Fragrance Toxicity and Pets - How to Enjoy Candles in a Home with Pets

Red and cream piebald longhaired miniature dachshund on white and yellow-floral patterned bed comforter. Blog Post: "Fragrance Toxicity and Pets - How to Enjoy Candles in a Home with Pets" by Fervor Candle Company.

What Candles and Essential Oils are Safe for Dogs and Cats?

Not all home fragrance is created equal.

Let's talk about how the fragrances we love can affect the health of our furry friends. 

The Pros and Cons of Pet Ownership

Being a pet parent is one of the best feelings in the world. It has so many benefits, including decreasing the intensity of overall depression, reduced anxiety and stress, as well as providing the opportunity for physical activity through play which can reduce cholesterol, improve heart function, and build endurance (Jennings, 1997). Plus, they're super cute and we all need a little sprinkle of adorable in our lives. However, alongside those perks comes the possibility of offensive pet odors in our homes - wet dog and kitty litter, anyone?

Our family includes 3 dogs and 2 cats so keeping a great smelling space is one of our top priorities. Fortunately, we have the best job in the world - creating natural home fragrance - so our home always smells like something yummy. The question we are asked a lot is, "Does all this fragrance bother your pets?" 

The answer is simple for us - "Nope!" - but can be a lot more complicated when you consider the variety of products available on the market.

Keep reading to learn how you can safely share a deliciously scented home with your favorite fur babies. 

The Science of Smell

Here's a fun fact for you: Our sense of smell is the equivalent of a cheap knock off handbag to their authentic Chanel.

Dogs and cats have a far more sophisticated and sensitive sense of smell than humans. That difference becomes even more significant when we take into account certain human health conditions. Research studies have produced evidence that depression, schizophrenia, anorexia, and migraines can dull our ability to perceive scent intensity (SIRC, 2020). Pretty interesting, isn't it?

So how do we perceive smell? Humans, dogs, and cats all have specialized cells called scent receptors that are responsible for us being able to smell anything at all. The more scent receptors a being has, the more powerful their sense of smell is. Dogs have a lot more than humans do, and this is part of what makes them so perfect for tasks such as search & rescue, hunting, and service dog work.

Along with scent receptor cells, mammals also have a protein called the V1R that is believed to help us distinguish between different smells - this is what tells us how different our Rosemary & Rose Candle Tin is compared to our Fudge Brownie Room & Linen Spray. This special protein has been found in several different forms, and dogs and cats have significantly more than humans do. Cats have a pretty crummy sense of taste and having multiple V1R protein forms is what helps them decide which foods will provide them the most energy.

If you look at the chart below, you will see exactly how much more developed your pet's olfactory sense is compared to your own.

Differences in Sense of Smell Between Humans, Dogs, and Cats - Fervor Candle Company

As you can see from the nifty little table above, dogs and cats have considerably more scent receptors and forms of the V1R protein. Basically, our noses are garbage in comparison.  

Cats and Dogs are More Sensitive to Fragrance

 Now that we understand how powerful those adorable little boopable noses are, it goes without saying that the home fragrances we love are a lot more intense for our fur babies.

That's not the end of it, though. With that sophisticated and powerful olfactory design come much more sensitive respiratory and nervous systems.

 Just as scents are stronger to the noses of cats and dogs, so are the negative effects of certain ingredients. There are certain ingredients and essential oils that are highly irritating and sometimes even toxic to their respiratory system and brain. I cannot stress this concept enough because it is so important: always be aware of what you are putting in your air

Pet-Health Risks of Candles & Home Fragrance

There are several ingredients you should be wary of as a pet parent who enjoys using candles and other home fragrance options. While pets in general are more sensitive to these products, pets with health issues and advanced age are even more susceptible.

Many products on the market contain ingredients that can have very scary and dangerous effects on our pets. Cats and dogs can experience any of the following symptoms resulting from their use:

  • Runny nose, red eyes, coughing, and/or sneezing
  • Difficulty breathing and/or impaired lungs
  • Organ failure
  • Neurological symptoms, including confusion, tremors, and seizures
  • Physical weakness
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Low body temperature and/or heartrate
  • Death

As you may or may not already know, my dog, Kingston, is getting up there in years and has epilepsy - this makes him high-risk for airborne fragrance sensitivity. I have always loved burning candles in my house and this became something I needed to reevaluate after his first seizure. Once I learned what to avoid, I was able to create products I could comfortably use knowing that they would not cause him any neurological or respiratory harm.

Unsafe Ingredients You Need to Avoid

The following ingredients are unsafe for both you and your pets. While some are seemingly harmless on their own, the process of combustion cannot be ignored. We talked about how candles work in a prior blog - the combustion reaction releases these toxins into the air, creating the negative side effects you just learned about for you and your pets.

  • Paraffin and other petroleum derived ingredients
  • Wicks created using synthetic fibers and/or lead
  • Phthalates
  • Formaldehyde
  • Naphthalene
  • Some essential oils (see section below)

A Note on Essential Oils

Not all essential oils are dangerous to cats and dogs. The type of oil and how it is received by your pet are what determine the risk. Important to note is that cats and dogs have differing oil sensitivities.

Take a look at this comparison table to learn which essential oils to look out for:

Toxic Essential Oil Fragrances for Cats and Dogs - Fervor Candle Company

As you can see, cats with their greater number of V1R proteins are more sensitive than dogs to essential oils. I am sure you have heard the horror stories about beloved kitties who got very, very sick after their hu-mom/hu-dad innocently ran a diffuser with eucalyptus or peppermint oil. I don't want this to scare you off - the key factor in that scenario was that the oil was heated and released as particles into the air.

The above essential oils become dangerous when they are inhaled directly through the air in your home. Applying some peppermint essential oil to your own skin is not going to have the same effect on your pets as burning an essential oil candle or running an oil diffuser. You might have even noticed that a lot of pet shampoos on the market contain Tea Tree and Citrus oils - this is because they are deemed skin-safe for your pet.

How to Enjoy Candles & Home Fragrance Safely with Pets

 Despite your pet's very cool, very powerful olfactory systems and physical sensitivities to fragrance, you can still enjoy filling your home with your favorite scented products - we certainly do!

If You Love Candles & Wax Melts:

  • Look for products that are created using natural plant waxes such as soy, coconut, apricot, or beeswax.
  • Ensure the wick is natural cotton with no lead threading.
  • Only purchase candles made with naturally derived or synthetic fragrances that are free from phthalates, formaldehyde, naphthalene, reproductive toxins, and carcinogens.
  • If you prefer to use candles containing essential oils, be absolutely certain that none of the pet-toxic oils shown in our table are present in the scent's formula.

If You Love Room & Linen Sprays or Oil Diffusers:

  • Check the ingredients label for phthalates, formaldehyde, naphthalene, reproductive toxins, and known carcinogens.
  • Ensure the spray/mist formula is skin-safe and non-toxic.
  • Never diffuse essential oils or products containing essential oils using any of the pet-toxic oils shown in our table.

In short, while natural is usually safer, not all natural fragrance is suitable for pets. That is exactly why we created an entire brand built around the safety of our furry little friends! As with anything in life, knowledge is power. Stay informed and give your pets a hug for us!


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1 comment
  • Is lemongrass essential oil toxic the same as Citrus essential oil?

    Diane on

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