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Home > Cats > Are Scented Candle Fumes Toxic to Cats? Surprising Answer

Are Scented Candle Fumes Toxic to Cats? Surprising Answer

cat cozing up next to scented candles

After a long week, it’s always nice to curl up with your favorite scented candle and your feline best friend. However, you may find that your cat is less fond of the odd-smelling fragrances that you favor and will either start coughing or avoid the room entirely.

Most scented candles aren’t toxic to cats, and some varieties won’t bother your feline friend at all. When they’re used for short periods in well-ventilated areas, they can create a relaxing and festive atmosphere. Cheaper, paraffin-based candles, on the other hand, can be toxic to both our cats and us.


The 7 Reasons Scented Candles Can Be Harmful to Cats

Not all scented candles are harmful to cats. Some varieties can be just as relaxing for our feline friends as they can be for us. There are ways for our otherwise harmless candles to be a danger to our beloved pets, though, and it’s important to bear these facts in mind before you use candles, fragranced or not, around your cat or any other pet.

1. Burn Risk

Whether we’re talking about cats, dogs, children, or the safety of your home, candles are dangerous when they’re not used properly. When you use them, make sure to keep them away from anything flammable, and don’t leave them unattended, especially if you have young children or cats that love to knock objects off the coffee table.

Remember that your cat can probably find their way onto shelves that you didn’t think they could get to. If they knock over your burning candle, they stand a chance at not only burning themselves but also accidentally setting the living room rug on fire.

candle and cat
Image Credit: qwertqwert, Shutterstock

2. Essential Oils

Although essential oils are plant-based fatty liquids, they can cause adverse reactions in your cat or other pets that come into contact with them. Some oils are less toxic than others, but cats are usually more sensitive to the toxic effects than humans or other animals.

Whether your cat has a reaction to the essential oils in your scented candle depends on various things.

3. The Plant Base

Essential oils come from plants. While this ordinarily is a good thing, you have to take into consideration the plants that are toxic to your cat. If they’re allergic to the plant used in your new fragrance or the plant used is toxic, the oil in the candle will be toxic too.

4. Concentration

The few essential oils that are safe for use around cats should only be used when they’re heavily diluted. Not only will this ease the effect of the scent on sensitive noses, but it’ll also reduce the amount of the oil that comes into contact with your cat.

For felines with particularly sensitive noses or asthma, the strength of the scent laced in your candle might bother their eyes, nose, and ability to breathe.

scented stick and candle
Image Credit: Musicmynk, Pixabay

5. Delivery Method

Cats don’t have hands to grab things, and as a result, they resort to biting objects that they’re curious about. Your scented candle won’t be any different. If they’re fond of chewing on things, you may find that your favorite feline has inadvertently swallowed some of the wax infused with essential oils.

Ingesting essential oils can cause both digestive and neurological problems, even without the added problems of the candle that they’re used in.

6. Paraffin

Most commercially produced candles — the cheap brands, in particular — are made from a petroleum derivative called paraffin. The process of making these candles requires numerous chemicals, like dioxin and acrolyn, and for the scented varieties, petroleum-based fragrances.

Not only do they release a large amount of soot when they’re burned, exacerbating health issues like asthma and other respiratory ailments for both you and your cat, but they also contain carcinogens.

Paraffin candle manufacturers have also been known to use animal fat and stearic acid, a byproduct from slaughterhouses, during the production process. While these aren’t necessarily toxic to cats or humans, thinking about burning them — and subsequently, breathing in the fumes — can take the relaxation aspect out of your fragranced candle.

scented candle lit up at home
Image Credit: pairfum, Pixabay

7. Your Cat

Like humans, cats have preferences when it comes to smells. While some, like citrus, are renowned for being disliked by all felines, other scents may please your cat or disgust them, depending on their personality.

Usually, they don’t enjoy anything that smells too strong. The subtler scents that they enjoy may take a bit of trial and error to figure out.

While some cats don’t mind fragrances, others might not be able to tolerate exposure to any scent-laced product. Whether it’s chemical-based or completely natural, it’s best to avoid using anything if your feline is sensitive to these things.


The 4 Other Scented Products That Are Toxic to Cats

Avoiding scented candles doesn’t mean you’re completely side-stepping the risk of endangering your cat. There are several other products designed to freshen the air that shouldn’t be used anywhere near your feline.

1. Dry Potpourri

Although dried potpourri can irritate your cat’s nose and cause stomach upset if ingested, it’s not immediately harmful. However, there is a chance that it’ll cause a blockage in your cat’s digestive system and require surgery, so make sure you don’t leave this out for your cat to chew on.

2. Liquid Potpourri

Unlike the dried version, liquid potpourri is much more dangerous to your cat. Liquid potpourri products use cationic detergents — to allow the oil and water to mix — and essential oils.

While the essential oils alone can cause respiratory issues, cationic detergents can have more dire consequences. They can cause skin or eye burns, stomach and intestinal ulcers, and breathing and neurological problems.

If you do use liquid potpourri, keep it out of reach of your cat and clean up any spillages when they happen.

3. Air Fresheners

Air fresheners mask smells instead of eliminating them, and they can trigger asthma attacks in cats and affect dogs and humans too.

4. Incense

While burning incense sticks can make your house smell nice, these are a mixture of essential oils and smoke. Both of these can adversely affect your cat. Even if the essential oil used doesn’t bother your feline, their stronger noses make them sensitive to smoke, and it can cause respiratory problems.

Image Credit: 4174332, Pixabay


The 6 Alternative Products Safe Around Cats

If there’s one thing that all pet owners know, it’s that animals can stink sometimes. Cats are no exception, and they always seem to know when you’re about to receive guests, choosing that moment to use their kitty litter. Even when scooped and freshly cleaned, the smell lingers!

This is part of the reason that scented candles and other air fresheners are so useful. They can mask some of the more unpleasant odors that cat ownership involves.

That said, they’re not the only fragranced products that will help eliminate the odors wafting in your home. There are plenty of options that will keep smells at bay and keep your cat safe.

1. Pet Odor Eliminators

Most products designed specifically to eliminate pet odors use enzymes instead of chemical-based fragrances. They’re safer for your cat and gentler on sensitive noses.

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2. Charcoal

Hanging charcoal air-purifying bags around your home can prevent mildew smells during humid seasons by drawing in water. They also absorb unpleasant odors, leaving your house smelling fresh.

Image Credit: Hans, Pixabay

3. Febreze

Unlike other aerosol air fresheners, Febreze is the one brand that’s proven to be safe around pets, according to the ASPCA. It’s still a good idea to make sure you keep your cats away from it while it dries, as it has been known to cause skin irritation and minor stomach upset when ingested.

Don’t spray it straight onto your cat or any other animal. You should only use it for its intended purpose.

4. DIY Aromatics

Making your own scents is as easy as grabbing ingredients like clove or vanilla and adding them to a pot of simmering water. Not only will these scents be just as good as the store-bought varieties, but you can also be certain that no other chemicals are used in their production. They can leave your house smelling divine, too.

Although you can use citrus and the resulting smells will be delightful, remember that your cat is unlikely to appreciate orange, lemon, or lime scents lacing the house.

5. Air Purifier

Available in large options or smaller, desktop devices, air purifiers don’t use fragrances to make your house smell nice. Instead, they work to eliminate odors by removing them from the atmosphere. You won’t have to worry about purchasing more air fresheners either, as these don’t mask odors and instead, remove them completely.

If you’re not on a tight budget, purchasing one of the better air purifiers will also rid your house of particulates known to irritate both cats and humans.

air purifier at home
Image By: Parinya Smithijaroenpon, Shutterstock

6. Natural Wax Candles

Provided that you don’t mind spending extra when you buy scented candles, natural wax is a much safer option than the paraffin varieties, for both you and your favorite feline.

These candles are made from soy, beeswax, or coconut oil. Unlike paraffin candles, they’re free from toxins and carcinogens, along with being completely biodegradable. The fragrances that they use are also natural, and the candles themselves burn longer.

You should still make sure your cat isn’t left alone with these candles because they can burn your feline and cause fires. Your cat will also be irritated by the scent if it’s too strong or disliked.



The fumes from scented candles can cause respiratory issues, especially if the candle is paraffin-based. Not only do paraffin candles give off a great deal of soot when they’re burned, but they also release chemicals that can irritate your cat’s lungs.

Some scented candles — particularly natural ones, like those made from beeswax or coconut oil — are much more appealing to your cat. They don’t contain chemicals or toxins, although it’s still not wise to use them too much because the scents can still cause breathing issues, especially for cats with asthma.

If you’re concerned about your cat inhaling smoke from candles, try making homemade aromatics by adding ingredients to a pot of simmering water. Or stick to a simple air purifier — while it won’t make your house smell like summer showers, it’ll eliminate odors completely.

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Featured Image Credit: Alena Ozerova, Shutterstock

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