Can Incense Kill Cats?

incense burning cat smell

Many of my friends agree that I would make a great cat. I stretch and nap a lot, can be anti-social at times and my primary sense organ is my nose.

Most would throw themselves on the couch and channel surf after a long day but I perk myself up by making my home smell nice with incense, essential oils and scented candles.

If you have a cat at home, you need to be more mindful when burning incense as it can irritate your cat. But can incense be life-threatening for cats?

Most cats can tolerate a low concentration of incense but it would still be best to not use it in the same room as your cat. Prolonged exposure to the incense smoke can irritate your cat’s respiratory system and be hazardous to cats

In this article, I will shed more light on the possible dangers of using scented apparatus like incense, what safety precautions you need to take and other safer alternatives.

What Are Incense?

Incense is an aromatic material that releases smoke when burnt. It is commonly packaged as sticks, cones or powdered fragrances.

It is mostly made from natural materials but there are some incenses that have added materials to make them smell and burn better.

Incense burning has always been associated with religious usage but many have started to use incense for aromatherapy, meditation and even as an insect repellant.

The range of fragrances that you can find when buying incense is huge. You have the common favorites like sandalwood, lavender, dragon’s blood, white sage, etc.

Why Incense Can Be Bad For Cats?

cat afraid of incense

Improper usage of incense at home can be hazardous to your cat’s health. In more severe cases, it can even be fatal for your cat.

If you are a cat owner who is thinking of using incense or is currently using incense at home, you will need to take note of this.

Here are a few reasons why incense is bad for cats.

When There Is Fire There Is Smoke

smoke coming from incense

In order to use the incense, you need a heat source to light it up. It is through the burning of the incense material that releases the scent.

One big problem when using incense is the smoke itself.

The smoke contains particulate matter that can enter your cat’s nose and lungs when your cat breathes in the smoke.

The presence of such matter in your cat’s system can trigger respiratory problems like feline asthma and allergies.

The smoke can cause swelling and constriction of your cat’s airways, making it difficult to breathe.

Here are some common symptoms when a cat is having respiratory issues:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Panting

When you notice your cat coughing and seems to have trouble breathing, that is a sign that you need to take your cat to the vet right away for treatment.

Such respiratory flare-ups can range from mild to life-threatening so you really need to be mindful of this when using incense at home.

Your Cat Might Hate The Smell

cat hate smell of incense

Not many people are aware of how powerful a cat’s sense of smell is. Many seem to have the misconception that dogs have a better nose than cats.

Not entirely true.

A cat’s nose has scent receptors that allow it to distinguish between very similar scents much better than dogs.

If you have been in a room that has burning incense, there’s no denying that the scent can be rather strong at times.

And this is coming from a human’s nose that is 40 times less sensitive than our cats.

I used to burn incense in my study room and my cat wouldn’t enter for a few days straight.

My friend’s cat Mito is a different cat altogether. Whenever we light an incense stick in her house, Mito will come and stick her face so close to the incense smoke. She was just enthralled at the sight of the rising smoke and smell.

We had to keep her out of the room to make sure that she doesn’t breathe in the smoke and incense smell.

What can seem strong to us is many times more potent when our cat smells it. Even if your cat doesn’t have any respiratory conditions, the smell alone can irritate your cat’s nose and eyes causing them to water.

Imagine sitting next to a pail of white vinegar for a couple of hours.

Some Added Ingredients Can Be Toxic To Many Cats

Before, burning your newly bought incense at home, you might want to take a look at the ingredients label to ensure that it is only made from natural materials.

There are some incense sticks and cones that use color dyes, fragrance oils and other weird chemical compounds.

This can result in filling your home with toxic smoke for both you and your cat when you light it up.

It is best to only use high and good quality incense that only uses natural ingredients. Stay away from any neon-coloured ones or those that contain many unheard ingredients.

Long-Term Exposure To Incense Has Health Risks

Smoke exposure, while the incense is burning, is always a cause of concern especially when cat owners use incense on a frequent basis.

A study conducted in 2009 has found that some of the particulate matter in incense smoke can cause cancer. There is also a strong correlation between the risk of contracting lung cancer and incense smoke.

This is something that we need to be aware of when using incense frequently. Suffice to say having smoke in your cat’s lungs or yours for that matter is definitely not healthy in the long run.

What Incense Are Bad For Cats?

Not all scents are made equal when it comes to burning incense. There are certain essential oils that can really irritate your cat’s respiratory system.

Here are some scents that you should avoid burning:

  • Citrus
  • Peppermint
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Tea tree

These scents contain compounds that are toxic to cats and can cause a more severe reaction when inhaled by your cat. Essential oils are harmful to cats and dogs and they do not have the enzyme to break down chemical compounds like phenols and phenolic which are found in many oils, to which cats are extremely sensitive.

Incense Vs Essential Oils?

incense vs essential oil

The biggest difference when using incense and essential oils is the delivery method. To extract the scent from incense, you will need to burn it which produces the smoke.

You don’t always need a heat source to extract the scent from an essential oil. There are times when I will rub peppermint or eucalyptus essential oil on myself as an insect repellant or when having a headache.

Essential oil diffusers are also widely used to diffuse the smell around the room.

Best Practices When Burn Incense

When I am using incense at home, these are some practices that I will adhere to which makes it safer for my cat and dog.

Use Only Good Quality Incense

Make sure you buy your incense from a reputable brand that uses only natural ingredients. Based on my experience, a good-quality incense stick burns a lot slower and produces less smoke.

Don’t try to save money by using cheap incense sticks that makes your house looks like it is on fire.

Don’t Have Your Cat In The Same Room

Before you even light your incense, make sure that your cat isn’t hiding anywhere in the room. Even though you might feel your cat can handle the smoke and scent well, long-term exposure to incense is bad for cats.

Have Good Ventilation

It is always best to light your incense in a room that is well ventilated. Do not do it with all the windows closed.

Just having the door closed is enough and to keep your pets out of the room.

Have the fan on for added air circulation.

In fact, most of the time when I use incense at home, I do it in my backyard out in the open while I’m meditating or reading a book.

This provides ample ventilation and doesn’t stink up the house.

Air The Room Adequately

If you are using incense inside the house, make sure to air the room or space adequately to make sure there’s no residual odor or smoke.

Using a HEPA air purifier can do a good job of removing as many smoke particles in the air as possible. Change the air filter often to keep your air purifier working well.

Is There Such A Thing As ‘Pet-Safe’ Incense?

There are some brands of incense that claim to be ‘pet-safe’. The incense does not contain any fragrance oil, produces a lot less smoke when burned and only comes in cat-friendly fragrances.

In some ways, it can be safer for our cats as it’s usually the presence of smoke and fragrance oils that can cause an adverse reaction in our cats.


I don’t see anything wrong with using incense at home as long as you don’t do it with your cat around and ensure good ventilation. It is often due to carelessness and ignorance that can make burning incense bad for cats.

I myself have done so for so many years and without any health impact on my pets.

But if your cat has respiratory problems like asthma or allergies, then it might be in your cat’s best interest to not use such a form of aromatherapy at home. Feline asthma can be fatal for some cats and not to be taken lightly.