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  • Yvonne

Remove Scented Products

Do One Thing: March 2019. This article is part of the 2019 "Do One Thing' series, which focuses on one small project we can do each month to support our dog's health.

Updated June, 2020.


March ... the month where we say hello to spring, and with any luck, will have a chance to open our windows for some fresh air and improve the l'eau de dog that might be lingering after a few months of winter. 

Your assignment for March ...

Spring clean your supply of scented room fresheners - which include scented candles, room sprays, and scented wall plug ins - by removing or greatly limiting how often you use them.

Many people enjoy using scented candles, aerosol room sprays and scented wall plug ins - but there is a not so pretty side to these meadows in a jar. The trouble is that many of these synthetically scented products contain harmful toxins that contribute to indoor air pollution; frequent and long term use pose a number of health risks to people and their pets.

Research indicates that air fresheners and scented wall plug ins release tiny amounts of toxic chemicals into the air. Some of these chemicals include benzene, acetone, ethanol, napthalene, VOCs, phthalates, and limonene (which turns into formaldehyde in the air once it comes into contact with ozone).  Scented candles that are made from paraffin emit small amounts of benzene, toluene and formaldehyde when they are burned.

Concerns About Scented Products

  • Benzene is a known carcinogen. The World Health Organization states: "Human exposure to benzene has been associated with a range of acute and long-term adverse health effects and diseases, including cancer and aplastic anaemia."

  • Formaldehyde is classified as carcinogenic. The Environmental Protection Agency lists formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen and has been evaluating the link between leukemia and formaldehyde.

  • Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors and The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies one type of phthalate, diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), as a possible cause of cancer.

What Does This Mean For Our Dogs?

Now that you know about some of the hazardous and toxic chemicals that result from the use of scented home products, you might wonder how this affects your dog. 

While only tiny amounts of toxic chemicals are released per use, there are concerns about the cumulative, long term effects of these chemicals on our health and the health of our pets.

Dogs, due to their smaller size and accelerated life span compared with humans, are particularly susceptible to health conditions related to indoor air pollutants. Many of the chemicals in scented products eventually settle to the floor... where dogs spend their lives. They lick their paws and fur which increases the amount of toxic chemicals that enter their bodies. Many dogs spend the majority of their lives indoors, which further exposes them to the health risks of indoor air pollutants.

Just because a dog doesn't show obvious and immediate signs that he is experiencing respiratory distress (watery eyes, sneezing, coughing) from these scented products does not mean that his health isn't being affected by them.

The Environmental Protection Agency states:

Health effects from indoor air pollutants may be experienced soon after exposure or, possibly, years later.

Scented home products can potentially increase your dog's risk of asthma, respiratory disease, hormone related disorders, and cancer.

It's a privilege to share our homes with a dog, and as loving pet owners we like to consider their comfort in our homes: animals are much more sensitive to smells than people. A dog's sense of smell is about 10 000 - 100 000 times stronger than humans, so you can imagine how strong scented air fresheners must be for a dog!

While lighting a paraffin scented candle once in a while is most likely fine, we should be aware that frequent, prolonged use is not a good idea. Cancer rates in dogs have increased dramatically over the last few decades, and we now see cancer rates in dogs of about 50%. I believe it's always wise to choose the less toxic pathway, and my best advice would be to err on the side of caution and not use these products.

Safer, Dog-Friendly Ways to Make Your Home Smell Fresh

  • Open a window and let in fresh air.

  • Buy pet-friendly houseplants.

  • Use unscented 100% natural beeswax or soy candles and allow your dog to leave the room while the candle is being burned.

  • Invest in an air purifier.

Special Note About Diffusing Essential Oils

  • Diffusing essential oils has become quite popular, and many people report a range of health benefits from them. Keep in mind that essential oils are largely unregulated. 

  • If you use essential oils and you have a dog, be extra sure of their purity, and make sure you use oils that are dog safe. Some of the essential oils that are NOT safe for dogs are: undiluted tea tree, oil of cinnamon, citrus, pennyroyal, pine, sweet birch, wintergreen, ylang ylang.

  • Allow your dog to leave the room when diffusing essential oils, and it's especially important to let him sleep in another room if you use an essential oil diffuser at night.

Knowledge is power and the best decision is an informed decision.

Further Reading

This June, 2020 article from National Geographic is an excellent look at a recently published study that shows dogs and humans carry the same toxic chemical load.

The article states:

Many everyday items, from food packaging to cosmetics, contain harmful substances, such as pesticides; flame retardants; and phthalates, which are used to soften plastic. Long-term, chronic exposure to these three common chemical groups has been linked to diseases in people, including several types of cancer.

As always, I encourage you to research and make the best decisions for your dog. Good luck and see you in April!

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