Toxic Air Fresheners and Cats

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Originally published May 20, 2016

Bath and Body Works Wallflower Plugin Air Freshener Toxic for CatsThere has been a lot of talk and research lately about whether air fresheners are safe for cats. When a cat is sick or abnormally smelly, a pet owner might look for the cause in everything from food and water issues to pesticides, plants, cleaning products, or air fresheners. These last few possibilities are an often-overlooked source of harmful toxicity, but they can be dangerous to pet’s health in both the short and long term. Here are some facts to consider about air fresheners and cats, as well as some alternatives to try in your home:

Toxic Air Fresheners

While air fresheners might seem like a good way to make your house smell nice, particularly around a cat’s litter box, air freshener toxic chemicals can cause serious health problems for your cat. The chemicals irritate the mucus membranes and breathing passages of your kitty, and they can cause even more serious long-term problems if they contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are carbon-based compounds that remain in the air of your home even after a spray evaporates. Some of the long-term effects of exposure to VOCs include liver or kidney damage, cancer, and nervous system problems. Short-term effects include vomiting, breathing issues, dizziness, and eye/mouth/nose irritation.

Some of the other household sources of VOCs are lemon, pine, or citrus scented cleaners and certain types of wood furniture. Other risky everyday substances include toilet cleaners, laundry detergents, carpet cleaners, drain cleaners, and antifreeze.

Potpourri oils can also be a dangerous from of air freshener – a cat might rub against a leaky bottle or spill the bottle on themselves, which can result in both skin irritation and internal problems if the cat licks the oil while grooming itself. If your cat has been having health problems and you think that an air freshener or a household chemical is the culprit, contact your vet immediately.

All of the commercially produced air fresheners can be bothersome to cats, but particularly the plugin variety.

Non-Toxic Air Fresheners

There are plenty of natural, non-toxic alternatives to air freshener for keeping your home smelling clean:

  • Baking soda – This can be great for eliminating odors anywhere in the house, particularly in carpeting, which is a place where you definitely want to avoid chemicals since you cat spends their time right on top of it.
  • Cat-friendly plants – Plants can filter the air in your home, but double check to see that they will not harm your cat if he or she decides to take a bite out of them.
  • Herbs and Seasonings – To do more than just neutralize odors, put a pot on the stove or set up a crock pot with seasonal herbs or other natural scents, including cinnamon sticks, cloves, or lemon or orange peels. They will make your house smell great and not irritate your pets.
  • Natural Oils – Try using an oil burner to burn natural oils such as lavender or vanilla. If you want to put oils around your home, first make sure that whatever you are using will not be toxic for your cat’s skin or digestive system in the event of a spill, or that the oil is secure and safely out of their reach.
  • Salt Lamps – These can be another way of naturally cleaning the air by giving off a slight negative ion charge. However, while this is a great alternative to toxic scents, be sure to keep it out of your cat’s reach, as licking or eating the salt lamp could be dangerously dehydrating.  I have two of these salt lamps in my house and my cats never bother them, but recently there was a huge scare about them on Facebook.

Dangerous Placement of Air Fresheners

Part of the problem with cats and air fresheners is that they are often in very close proximity to the source, which means they are inhaling or ingesting more of the chemicals than pet owners might realize. Avoid putting air fresheners anywhere near your cat’s food and water, and also anywhere in or around their litter box. Plug in air fresheners are toxic to pets in particular because they are right at nose level and can really affect a cat’s breathing.

Eliminating the Need for Air Fresheners

Avoiding the need for air fresheners can be as simple as making sure your cat is healthy and their home environment is kept clean. Intestinal problems or a poor diet could be the cause of particularly smelly cat feces or urine, whereas a healthy cat should have a more neutral odor. In addition, keeping a litter box regularly cleaned will prevent unpleasant odors from forming and encourage your kitty to use the box more often – because no cat wants to keep returning to an increasingly dirty and smelly box.

Be aware of what chemicals you are exposing both you and your pets to as you clean and freshen your house. A lot of what is out there can be surprisingly toxic, but there is a wealth of natural alternatives out there that are easy to find with a little research.

Read this horror story about a Ragdoll Cat that lost its life because of a Bath and Body Works Wallflower Plugin Air Freshener.

Has your cat ever had a reaction to an air freshener or household chemical? Where do you put air fresheners in your house? What natural alternatives do you use? Share here!

Comments (18)

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  1. Can you tell me more about oil burners. I’m not familiar with this. I would like to try this and use lavender oil. Also can you recommend what brand and where to buy it?

    1. My gorgeous healthy 4 year old cat just,died,this week due to my using Lavender essential oil100% in a misting diffuser DO NOT use please, was abtraguc and,horrific event past 3 weeks and we are HEARTBROKEN,..there were no warnings

      1. Oh NO! My heart goes out to you and your family Robin. Am so very very sorry for the loss of your precious 4-year-old kitty. Thank you so much for reaching out to make others aware that something that seems so benign could and is so very dangerous even to the point of being fatal. God bless you and pray for your heart to heal soon from this tragic accident.♥

  2. Great post, Jenny! Such valuable and lifesaving info! Luckily, we have had no scares or issue as we don’t use any air freshener products in our home. We do use baking soda as a natural cleanser (along with grapefruit peels for sink scrubbing) and freshener throughout the house to leave a less toxic footprint. Have to be so careful as little paws can go everywhere (especially when you are asleep). 🙂 <3

    Big hugs!

    Patti & Miss Pink Sugarbelle 🙂 <3

  3. Thanks so much for the heads up about the air fresheners! Know that these and other chemicals are very toxic to kitties and do my best to keep all these away from them. I’ve also read that the salt lamps are very toxic, but think it must be if they lick it and get too much sodium which can cause stuff like brain swelling and seizures. ♥♥♥

  4. I absolutely love my essential oils and my diffuser, but have read that they too may be toxic to cats.. When I run the diffuser , it is in the guest room with the door shut. I’d sure like to hear it is OK to use it outside of the guest room. Please tell us what YOU hear from the experts.

  5. Thanks so much Jenny for info. Knew a little about some house plants but nothing about air fresheners and especially snow globes. What a sinking feeling when I read Jingles’ story. My little guy is only 4 months old and how heart wrenching to think of it. Tks again for great info.

  6. Do not use Renuzit air fresheners around your cats. My cat died in under 24hrs cause he got into a cabinet I had a freshener open in and went to sleep. The fumes destroyed his organs before I knew he was in any serious danger. I thought he had ate a spider cause he always acted weird when he did. But unfortunately I was wrong and didn’t even think about the freshener till it was to late. The package says keep aways from kids and pets but does not say it could be deadly. They need to change their packaging to let owners know that these products can kill your animals.

  7. So glad you re-posted this one, Jenny! Such critical information to know! Thanks so much for reminding us about this and posting it again for new readers! 🙂 <3

    Big hugs & lots of love!

    Patti & Miss Pink Sugarbelle 🙂 <3

  8. SUCH A SUPER IMPORTANT & CRITICAL POST, Jenny honey! Glad to see you re-posted this today as a reminder to everyone of the dangerous toxicity of these products! THIS post CANNOT be re-posted too many times! TYSVM!! <3

    Big hugs & lots of love & purrs!

    Patti & Miss Pink Sugarbelle 🙂 <3 <3 <3

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