Many people enjoy using essential oils for a variety of uses. They have become popular for their use in aromatherapy and alternative medicine; they are also used in cleaning products, food and drink flavorings, herbal remedies, perfumes, personal care products, and liquid potpourris used as home air fresheners and fragrances. What exactly is an essential oil? Essential oils are the concentrated liquids (volatile organic compounds) of plants. However, the level of their concentration can vary greatly. In fact, there is no official grading system in place that makes any one oil a “therapeutic grade oil”, and another one not. Essential oils are currently not regulated by the FDA for the many uses that are promoted.
Many liquid potpourri products and essential oils, including oil of cinnamon, citrus, pennyroyal, peppermint, pine, sweet birch, tea tree (melaleuca), wintergreen, and ylang ylang, are poisonous to pets. Both ingestion and skin exposure can be toxic.
How are essential oils toxic to my pet?
Essential oils and liquid potpourris contain chemicals that are rapidly absorbed orally or through the skin. Many of these chemicals are metabolized through the liver. Cats are particularly sensitive to essential oils as they lack some of the liver enzymes necessary to effectively metabolize these oils. Additionally, very young pets and cats with liver disease are more sensitive to their effects. Liquid potpourri and some essential oils can also irritate or burn the skin and mouth.
Signs/Symptoms of essential oil poisoning include:
- Fragrance or scent on hair coat, skin, breath or vomit
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty walking or uncoordinated gait
- Lethargy or weakness
- Muscle tremors
- Pawing at the mouth or face
- Redness or burns on the lips, gums, tongue, or skin
Keep essential oils and liquid potpourri products out of reach of pets at all times. Curious animals may want to investigate the sweet-smelling liquids, so never leave opened essential oils or simmering potpourri unattended. In addition, consult a veterinarian before using any essential oils or other herbal products on or around your pets. Never apply a concentrated essential oil on your pet!
If you believe that your pet has ingested or come in contact with essential oils or liquid potpourri, please call us at 804-642-5740. Rapid diagnosis and treatment are imperative, if it is after hours please call the Animal Emergency Center at 757-234-0461 or the pet poison helpline.