Sometimes I think I probably was a cat in a former life, because among many other things I have in common with the feline species, I’m extremely sensitive to scented products. But the experience of even the most scent-sensitive human doesn’t even come close to how a cat experiences scent.
A cat’s sense of smell is far superior to that of humans. Cats have 45 to 200 million odor-sensitive cells in their noses compared to only five million in humans. A cat’s sense of smell is 14 times better than that of humans. Those facts alone are reason enough to avoid any products with a strong scent in homes shared with cats.
This is especially true for air fresheners. Air fresheners practically make my throat close up, so I can only imagine what they do to cats’ sensitive little noses. But strong scent isn’t the only problem with air fresheners.
Air fresheners can be extremely toxic to cats (and humans)
“If we are putting some kind of chemical into the air merely to mask scents, then we have to be concerned about the negative implications for our pets,” holistic veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney of California told PetMd. One of the main offenders in the ingredient list for most air fresheners are volatile organic compounds (VOC). These chemicals can react with naturally occurring compounds in the air and worsen indoor air quality.
According to a recent Washington Post article, over 75 percent of air fresheners graded by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based nonprofit that focuses on research and advocacy, contain either “likely” or “potentially significant” hazards to health or the environment based on concerns posed by exposure to their ingredients.
Exposure to VOC’s can lead to adverse health effects in humans, including migraines, asthma attacks, breathing difficulties and neurological problems. Short-term exposure can even irritate the eyes, throat and nose, as well as cause nausea. Long-term exposure to these compounds in air fresheners and cleaning products can disrupt hormones and cause cancer.
It’s not a big leap to assume that the same concerns apply to cats – probably even more so, given their smaller size! Dr. Mahaney tells PetMD that air fresheners can have detrimental long-term effects on cats: “Cats have had an increase in feline asthma as a result of living in households where there are air fresheners, incense and cigarette smoke—or even just the aroma of cleaning products.”
Natural or “green” alternatives to air fresheners may be toxic as well
Air fresheners with labels such as “organic,” “natural”, or “green” can still omit potentially hazardous chemicals. Researchers from the Natural Resource Defense Counsel found that “even natural products can lead to toxic chemicals.” Even the EPA recommends cutting back on using products with strong fragrances.
Products containing essential oils may be okay for humans, but they can be extremely harmful, even deadly, to cats.
PetMd features a comprehensive article about the dangers of air fresheners around cats. Read How Air Fresheners Can Affect Your Pet’s Health for more information.
Just say no
Your safest bet, for your cat’s and your own health, is to eliminate use of air fresheners (and scented cleaning products) altogether. Keep a clean home, and open your windows regularly to allow in fresh air – a practice I grew up with in Germany, and have kept up with all my life.
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