been exposed to:
- Gastrointestinal signs (vomiting and diarrhoea)
- Neurological signs (tremors, incoordination, seizures, excitability, depression, or coma)
- Respiratory signs (coughing, sneezing, difficulty breathing)
- Skin signs (inflammation, swelling), liver failure (jaundice, vomiting)
- Kidney failure (increased drinking, inappetence and weight loss)

If you think your cat has been poisoned, remove your cat from the source and seek veterinary attention. Some specific information may be useful for your vet so try to tell him/her:
- What makes you suspect your cat has been poisoned (eg, did you see him/her ingest something or is it that the cat is showing signs of illness?)
- If there was a known exposure to a toxin – and try to find the box/bottle to tell the vet the full name of the product or chemical
- When the cat was exposed (eg, how long ago?)
- If you have recently used a chemical/product that may be poisonous to the cat

If you notice contamination on your cat’s coat then contact your vet for advice, they may recommend a visit to the surgery for the coat to be fully cleaned – remember cats with any substance on their coat are likely to wash it off themselves and ingest potential toxins. Remember to wear gloves when handling a cat with chemicals on the coat. Not all substances are removed with water so washing with water alone may not be enough to thoroughly decontaminate the coat.

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