Is Burning Citronella Candles Harmful to Cats?

Max doesn't find the scent of citronella near as pleasant as you do.
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It's a muggy, summer evening and you're getting eaten up by mosquitoes. You light a citronella candle to keep the pests away. While citronella can be toxic to Max if he eats it, burning the candle should be safe. Just take a few simple precautions.

What is Citronella?

Citronella is a natural oil that is made from citronella grass. It's used not only in candles, but in sprays and often in products for pets as a natural pest repellant. Citronella candles can be wax infused with citronella or oil lamps that burn citronella via a wick, like a torch. When the candle is burned, the aroma of the citronella fills the air, which pests like mosquitoes don't like. Max doesn't enjoy the smell either, and will usually avoid areas that smell of citronella. This is why citronella is often used as a repellant for stray cats or to keep them out of a certain part of your garden.

Citronella Dangers

Citronella can be dangerous if Max decides to make a meal of it. In small amounts or the scent of citronella from a burning candle shouldn't hurt him. According to the EPA, as long as you use the candle as directed, it should be safe for your furry pal. However, if he gets into the oil used to fuel the candle and he consumes a lot of it, it could upset his tummy or damage his central nervous system.

Safety First

The best way to keep Max safe from your candles is to keep them out of reach. If he stays indoors, it's as simple as burning and storing your candles outdoors only. If he's outdoors, keep citronella oil or candles locked away in a garage or storage shed Max doesn't have access to. Since he doesn't like the smell, he'll likely avoid it, but it's better to be safe than sorry. Opt for candles rather than torches, since you won't be using the citronella oil which he might eat. The smoke from the candle is pretty thick, so if your feline has asthma you should never burn candles around him.

Poison Control

It's always a good idea to have the information for an emergency pet clinic handy. Look for a clinic that has extended hours or is billed specifically as a 24 hour animal emergency clinic. If Max starts throwing up or acting woozy, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (see Resources). Bring him to the nearest emergency clinic immediately and let his vet know you think he ingested citronella. Never try and make him vomit, or you could hurt your little pal. Always consult with a qualified veterinarian concerning the health and welfare of your pet.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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