The one time I really tend to wish my pets could talk is when they're sick. Pet illnesses can seem so vague and amorphous, sometimes - a little puking here, some weird lethargy there - and it can be hard to tell the difference between a little under the weather and the start of a serious problem.
Of course, there's always the vet to help you figure out what's going on. Sometimes, the answer is surprising:
PSA: ANYONE WHO USES ESSENTIAL OILS PLEASE READ THIS!!!
recently my dog and cat have been acting strange, very lazy, sick and just not theirselves. i took them to the vet and turns out it’s from tea tree oil. i use this oil in my diffuser and it’s TOXIC to dogs and cats
— shaelyn (@shaelynspacyyy) January 30, 2018
Twitter user shaelyn had noticed that both her cat and dog had been acting strange. When she took them to the vet she discovered that they were being made ill by the essential oils in her diffuser.
When I saw this tweet, I had to wonder - was my cat's recent puking caused by my own essential oil diffuser? I'd been running it occasionally with lavender and pine oils. I never would have put those oils on my cat's body or in her water, but I hadn't thought to check if she could be harmed by the oils in the air.
The ASPCA has a robust animal poison control info centre and hotline, and their advice on essential oils is sweeping:
Cats are especially sensitive to essential oils, and effects such as gastrointestinal upset, central nervous system depression and even liver damage could occur if ingested in significant quantities. Inhalation of the oils could lead to aspiration pneumonia. There are significant variations in toxicity among specific oils. Based on this, we would not recommend using essential oils in areas where your pets have access, unless pets are supervised or the use of the oil is approved by your veterinarian.
I reached out to Dr Tina Wismer, Medical Director, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, for more information.
Dr Wismer said that, unless pets have respiratory issues, skin exposure is more dangerous than inhalation. She pointed out that pets can absorb topically applied oils through their skin, or ingest them orally when they groom themselves. While there are some products made for pets, such as flea control products, that contain essential oils, those are low concentrations that are safe for pets. But you should still only use those products as directed. Dr Wismer said, "Cats are particularly sensitive to a lot of toxins because they have fewer metabolising enzymes in their liver compared to dogs." So don't use a dog product on your cat.
However, diffusing essential oils can still be dangerous to pets. According to Dr Wismer, "The most common symptoms for cats and dogs exposed to diffused essential oils are drooling, vomiting, coughing and sneezing. Diffusing oils can be fatal to cats and dogs that have asthma or other respiratory issues."
She said that any essential oil could be harmful to pets, depending on how much they're exposed to and how. But the especially toxic oils, where pets are concerned, include wintergreen, d-limonene (citrus), pine, cinnamon, pennyroyal, eucalyptus and tea tree. You can still have a diffuser in your home, but Dr Wismer suggests, "Keep your pet and your running oil diffuser in separate rooms and avoid using the device for long periods of time."
Better safe than sorry. I like my diffuser, but not as much as I love my cat - especially when she's not puking.