Originally published May 20, 2016
There 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.
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.
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!