Essential Oils

The term “essential oil” may conjure thoughts of relaxation and natural smells, but for your pets these oils can create a dangerous health concern.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are volatile, organic compounds in plants that quickly become gases that produce a unique smell or taste. There are a wide variety of essential oils that vary in concentration and subsequently, their effects on animals. Essential oils are found in house-hold products like diffusing oils, candles, shampoos, ointments, cleaning products, and air fresheners. Although these products may be helpful to us, it is important to keep these away from our furry friends. The strong aroma can lead to a curious animal ingesting the product. Essential oils can also be absorbed through the skin on contact or inhaled if aerosolized.

What will I see in my pet?

Common clinical signs associated with essential oils include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, seizures, incoordination, weakness, and collapse. Below are some of the more concerning essential oils and associated clinical signs.

  1. Melaleuca (Tea Tree) oil – depression, tremors, incoordination, vomiting
  2. Citrus oil – skin irritation, excessive salivation, lethargy, tremors, incoordination
  3. Wintergreen oil – vomiting, depression, weakness, tremors, seizures, coma, liver and kidney damage
  4. Pennyroyal oil – depression, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding, seizures, liver damage and death
  5. Camphor – vomiting, diarrhea, skin irritation
  6. Liquid potpourri – respiratory irritation, skin irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, depression

What treatments can be done?

With an exposure to essential oils, it is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. The specific essential oil the animal was exposed to, and the patient’s clinical presentation will determine the treatments your veterinarian will recommend. This may include bathing the animal, administration of activated charcoal, IV fluids, gastrointestinal protectants, liver protectants, seizure control, temperature regulation, and monitoring vitals. Most patients have a good prognosis when treated appropriately and promptly.


Pet owners may still use essential oils, but it is important to keep pets in the home safe. Follow these simple steps to prevent an exposure:

  1. Keep essential oils in a location that cannot be accessed by your pet.
  2. Do not apply oil directly to an animal without first consulting a veterinarian.
  3. Use essential oil diffusers in a well-ventilated area.

Even when you try your best to keep your pets out of your essential oils, accidents may still happen. If you are concerned that your pet ingested, inhaled, or had skin contact with an essential oil, please seek immediate veterinary care and call Pet Poison Helpline for expert advice at 855-764-7661.



Written by:

Caroline Hendron, Pet Poison Helpline DVM student extern, Iowa State University Class of 2024

Samantha Koch, CVT, Veterinary Information Specialist II, Pet Poison Helpline