Fall is the time of year when we start to turn our focus inward. The days are getting shorter and darker and the weather is turning cooler. We're getting ready to cocoon ourselves inside and enjoy all things cozy and comforting—and filling our homes with seasonal scents (think: pumpkin spice, vanilla, apples and pine) via scented fall candles, essentials oils or wall plug-ins is a vital part of creating that ambiance.
But pet owners need to think twice before bringing those fragrances home. As it turns out, some pets may develop respiratory ailments and other health problems when these items are used around the house.
No need to worry though: You don’t have to sacrifice the scents of your favorite fall candles for the health of your furry family. There are some pet-safe home fragrance options that can give you the homey atmosphere you desire while keeping your pets safe and healthy.
The Dangers of Traditional Candles and Synthetic Fragrances
While scented candles may smell amazing to us humans, some can be irritating and downright dangerous to our pets. Traditionally-made scented candles, scented aerosols and wall plug-ins rely on synthetic compounds to create their fragrance. These compounds often contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are then released into the air when the product is burned, heated up or sprayed. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some VOCs may have short- and long-term adverse health effects and concentrations are up to 10 times higher indoors than outdoors. For pets who spend most of their lives indoors, that can be dangerous.
"The smaller the pet, the more dangerous some of these chemical inhalants can be,” explains Dr. Jason Palm, DVM of the Hiawassee Veterinary Clinic in Orlando, Florida. “Cats, in particular, are susceptible to respiratory illness stemming from indoor fragrances like candles and wall-plug-ins. They have smaller airways and are typically inside 24/7, so they’re constantly exposed to this irritant.”
This can lead to a condition called feline asthma, an allergic reaction to inhaled allergens, explains Dr. Palm, who notes that the symptoms of coughing and sneezing are classic signs of an exaggerated immune system response. "If a culture doesn't show a bacterial infection, we have to suspect it's an immune system response and the best treatment for that is to get rid of the offending odor, which in many cases are home fragrance candles or plug-ins,” he says.
“Whenever a cat is brought into the clinic with sudden onset of sneezing or coughing, my first question to the owners is, ‘What kind of fragrances are you using in the house?’” says Dr. Palm. “I always remind pet owners that just because something isn't toxic doesn't mean it's safe."
It's easy to overlook the way scents affect our pets, particularly if we are unaffected by the odor. What we must remember is that animals' noses are much more sensitive than our human noses, so they can be more easily overwhelmed by irritants than we are.
Essential oils present similar issues. "They can be irritating to the respiratory system,” Dr. Palm says.
Perfumer Kelly Jones of the Kingston, New York-based fragrance company, Kelly + Jones, agrees: "Pets can be sensitive to overwhelming scents, including essential oils. Although they are natural, many can be irritating or harmful if not used correctly."
Another concern with delicious home scents is that they can smell appetizing to pets. Although consuming candle wax may result in nothing more than an upset stomach or diarrhea, if a pet consumes essential oils or the oils get on their skin, they could experience a much more severe and possibly even fatal reaction. The risk is higher if the oils are 100-percent natural and undiluted. You can read more of the dangers essential oils pose to pets here.
So what’s a concerned pet parent to do? Look for pet-friendly alternatives, of course.
Pet-Safe Fragrance Alternatives
Remember those pumpkin and delicious apple scents you love come fall? Fortunately, you still have plenty of ways to perfume your home with those seasonal fragrances. Look for products that are specifically marketed as being safe for pets, and candles that use natural soy wax over paraffin, which can contain more respiratory irritants. And as a rule of thumb, always keep an eye on your pet for respiratory irritation symptoms like sneezing, and keep lit candles and other home fragrance products well out of reach.
Here are some of our favorite fall candles and seasonally scented products that are safe for use around pets.
Pet House Pumpkin Spice Natural Soy Candle
Pet House candles neutralize odors to help clear away unwanted smells—like your kitty’s litter box, for example. Designed especially for pet parents, these 100-percent natural soy candles contain no dyes or paraffin, feature clean-burning cotton wicks and are made in the USA. For a pumpkin spice latte in candle form, look to this scent that blends together the classic fall scents of pumpkin, cinnamon sugar, maple butter and vanilla bean.
Pet House Vanilla Creme Brulee Natural Soy Candle
Neutralize pet odors and enjoy the yummy scents of creamy vanilla, maple cinnamon and caramelized sugar with an underlying hint of bamboo in the Pet House Vanilla Creme Brulee soy candle. With a 70-hour burn time, it’ll likely last until winter!
Clear Air Holly Berry Neutralizing Gel Beads
Clear Air Holly Berry Neutralizing Gel Beads will get you in the holiday spirit a little early. The beads are filled with odor-neutralizing, non-toxic gel to kick unwelcome odors to the curb. The compact container is perfect for small spaces, but the beads are effective for up to 450 square feet and will last 60-90 days.
Pet Odor Exterminator Cinnamon Apple Deodorizing Candle
No need to head out to the apple orchard (although that does make for a fun fall activity!). You can enjoy the classic combination of apples and cinnamon all season long with the Pet Odor Exterminator Cinnamon Apple Deodorizing Candle. With a 70-hour burn time, this soy blend candle contains enzymes that help neutralize pet odors.
Pet Odor Exterminator Mulberry & Spice Air Freshener
Almost as satisfying as a glass of mulled wine, the Pet Odor Exterminator Mulberry & Spice Air Freshener will fill your home with the scent of berries and spices like cinnamon and bitter orange peel. Powerful enzymes neutralize odors rather than mask them for an effective air freshener that is safe for use around pets.
Enjoy Those Fall Scents Safely
We don't want to scare pet parents into thinking that they can never enjoy a scented home again, but it is definitely a situation that requires a little buyer awareness. Read the labels, know what you are purchasing, pay attention to your pet’s reaction to home scents and give your vet a call if they develop any abnormal respiratory symptoms. While that PSL perfume is seemingly a fall essential, we don’t have to tell you that it should never override your fur baby’s health!