Essential Oil/Potpourri Toxicity

Essential Oils/Liquid Potpourri Toxicity

By Dr. Karen Burgess

Liquid potpourri and essential oils (liquid concentrate from plants) are often found in the household. While appealing to the human nose, these products can be toxic after to cats and dogs after ingestion or skin exposure.

What makes essential oil/liquid potpourri toxic?
Essential oils are made from plant concentrate. The two toxic components of liquid potpourri are cationic detergents (found in laundry detergents, sanitizing products) and essential oils. They are commonly used in aromatherapy, medicinally, and in home goods to enhance aroma. Some oils of particular concern include peppermint, lemon, lavender, melaleuca, tea tree, cinnamon bark, wintergreen, thyme, birch, and any phenol containing product. Dry potpourri tends to be less of an issue as it contains only essential oils and no cationic detergents.

What problems do potpourri and essential oils cause?
Liquid potpourri and essential oils are rapidly absorbed both through the skin and orally. After exposure they are then processed by the liver. This can can cause particular difficulty for cats that lack the ability to break down these chemicals, the very young, and those with underlying liver disease. The liquid components are also capable of irritating/burning the skin and mouth making only a lick or two a danger. Often cats can be exposed when oils come in contact with their fur and they then groom themselves.

Signs of potpourri/essential oil toxicity
Signs of exposure may being with drooling, a painful mouth/pawing at mouth, and oral redness with first exposure. More serious signs include weakness, walking as if drunk, tremors, and difficulty breathing.

What to do if your pet is exposed to potpourri/essential oils
Contact your veterinarian, animal emergency hospital, or animal poison control immediately. Do not induce vomiting as this may worsen symptoms. With eye exposure copious rinsing is recommended immediately. If the skin has been exposed, using mild dishwashing soap to remove it is appropriate. With ingestion or oral exposure, drinking milk/dairy product may help neutralize the detergent effect of liquid potpourri. Hospitalization, intravenous fluids, and liver monitoring may be indicated based on exposure and clinical signs. Prevention of exposure is key. Consult your veterinarian before using any supplements and never put pure essential oils on a pet. Be aware of open liquid potpourri pots being a potentially toxic curiosity for dogs and cats.