Are diffusers bad for dogs? Here's what vets say about using essential oils around pets

Are diffusers bad for dogs? Decide what's best for your pet after reading this expert advice

Modern living room with sofa, soft furnishings, prints, and a dog
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'Are diffusers bad for dogs?' Many a pet owner has asked this question while enjoying their favorite home fragrance. Diffusers are generally safe for people and are understood to pose fewer health risks than burning candles or incense. But what about your canine friend? 

The best essential oil diffusers are marketed as being better than synthetic home fragrances. However, even a natural fragrance can still be problematic for your dog. We've spoken to qualified vets and canine specialists – here's what they think about using your oil diffuser around your pet. 

Are diffusers bad for dogs?

The answer very much depends on what type of oil you use in your diffuser. Dr. Jamie Whittenburg (DVM), is the Director of Kingsgate Animal Hospital in Texas and provides advice for Senior Tail Waggers

Whittenburg told us that 'depending on the product in the diffuser, home fragrance diffusers can be problematic.' Generally, she advises that dogs ‘tend to be less sensitive’ to diffusers than cats, so if they just occasionally wander into a room with a diffuser in it, they should be ok. 

It’s a different matter if you are constantly using a diffuser in the room where your dog spends a lot of time. 'It is generally not safe for a dog to be in a room where a diffuser is kept,' says Whittenburg. 

Registered vet nurse Lucie Wilkins agrees. Wilkins has over 10 years' experience working with dogs and says that whether a diffuser is safe for a dog ‘It all depends on what kind of fragrance or oil that you're using. Some are toxic, and others dogs can be fine with.’

Wilkins goes on to say that when choosing what you put into your diffuser, she recommends not using 'any diffuser oil with artificial ingredients. These can be toxic to dogs, and humans too! Use only natural essential oils, which are far safer to bodies, and the environment.'

Having said this, even natural doesn't always mean safe. The question 'are essential oils safe?' does not have a straightforward answer even for humans who have been using essential oils for millennia. When it comes to our pets, there's an even greater need to be cautious about the types of oils you're using around your dog (or cat).

Aroma oil diffuser on chair against in the bedroom

(Image credit: Anastasiia Stiahailo / Getty)

Which essential oils are safe around dogs?

So are essential oils bad for dogs? Again, it’s worth pointing out that dogs are a little bit less sensitive to essential oils than cats, and it is safe to use a greater range of oils around dogs than around cats. Wilkins gives her seal of approval to ‘Cardamom, Fennel, Helichrysum, Frankincense, Spearmint, Chamomile, Frankincense, Ginger, Lavender, and Myrrh Oil.’ Cedarwood can also be added to the list of dog-safe oils. 

Oils you should always avoid diffusing around dogs are: ‘Cinnamon, Citrus, Tea tree, and Peppermint.’ Peppermint in particular is ‘commonly mistaken for being non-toxic to dogs’ but is dangerous for them. Eucalyptus and ylang-ylang should also be avoided.

All essential oils should be properly diluted in your diffuser, so that the potential for irritation, even with dog-safe oils, is kept to a minimum. 

A dog in a dog bed in a living room

(Image credit: ela bracho / Getty)

How can I use my diffuser safely around my dog?

First of all, know the signs that your dog is especially sensitive to diffusers. Like humans, dogs don’t all react to oils in the same way, and some will be worse affected than others. ‘Dr. Linda Simon, a veterinary surgeon and also a veterinary consultant for FiveBarks, advises that ‘dogs with asthma or atopic allergies are often less tolerant of diffused fragrances, for example.’

What should you be looking out for? ‘If your dog is sensitive to the diffuser, you may notice they act differently when in the room. Signs can include sneezing, a runny nose, red eyes, altered breathing, nausea, tremors, and even a personality change.’

Of course, the biggest concern with using diffusers around your dog is actually that your canine companion may knock over the diffuser and get the oils on their skin and/or lick them off. This is  the ‘more dangerous’ scenario, according to Simon, and ‘is why all diffusers must be kept well out of reach of our pets.’

So, are diffusers bad for dogs? Not necessarily. If you only use oils that are safe for dogs, keep the diffuser well out of reach, and never leave your dog in the same room with the diffuser for prolonged periods, your furry friend will be fine.

Anna is a professional writer with many years of experience. She has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. She covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.