Is My Diffuser Poisoning My Pet? 10 Essential Oils That Are Toxic to Dogs

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If you like treating yourself to a home spa day as much as we do, you’re probably familiar with essential oils. These aromatic oils have been used for centuries as natural remedies for all types of ailments, from insomnia to migraines. The Mayo Clinic says aromatherapy and essential oils are even becoming popular as pain management tools! The most effective way to experience essential oils is through a diffuser. However, if you’re a dog parent, you may need to rethink your essential oil practice. Diffusers could end up poisoning your pets if you choose essential oils that are toxic to dogs.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are highly concentrated liquid extracts from plants. They’re usually extracted one of two ways. The first, steam distillation, involves heating things like leaves, capturing evaporated oil and turning it into liquid again. The second, mechanical expression, is basically poking fruit rinds with tiny needles over and over to expel the oil. This is about as scientific as we’ll get. But! The result is decadently scented oils used for skin care, cocktails and so much more. 

Why are some essential oils toxic to dogs?

Canine bodies don’t process certain foods the same as human bodies. Things like grapes and onions can cause horrific internal issues for dogs, like kidney failure or gastrointestinal problems. If a dog ingests or inhales a highly concentrated version of a toxin, it can be incredibly damaging.

“Our canine companions have much more sensitive snouts than humans,” says Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM and veterinary expert for Pumpkin Pet Insurance. “It is very important to remember this if you plan to diffuse essential oils in your domicile.” 

Beyond their sense of smell and sensitive tummies, a dog’s skin can also react negatively to essential oils. Essential oils are lipophilic, which means they can easily soak into skin and make their way to the bloodstream. A dog absorbing toxins this way is almost worse than a dog eating them. Inhaling essential oils—diluted or not—is generally thought to be less harmful to canines than if they ingest the oil or get it on their skin or coat.

Which essential oils are toxic to dogs?

Dr. Wooten says for the most part, essential oils shown to be toxic to dogs if ingested, inhaled, or used topically include:

  • Pine oil
  • Pennyroyal oil
  • Tea tree oil
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Wintergreen oil
  • Citrus oils
  • Peppermint oil
  • Ylang Ylang
  • Sweet birch oil
  • Eucalyptus oil

Keep in mind, the ASPCA says some oils can cause damage in smaller quantities than others. The type of oil, how concentrated it is and its quality all determine how bad it might be if your dog ingests it. For instance, a few drops of highly concentrated, well-made tea tree oil could be worse than a lot of poor-quality peppermint oil diluted in water. Neither is great, but the former might wreak more havoc than the latter.

On this note, it’s worth mentioning a lot of cleaning products and household mists contain essential oils. You should avoid using these products in areas your dog frequently sits, plays, eats or sleeps.

Diffusers and essential oils

So, what’s the verdict on diffusers? Should we re-gift them to our pet-less friends? “Not necessarily,” says Dr. Wooten. “In general, passive diffusers are safe to use around dogs unless they knock them over.” Passive diffusers are things like reed diffusers and oil warmers. You don’t have to plug them in to use.

Dogs suffering from respiratory problems or asthma should avoid being around most candles and diffusers, but ultrasonic and nebulizing diffusers could prove more troublesome than passive diffusers. These are active contraptions that send teeny, tiny particles of oil into the air. These particles are either inhaled or land on things like your pet’s bed or fur (which your pet might lick off later). Ultrasonic diffusers are those pretty ones that exude a light mist (water infused with oil). Nebulizing diffusers do the same thing, but with air (producing a much more potent result).  

Dr. Wooten reminds us all dogs are individuals. Some pups will have adverse reactions to essential oil diffusers, while others won’t display any symptoms at all. Neither breed nor age can accurately predict what your pet will do in a given circumstance! “I had a big dog and used an essential oil diffuser around her for years without any negative side effects—it all depends on the dog,” she says. 

How to tell if essential oils are making your dog sick

If you try out a diffuser and notice negative side effects in your dog, stop using it right away (duh) and bring your dog outside immediately for some fresh air. Look for:

  • Red, watery eyes
  • Excessively watery nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Drooling
  • Redness around the lips, eyes, or nose
  • Excessive rubbing of face or ears

Dogs have also been known to become lethargic if they’ve ingested anything toxic, so don’t ignore an excessively sleepy pup.

At the end of the day, you share your home with your dog! Both of you should be happy, healthy and relaxed, even if that means compromising on smells.

Eek—Is My Dog Sleeping Too Much

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Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...