We want to make the community aware of a common but little-known danger to an assistance dog’s health: artificial air fresheners.
Aerosolized sprays, plug-in room fresheners, scented candles, essential oils, dissolving solids, and other chemical air fresheners release compounds into the atmosphere that can be hazardous to your hearing, guide, or service dog’s health when inhaled. They’re even more dangerous if the scenting agents are ingested. In fact, chemical air fresheners can be hazardous to human health, too, and to the health of any other animals in the home.
Harmful Chemicals Dissipate into the Air
Air fresheners work by releasing chemicals into the air. They don’t actually deodorize or eliminate odors; they simply mask them. A number of the compounds that accomplish this can cause respiratory tract irritation, particularly in smaller dogs and animals. You’ve probably entered a room where someone sprayed too much air freshener and felt it burn your eyes, throat, and/or lungs. Well, dogs are even more sensitive to these effects.
But many chemicals released by air fresheners are also known carcinogens.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are some of the worst offenders present in artificial air fresheners. They have a low boiling point and therefore a high vapor pressure at room temperature. Their ability to readily evaporate have made them the preferred method of delivery for scented freshening products, but they’ve been linked to certain types of cancer, asthma, and a variety of problems with the respiratory and nervous systems, blood, brain, heart, liver, kidneys, and skin. That’s in dogs and people.
Because they’re derived from plants, and because they’ve been shown to have some therapeutic value, many people think essential oils are perfectly natural and safe. They’re commonly used in aromatherapy and to freshen the scent of rooms in the home. Also, they’re present in many air freshening products.
However, essential oils can be quite toxic to animals when ingested. Never store or use essential oils anywhere where your assistance dog could possibly get to them.
Using Air Fresheners Around Your Assistance Dog
In general, it’s best to avoid using chemical air fresheners in your home. If you do choose to use them, though, some sensible precautions are advisable.
First, don’t store or use them where your assistance dog can get to them. Many products mimic food scents, which can prompt your canine partner to lick or eat them, and this can result in acute gastrointestinal problems or poisoning.
Follow all the instructions and heed all warnings on the packaging. If you’re using an aerosol spray, stick to the recommended amount or less; don’t douse the air with the stuff. Also, make sure you don’t leave any residue on the floor or other surfaces where your assistance dog might end up sniffing at or licking it.
Safe Air Freshening Alternatives
When it comes to keeping the air from becoming stale or smelly in your home, there’s really no substitute for good ventilation. Open your windows when you can, especially at opposite sides of your home to create a cross-breeze.
Many natural potpourris are safer when it comes to the scents and compounds they release into the air. However, dogs are easily tempted to eat these, which is dangerous. If you opt for potpourri, make sure it’s always stored and used out of reach of your assistance dog. Although it’s a little more labor intensive, you can achieve the same effect safely by boiling some flowers and fruit rinds.
There are also various eco-friendly and pet-friendly air freshening products available. These are generally safer for your assistance dog, as well as you and your family. Check the label, and when in doubt, talk to your veterinarian.
Help in the Event of Poisoning
If your assistance dog becomes suddenly ill with symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, lethargy, or loss of consciousness, it could indicate toxicity. If you suspect or know that she ingested a chemical air freshening product or essential oil, it’s an emergency (of course, these symptoms often indicate a possible emergency regardless).
Contact your veterinarian immediately or go directly to an animal hospital. Alternatively, contact the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435; you may be charged a $65 consultation fee. If possible, have the label of the product you believe your dog ingested on hand.