Illustration for article titled Your Essential Oil Diffuser Could Make Your Pets SickPhoto: Africa Studio (Shutterstock)

Pets can often let you know how they’re feeling, but it can be difficult to tell when they’re sick. Your illnesses can seem so vague and amorphous – a little puke here, some strange lethargy there – and it can be difficult to tell the difference between a little under the weather and starting a serious problem.

Of course, there is always a veterinarian available to help you figure out what’s going on. Sometimes the answer is surprising:

If that Twitter users When she noticed that both her cat and dog had acted strangely, she took them to the vet and found that the essential oils in her diffuser made them sick.

When I saw this tweet I had to ask myself: Was my cat’s vomiting recently caused by my own essential oil diffuser? I had run it on lavender and pine oil on occasion. I would never have put these oils on my cat’s body or in her water, but I hadn’t thought of checking if the oils in the air could harm it.

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The ASPCA has a robust Animal poison control Info center and hotline, and their advice on essential oils is comprehensive:

Cats are particularly sensitive to essential oils, and if ingested in significant amounts, effects such as gastrointestinal upset, central nervous system depression and even liver damage can occur. Inhaling the oils can lead to aspiration pneumonia. There are significant differences in toxicity between certain oils. For this reason, we would not recommend the use of essential oils in areas your pets have access to unless pets are supervised or the use of the oil is approved by your veterinarian.

Illustration for article titled Your Essential Oil Diffuser Could Make Your Pets Sick

What kind of exposure is dangerous?

I contacted Dr. Tina Wismer, Medical Director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, for more information.

Wismer says skin exposure is more dangerous than inhaling unless pets have breathing problems. She points out that pets can ingest topically applied oils through the skin or ingestion while grooming themselves. While there are some products for pets, such as flea control products that contain essential oils, these are low concentrations that are safe for pets. However, you should only use these products as directed. “Cats are particularly sensitive to many toxins because they have fewer metabolizing enzymes in their livers than dogs,” explains Wismer. So don’t use a dog product on your cat.

However, the proliferation of essential oils can be dangerous to pets. “The most common symptoms in cats and dogs exposed to diffuse essential oils are drooling, vomiting, coughing and sneezing. The spread of oils can be fatal to cats and dogs with asthma or other breathing problems, ”notes Wiser.

Illustration for article titled Your Essential Oil Diffuser Could Make Your Pets Sick

Which oils are the worst?

According to Wismer, any essential oil can be harmful to pets, depending on how much and how much they’re exposed. Particularly poisonous oils for pets include wintergreen, D-lime (citrus fruit), pine, cinnamon, pennyroyal, eucalyptus and tea tree. You can still have a diffuser in your house, but Wismer recommends that you keep your pet and your running oil diffuser in separate rooms and not use 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.

This story was originally published in 2018 and was updated on January 28, 2021 to be in line with Lifehacker style guidelines.