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A Surprising Side Effect Of Diffusers You Didn't Know About

Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor
By Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
Image by Victoria Bee / iStock
January 9, 2019

Essential oils are smell-good darlings of the wellness world, able to clean up everything from a bad mood to a grimy home.

There's a near-infinite number of oil varieties and opportunities to use them (Diffuse them! Smell them! Cook with them!). However, our beloved amber vials are filled with some pretty potent plant compounds, so they should always be handled carefully. It's especially important to do your research before dropping them in a bath, cooking with them, putting them on your skin, and, it turns out, using them around your pets.

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What's wrong with using essential oils around animals?

Think of pets like babies: They're small and have sensitive systems. Like humans, every pet will react differently to oils, but the (extremely limited) research out there suggests that dogs and cats might exhibit symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, coughing, and low body temperatures when exposed to ones they don't like.

"Pets have a much better sense of smell than we do, so something that seems light to us may be overwhelming to them," explains Tina Wismer, DVM, DABVT, DABT, M.S., the medical director of the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center. "Dogs and cats who have either walked through oils, gotten some on their coat, or had oils placed directly on them can develop health concerns."

This goes for more exotic animals too! Wismer says that small critters like rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, and especially birds could have adverse reactions to their owner's essential oil habit.

How can I make sure I'm not making my pet sick?

When it comes to pet-proofing your space, Wismer suggests using everything in moderation. "The best way to avoid exposing your pets to dangerous substances is always to err on the side of caution," she says. That means making sure your pet is out of the room when running a diffuser, unless your pet has a history of breathing problems—in which case it might be best to avoid running it altogether. "If you do decide to keep your diffuser, you'll want to ensure that it is in a place where your pet cannot knock it over and potentially expose themselves to the oils," she adds.

Even cleaning products that incorporate essential oils might cause irritation, so you should always read labels carefully, follow directions, and make sure surfaces are dry before you let your pet play on them. And it might sound like a given, but you should never apply pure essential oils directly to pets.

One last thing to note: For your sake as much as your pet's, make sure the oils you're using are high in quality (more on how to find those here).

Now off you go to make some smell-good memories with two- and four-legged family members alike.

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Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor

Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 articles on mbg, her work has appeared on Bloomberg News, Marie Claire, Bustle, and Forbes. She has covered everything from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping to a group of doctors prescribing binaural beats for anxiety. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.