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Are Wax Melts Safe for Cats?

Who doesn’t love a clean abode with overtones of lemongrass or pine? Especially around the holidays, adding spice to the air makes our homes cozy and inviting. Our dwellings become stuffy like those old boxes in the attic, and it isn’t until April ushers in 60 degree days that we can open up the windows and let the dinginess of winter out.

Most cat owners know candles and cats is a sure-fire way to, well, a potential fire. Not to mention a mad dash to the vet’s office if kitty singes her whiskers off. Flameless fragrance items seem like a reasonable substitute and safe to use in the home. I certainly thought that. I purchased a wax melt warmer, found a safe place on the kitchen counter, and proceeded to infuse my home with savory aromas.

Luna, one of my spunky Siamese, had her annual checkup. She was showing some signs of age, so an x-ray was ordered to confirm constipation since her poop production slowed down. A standard x-ray includes the chest to the base of the tail. Something unexpected was discovered in her chest image – spotty white material.

The official radiologist report indicated a “…patchy alveolar pulmonary pattern in the left lung lobe with a bronchial pattern within the remainder of the lung lobes.” This fancy doctor-talk suggested that Luna’s lungs were comprised either by infection, asthma, cancer, or all the above. Severe illness didn’t make sense. Luna wasn’t exhibiting any common symptoms of severe lung disease like coughing or shortness of breath. The decision was made to start her on antibiotics.

The radiologist reported had indicated the possibility of the lung pattern influenced by inhaled irritants. Luna has been an indoor cat all her life in a nonsmoking household. How could she be inhaling irritants? It’s not like she was sneaking off to the garage for a cigarette. We don’t even live on busy street where car exhaust might be a concern. What was it?

Luna got home and that night she took her first dose of antibiotics and then went off to play on her cat tree. While getting dinner ready, I grabbed a new wax melt I was excited to try, flicked on the wax warmer, when the proverbial light bulb went off. Are the wax melts bothering her?

Sure enough, a little bit of internet scouring revealed that every type of aerosolized fragrance is a risk for our pets. Originally, essential oils were considered the big no-no because of the volume of oil that remains thick even when diffused. The oils act like a foreign body and cause pneumonia in cats. The fragrance additives in wax melts contain chemical compounds like Benzene, which is toxic when inhaled. Additionally, paraffin, the primary fragrance source for wax candles, is also toxic. Furthermore, while soy based wax melts and candles avoid the use of petroleum based wax material, the fragrance additives are made with essential oils.

Lucky for Luna, her follow-up x-rays showed resolution of the lung pattern suggesting that the exposure to wax melts likely caused her lung infection. As with many things, having furry family members means we need to be mindful of what they are exposed to in our homes. But after learning all I did about fragrant waxes, it doesn’t seem like a safe thing for people to inhale either.

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