Is Burning Citronella Candles Harmful To Your Pets?

If you live in an area with a lot of mosquitos, you're probably familiar with citronella candles. The fresh, citrusy scent is marketed as a way to repel the bloodsucking pests, and it's a common fixture in outdoor spaces across the country. If you have pets, however, it's important to be careful with the products you're using. Citronella is an essential oil, and certain essential oils can cause lung damage, tremors, and liver failure in cats (via Pet Poison Helpline) and nervous system damage, skin irritation, and behavioral changes in dogs (via the American Kennel Club).

Before you light the candle, make sure you're considering the health of the animals in your home. It's easy to overlook in favor of repelling bugs, but pets are much more sensitive to smells and process certain substances differently than humans. Always consider the impacts of the products you're using and do some research to confirm they're not toxic. It's always better to be safe than sorry.

What is citronella?

According to the National Pesticide Information Center, citronella oil is an essential oil derived from the citronella plant, a kind of grass. It smells somewhat citrusy and floral, and it's commonly used to repel pests by masking the smell of humans and throwing bugs off their track. Most view it as a more natural, harm-free alternative to sprays that contain DEET and other heavier pesticides, and can come in the form of candles, scented bracelets, lotions, sprays, and even flea collars for dogs.

While the essential oil is commonly marketed as a mosquito repellent, a study from the Journal of Insect Science showed that citronella didn't actually have any effect on the number of bites that study participants received. DEET and Off! products proved to be the most effective repellants for mosquitos, and lemon eucalyptus oil worked as a more natural alternative to the heavier products, though it wasn't quite as long-lasting or powerful.

How does it affect pets?

Citronella has long been used as a barking, digging, and flea deterrent for dogs, but it's actually more harmful than most pet owners think. Dogs are less sensitive to citronella than cats, but the oil is still dangerous if ingested or inhaled in large quantities. Symptoms to look out for include a rash, nausea, weakness, and hypothermia (via the Animal Emergency and Referral Center of Minnesota). Small amounts won't cause major medical issues in dogs, but it's still a good idea to steer clear.

Cats, on the other hand, are very sensitive to citronella. According to the Animal Humane Society, the essential oil is toxic to cats. Signs of essential oil poisoning include liver problems, upset stomach, and central nervous system damage. It's a good idea to keep citronella away from both cats and dogs, and bring them to a vet immediately if you notice any symptoms or changes in their behavior.