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Is Sandalwood Incense Safe for Cats? What You Need to Know!

Sandalwood incense is a common way for many people to freshen up their homes and keep their living areas smelling nice. However, it isn’t safe to use around cats. Sandalwood oil is known to be toxic to cats, and the smoke from incense sticks can cause respiratory problems.

Fortunately, there are plenty of safe ways to keep your house smelling pleasant that don’t involve sandalwood incense or other dangerous fragrances. Here, we explore alternative options and explain why sandalwood incense is a bad idea around cats.

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Why Are Cats Sensitive to Essential Oils?

Essential oils aren’t always as harmless as they first appear, especially where pets are concerned. Cats are especially sensitive to many essential oils due to their inability to properly metabolize them.

Along with the risk of oral or skin irritation or burning, essential oils contain chemicals that must be processed by the liver. Since cats have a much lower number of liver enzymes that are capable of metabolizing the oils, they’re more susceptible to bad reactions to the oils when they come into contact with them.

young woman with ragdoll cat on couch
Image Credit: rock-the-stock, Shutterstock

Are Incense Sticks Harmful to Cats?

Despite their relaxing aroma, incense sticks aren’t the best or the healthiest way to freshen up your house. The smoke and particulates released when you burn incense can cause respiratory problems when inhaled. These effects can cause health issues for both humans and cats. Some cats are also more sensitive to smoke than others, especially if they have asthma or another issue with their respiratory system.

Some incense sticks may contain chemicals or fragrances that are toxic to cats. Not only will they suffer from smoke inhalation, but they could also have a bad reaction to the essential oils or plant materials used to make the incense.

Why Isn’t Sandalwood Incense Safe for Cats?

Sandalwood incense is a bit of a double-edged sword. Beyond the dangers of incense, the sandalwood fragrance is also a problem for cats. If it’s ingested or gets on your cat’s fur, it can cause several health problems.

Signs of sandalwood poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Skin irritation
  • Unsteadiness
  • Low body temperature

If you think that your cat is suffering from poisoning due to your sandalwood incense, take them to a veterinarian to make sure their symptoms are treated properly.

Cat vomiting
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

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What Other Scents Are Toxic to Cats?

Sandalwood isn’t the only oil that is toxic to cats. Many other essential oils are commonly used for aromatherapy or just to get rid of bad smells, and these should never be used around your cat. Essential oils that are toxic to felines include:

  • Citrus oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Clove oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Tea tree oil

Owning a cat doesn’t mean you can never use these oils. However, you should take caution if you do. Ensure that your cat is safe by limiting the use of the oils to one room of the house that’s well-ventilated and inaccessible to your cat.

Avoid using diffusers that can be tipped over by an inquisitive feline. The oils inside can end up on your cat’s paws or skin and be ingested that way. If you can’t keep your cat away from the diffuser, it’s best not to use one at all.

citrus essential oil
Image Credit: DariaHurst34, Pixabay

Alternative Ways to Keep Your Home Smelling Nice

While sandalwood incense might be a fun way to make your house smell nice, there are plenty of other options that are safer for you and your cat. When you own cats — or any pet — these tips are good to keep in mind.

Air Purifier

Many air purifiers are designed with pet owners in mind and will have filters that are more than capable of absorbing pet-related odors. Although air purifiers can be pricey, it’s one of the best ways to capture and eliminate smells before they can linger and cling to your furniture.

While other odor-removal techniques rely on masking odors, an air purifier will remove the particulates that cause bad smells entirely.

air purifier in living room
Image Credit: Yuttana Jaowattana, Shutterstock

Baking Soda

A quick and easy method of deodorizing your home that many pet owners swear by is using baking soda. It takes a bit more time to work than an air freshener that you can spray around the room, but it also absorbs the odor rather than masks it. It’s also non-toxic to animals, although precautions should be taken to ensure your cat does not eat it. Sprinkle some on the affected carpet or cushion, leave for 1–2 days, and then vacuum.

Cleaning Regularly

Keeping the house clean is a surefire way to tackle bad smells before they have a chance to set in. Bad smells can be a result of a build-up of cat fur on the carpet or a used litter tray that’s been left for too long. Sometimes, the bad smell is a result of your cat vomiting or another pet-related accident that left an odor clinging to the carpet or couch.

By cleaning up messes right after they happen — or at least as quickly as possible — you’ll prevent the odors from lingering. While cleaning up is never pleasant, it can save you hassle later when you have to battle invisible odors.

woman cleaning the floor
Image Credit: Piqsels


Many air fresheners aren’t safe to use around cats, so many cat owners assume that Febreze isn’t the best choice either. However, according to the ASPCA, Febreze is one of the few air fresheners that is safe for use around pets, including cats. It can cause mild skin irritation or stomach upset if touched while it’s wet or ingested, respectively, but the fabric freshener is generally safe around animals.

DIY Scents

You can also freshen the air by making your own air freshener. It doesn’t need a fancy setup either — just a pot of water and something fragrant. Bring a pot of water to a boil, and add apples or vanilla. Some people use mint or cinnamon sticks, but some cats dislike these smells, and they can also be toxic.

water spray
Image Credit: Squirrel_photos, Pixabay

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Individually, sandalwood oil and incense sticks are dangerous to use around cats. Even alone, both items can cause minor to severe health issues, including breathing difficulties, for many felines. Combining the two products into sandalwood incense might be a convenient way to make your home smell nice, but it’s extra dangerous for your cat. Not only will your cat be affected by the toxic properties of the sandalwood essential oil, but they’ll also be affected by the smoke from the incense.

To be safe, use air purifiers or baking soda to remove odors from your home. Or you can make your own fragrances with cat-friendly items.

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Featured Image Credit: Use at your Ease, Pixabay