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Are Candles Safe for cats or Toxic? Here is What I Learnt…

pretty woman lying with a cat
Photo by Людмила Шалимова on

Are candles safe for cats or dogs happens to be a common concern for pet lovers and pet parents. I have had not just cats, but other pets like dogs, parakeets, even fish and a turtle, around my house. And I have  always loved and burnt candles around my house.

When it comes to anything lit, a candle, a stove, the charcoal grill, an element of danger exists, and hence the need for caution and mindfulness exists.

So those of you who wonder about the safety of burning candles around cats can get some insight from the experiences and knowledge I would share in this article:

Are Candles Dangerous for Cats?

Candles can be dangerous for cats under certain conditions. A lit candle, wrongly placed and unattended can be dangerous for a toddler as well as a cat. Both are curious by nature. However, a candle is not dangerous if it is at a place or in a room where a cat can’t get in. For instance, if I am enjoying a spa at home experience in my bathroom with a spa scented candle and the door is locked, my cat won’t be able to get in.

As far as the concern goes that are scented candles toxic for your cat? The answer is no. Most scented candle brands and varieties happen to be nontoxic for cats, until and unless, the following things happen: 

  • A cat (being a curious creature) gets too close to the burning candle and burn its paw, fur or whiskers.
  • Your cat topples down the candle and the hot wax scalds its fur.
  • You are burning a paraffin candle, which happen to have safety concerns for humans as well.
  • Your candle may contain certain ingredients that your cat is allergic too.
  • You are lighting your candle in a closed space, with little or no ventilation and your cat has been exposed to the fumes emitted by the candle.
  • Your cat is asthmatic, has or allergies or sensitivities or any other pre-existing condition.
  • Your cat eats the candle wax or wax melt by accident or out of curiosity.

Scented candles are safe for pets as long as you follow common sense and take some safety measures.

Why are Cats Vulnerable to Scented Candles and Home Fragrance Products?

Have you ever wondered as to why some things that are favorable, safe and soothing for us can be somewhat dangerous for our feline friends. The answer is like: As compared to humans, cats and dogs have a highly-sensitive noses and a sense of smell. Unlike us, cats also have a predatory second sense of smell due to the presence of the vomeronasal organ (or Jacobsen’s organ), which makes them ‘smell’ pleasant things (food, a prey, or their human) or danger threat (a dog, a rival cat, thunder or fire) from miles afar. Likewise, due to their smaller size in comparison to their human moms and dads, their nervous system can get overwhelmed easily when exposed to toxins and fumes emitted by candles and en sprays.

More importantly, as compared to dogs, cats are primarily indoor animals. Hence, it makes sense to be mindful not just of the ambience we are creating for them but also the indoor air quality. I feel that scented candles pose lesser risks to cats than bug repellents, aerosol and/or plug-in air fresheners, cleaning products made from harsh chemicals.

are scented candles toxic for cats
Image credit: Elina Sazonova@Pexels

Air fresheners and bug repellant sprays can overwhelm the respiratory system of people with sensitivities, those with asthma. In the same way, these products can negatively impact cats.

My parents had a beautiful, multicolored senior cat, called Sasha. As she aged, her lungs became particularly vulnerable to strong artificial smells. She would wheeze or cough a lot. But once the vet helped us develop the link between aerosol sprays and Sasha’s asthma, we were able to create a cleaner and healthier living space for her.

Cats React Differently to Things (Even Candles)

Just like their owners, cats have their unique natures and quirks. Some are fascinated by it and would either stare at its flame, while others would love to sleep at a spot near it, probably enjoying its warmth. Some would leave it alone, would be indifferent to it, while others would swat at at the burning candle or topple it, just like the crazy cats in the video shared below.

Cats Versus Candles

Topic: Cats reacting to candles

Candle Scents Cats Love/Hate

Some cats may even drawn to particular candle scents , i.e, scents that tend to excite or relax them.  Alternatively, cats are also repealed by certain candle scents. I have tried to list both.

Candle Scents Cats around Favorable toCandle Scents that Repel Cats
Valerian root
Citrus scents like orange, lime, grapefruit, etc.
chart: Candle scent examples. Cats are commonly drawn to some and repelled by others.

** Although some cats are repelled by lavender scent, mine tend to feel relaxed by it.

Which Candles Can Be Bad for Cats?

It’s not just the flame and candle scents, its about the ingredients of the candles that can make them safe or unsafe for your feline friends.  Just like humans, scented candles made from paraffin wax can be bad for your cat. By bad I mean dangerous, unsafe or toxic.

Paraffin is a byproduct of petroleum, as most of us are aware of it. So candles made from paraffin release more soot and impurities in the air, emulating  the fumes produced by a car’s exhaust pump. Besides impurities, paraffin wax candles can release cancer causing chemicals, i.e., carcinogens in the air, Ethanol, Acetone, formaldehyde, and acetaldehyde, naphthalene, etc., to name a few, as per this report’s findings.  Since cats spend all of their time indoors, these impurities, toxins and soot would not only pass through their respiratory system but also would settle on their fur, which gets ingested when cats groom themselves by licking. 

Moreover, candles comprising artificial scents are more dangerous for your cat. Even with cat-safe and -friendly candle scents, one thing that needs to be remembered is that the candles that contain a heavier amount of essential oils (even the cat friendly ones) can irritate the respiratory track of cats.

are candles bad for cats
Image source:

Scented Candle Safety Tips in a Home with Cats

An irritated and compromised respiratory system is a serious problem. However, candle safety around pets comprises basic, simple steps such as: 

1. Keep Candles Out of Your Curious Cat’s Reach

It would be challenging to burn a candle around a cat which likes to dart around on surfaces and paw things off the table.  Not only it’s dangerous for your cat, but also a fire hazard in making.
If you happen to have a super inquisitive cat, put your candles in places that are out of the reach of your nosy cat. For instance, as I burn my spa candles in the bathroom where the door is locked, but the window is open (for ventilation). Likewise, when we burn candles in our bedroom, the cats are usually sleeping in the living room. Angel sleeps near my feet on the bed and seem to enjoy the coziness and aroma of the scented candles probably as much as we do. In any case, we are to see that the cats don’t end up getting too close to the lit candle.

Furthermore, it’s not just the lit candles that need to be kept away from cats, you also need to put away melted wax from your curious cat’s reach, least it tries to eat something out of inquisitiveness or boredom.

Choose Your Scented Candle Wisely

It makes more sense to opt for heavier candles with wider diameters instead of dainty pillar candles when you have cats around. This way your cat wouldn’t be able to topple a chunkier candle that easily. Another thing you can do is to place your lit candle in a ceramic plate partially filled with water. This way, even if the candle gets toppled over, the flame would get snuffed out on its own. Candle cages are also a great option for keeping your curious cat’s paws off the candle flame.  LED candles are also a good and much safer alternative in a house where there are cats and it’s more hassle than fun to monitor them.

Likewise, when it comes to candle scents, I usually choose the candles that my cats are comfortable having around. This means that citrus scented candles are something we usually don’t burn, as our cats hate them.  There are scented candles specifically for pets’ aromatherapy who happen to be sick or suffering from an ailment, or anxious and transitioning from a change of house or owners.

More importantly,  it’s not just the make or scent of the candle that’s important, if you happen to have a cat with asthma or other respiratory issues or health issues and a compromised immune system.  It’s probably not harmful to light a paraffin wax candle occasionally and out of reach of your cat with health vulnerabilities. However, opting for a soy wax candle instead of the paraffin candle would be a much healthier choice for  your cat as well as you.

Keep the Area Ventilated

Irrespective of the scented candle you are burning and the proximity of the candle from your pet, keeping the room and area well-ventilated is a good practice. This way the chances of accidental accidental exposure of your pet with the soot, vapors or fumes of a lit candle minimize.

What to Do When These Things Happens…

It is understandable, despite our best intentions and efforts, accidents can happen. You cat may end up toppling a burnt candle, getting its paws or whiskers burnt, eat some wax, inhale some of the soot or vapors from the candle, so on and so forth. What to do in such cases? Here is a list of some suggestions as to what do in such cases:

IssueSigns and SymptomsRemedy/Possible Course of Action
Your cat stuck its paw in the flame and it’s burnt…Yowling, limping, discomfort, burnt fur or skinIf the skin merely looks singed, just clean the area out with cotton, apply an ointment and cover it with a sterile gauze, if possible.
However, if the skin is broken, red, swollen, blackened, oozing with pus, then immediate vet attention is required.  
Your cat attempted to sniff the flame of a candle and burnt its whiskers …The whiskers or brows look smaller and uneven.No worries! Whiskers tend to grow back in a little while.
Your cat has eaten waxFrom lethargy to vomiting and diarrhea. Wax tends to get softened up and pass on  its own in the stool. However, if  the cat is vomiting or is straining while defecating and there are no signs of the wax in the stool, then do consult a vet.
Your cat has inhaled the fumes of a scented candle and seem resdry heaving, lethargy, vomiting, shortness of breathDry heaving and vomiting are  signs of the cat tring to get rid of the toxins and impurities on its own. However, if the condition persists or worsens like the cat displaying signs of breathlessness, you should immediately seek medical attention.
Some wax has spilled on your cat’s fur and has gotten stuck.The wax has probably hardened upon contact. You can use a swab soaked in baby oil or coconut oil to loosen the wax from the fur, or use a wide toothed comb  to brush out the wax. More than the stuck wax, the burn or scalding left by hot wax is more of a matter of concern. After removing the wax, examine the fur and skin of the cat closely and use the guidelines given in the first point for burns.  
Table: Safety issues cat owners may face with their cats getting injured when coming in contact with scented candles or candle wax, the symptoms and the course of action.

People Also Ask

Some of the questions usually asked by people when it comes to candle safety around cats are:

Are candles with essential oils safe for cats?

Absolutely! Even when a candle comprises essential oils that are considered toxic to cats (such as, citrus, cinnamon, clove, pennyroyal, pine, sweet birch, tea tree, wintergreen, ylang ylang, etc.), the diffusion of the essential oil in the air once the candle is lit is at a level much lower than what can be considered toxic. This is unless the candle has that essential oil in highly concentrated form, which is unlikely, as there is a specific essential oil to wax formula that needs to be followed. On the other hand, when the same oils are burnt in diffusers and plug-ins, their diffusion in the air is at a more concentrated level, which can pose significant toxicity danger for your cat.

Are lavender candles safe for cats?  

 American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) clearly states that lavender plants are toxic for cats, as the contain compounds like linalool and linalyl acetate, which cats’ metabolism is unable to process. Hence, diffusers and sprays comprising pure lavender oil can be toxic for our cat. However, since the concentration of lavender essential oil and its subsequent diffusion in the air is much lower in scented candles, when compared to diffusers and sprays. Lavender scented candles are safe for your cats. Some of the cats liking or not liking the scent is another topic.

Are Yankee candles safe for cats?

Yankee candles are made from paraffin wax and some have soy wax mixed in them. They may pose certain amount of risk to your cat if it already has respiratory problems. If this happens to be the case, you and your pet are better off enjoying a pure soy wax or bees wax candle. However, if your cat is healthy and tolerate scented candles well, you can enjoy your favourite Yankee scented candle in the scents that your cats are likely to drawn to.

Are Bath and Body Works candles safe for cats?

, just like Yankee candles, are primarily made from paraffin wax. If your cat has preexisting respiratory issues, then you are better off using a soy wax candle. Otherwise, if there is no direct exposure of fumes and vapors from your favorite BBW candle to your furbaby, there is no reason you can’t enjoy it. You may take note that most of BBW’s Bath and Body Work Candles Candles are free of paraffin wax (as per their own claim) and comprise soy and vegetable wax blend. If you would refer to this safety manual available online, you would find the company declaring that some of scented candles’ fumes can be harmful for fish.

To Sum Up

When you share your living space with pets, you have to mindful of their safety and comfort when choosing home fragrances and décor items. Are scented candles dangerous for cats happens to be a common concern of cat owners. Cats have a highly developed sense of smell and those with respiratory issues can react unfavorably to certain scented candles. Paraffin wax candles and those containing artificial scents and ingredients are particularly dangerous for cats. In comparison, soy candles are a much safer and healthier choice for pet owners.  In addition, using common sense and some safety measures can help you burn your favorite scented candles in the presence of your pets and create a soothing and comfy environment for everyone.

References of Research Sources Used in this Article

Salazar I, Sanchez Quinteiro P, Cifuentes JM, Garcia Caballero T. The vomeronasal organ of the cat. J Anat. 1996 Apr;188 ( Pt 2)(Pt 2):445-54. PMID: 8621344; PMCID: PMC1167581.

About author


I am Tia Adaline. I am a self-proclaimed scent enthusiast, a scented candle junkie.
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