Image source: Ольга Смоляк, AdobeStock
Are candles safe to use around my pets?
Much like humans are attracted to the sweet aromas of scented candles, it’ll come as no surprise that our household pets may be too. Dogs and cats have an incredible sense of smell and may be enticed by the appetising fragrances of delicious-smelling candles you have throughout your home.
Whilst candles don’t pose a significant health risk to cats and dogs, it’s certainly good practice to keep candles, especially lit ones, out of reach of your furry companion, particularly if you have an energetic puppy or contrary kitten bouncing around the home.
What are the risks when using candles and air fresheners?
While the scents used in Langtree Botanics scented candles and aroma truffle wax melts are not harmful to pets, some other scented candles and air fresheners, such as plug-ins and aerosol types, may contain irritating or harmful ingredients.
Some of these products may release synthetic fragrances that aggravate existing respiratory illnesses like asthma in people and pets or harmful toxins, such as naphthalene or phthalates. There have been cases in which phthalates released from some burning candles were suspected to have caused endocrine system disruption, leading to other serious diseases, such as diabetes and cancer.
Some candles contain paraffin, a petroleum-based wax. Burning paraffin can release carcinogens, agitating respiratory and heart problems.
Image source: Pixel-Shot, AdobeStock
Until recently, the use of essential oils for aromatherapy was restricted to such devices as candles, liquid potpourri products, room sprays, passive diffusers, or applying it to skin like perfume.
Passive diffusers work by evaporating the oil, producing a pleasant smell. Types include: 1) reed diffusers, where the reeds soak up the oil and disperse its fragrance into the air; 2) heat diffusers like plug-in/electric oil diffusers, candle burners, or table top warmers that use heat to evaporate the oil, 3) non-motorised, personal evaporative diffusers (necklace pendants, bracelets, etc.) that use room air currents to diffuse the aroma, and 4) motorised diffusers that use a fan to blow air through a filter or pad that has been permeated with an essential oil.
Unless the oil in a passive diffuser gets onto a cat’s skin or is ingested in some way (e.g. the diffuser tips over onto or near the cat, or the cat ingests a personal diffuser), the main hazard to cats from essential oils dispersed through passive diffusers is respiratory irritation. Inhalation of strong odours or fragrances can cause some cats to develop a watery nose or eyes, a burning sensation in the nose/throat, nausea leading to drooling and/or vomiting, and difficulty breathing. Difficulty breathing in a cat is evidenced by laboured breathing, fast breathing, panting, coughing, or wheezing. NONE of these signs are normal in cats. Cats suffering such symptoms need to be moved immediately into fresh air, and require emergency veterinary treatment should their symptoms not quickly resolve once they are in fresh air. Cats with pre-existing respiratory issues such as asthma, airborne allergies, or cats exposed to second hand smoke from their human companions, are at greater risk for developing severe respiratory irritation than cats without such conditions.
Do I need to worry about essential oils?
Essential oils are the volatile organic compounds extracted from plants that contribute to their fragrance and taste. They are extracted from plants via distillation or cold pressing, and used in a number of different ways; as insecticides, in aromatherapies, antibacterials, flavourings, herbal remedies and liquid potpourri.
They are considered volatile because their molecules quickly go from a liquid or solid state into a gas or aroma. This is what makes aroma therapy possible. When you open a bottle of an essential oil, you very quickly smell the aroma as the molecules escape the bottle in the form of gas.
Essential oils can pose a toxic risk to household pets, especially to cats. They are rapidly absorbed both orally and across the skin, and are then metabolised in the liver.
Cats lack an enzyme called glucuronyl transferase. This is important for the Cytochrome p450 liver metabolism pathway. This makes cats very susceptible to ALL kinds of toxicity, including plant, NSAIDS (like aspirin or ibuprofen), Tylenol, chocolate and caffeine (methylxanthines), lead, zinc, many types of pesticides, and many other things. Cats are also very sensitive to phenols and phenolic compounds, which can be found in some essential oils. The higher the concentration of the essential oil (i.e. 100%), the greater the risk to the cat.