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Is Incense Bad for Cats?

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There’s nothing quite like coming home to a clean smelling home. But keeping your home smelling fresh isn’t always easy- especially with cats! While keeping up with the litter box will make the biggest impact, many cats owners like to enjoy a little something extra like a candle or incense.

But is incense bad for cats? Yes, incense can be bad for cats. Not only can smells be much harsher to our cat’s sensitive noses, but inhaling the smoke produced by the incense can cause respiratory issues like sneezing and congestion.  

But let’s dive a little deeper into why incense can be an issue for cats and some of the alternatives you can use instead.

Why Is Incense Bad For Cats?

There are three main reasons why burning incense can be bad for cats. Let’s start with the first (and biggest) issue, smoke inhalation.

Smoke Inhalation and Incense

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, burning incense isn’t just bad for your cat it’s also a risk for you. They explain in a 2001 report that “Incense smoke can be a major source of particulate emissions in indoor air. The particulates produced when burning incense can deposit in the respiratory tract. These emissions may contain contaminants that can cause a variety of health effects, including mutagenic effects and airborne dermatitis.”

If that wasn’t concerning enough, consider that your cat is only a fraction of your size and that those particles are likely to have a much bigger impact on your cat’s tiny lungs! Inhaling these particles can not only make your cat uncomfortable but could also lead to respiratory issues like sneezing and congestion.

Sensitivity To Smells

Cats use smell in a way that humans really can’t fully grasp. To put it in perspective, consider that “Cats have more than 200 million odor sensors in their noses; humans have just 5 million. Their sense of smell is 14 times better than that of humans.”

So what might smell like a powerful and soothing aroma to you could be extremely potent for your little feline friend! While your cat is unlikely to have a major health problem from smell alone there’s no need to make our furry friends uncomfortable for the sake of burning incense!

Risk of Fire

You should always pay attention to any open flame you have in your home but you can’t have eyes on your cat and incense every second. While incense already presents a minor risk of fire, when you combine an open flame with a curious cat anything could happen. Especially when you consider the amount of smoke that incense can put out. I know my cat would be interested in swirly whisps of smoke and there’s a good chance she’d take a quick swipe at it to see what’s going on!

This is even more important when you consider how incense is burned. It’s usually burned in stick form on a holder. That stick can easily be broken by a cat and left to fall to whatever is below. Compare that to a much sturdier candle (which still has its own problems) and you can see the issue.

How To Enjoy Incense (Even If You Have A Cat)

What if not using incense simply isn’t an option for you? Whether you love the scent or it’s an important part of your meditation practice, there may be situations in which you just can’t make the no incense compromise.

So how can you still enjoy incense in your home while keeping your cat safe?

Keep The Incense Out Of Reach

To minimize your cat’s exposure, it’s best to make sure the incense is completely out of reach for your cat. That could be somewhere that your cat can’t reach or place it in another room that your cat doesn’t have access to. Just be careful because it really is amazing to see how crafty some cats are at reaching high up places!

Focus on Ventilation

Remember, that one of the big issues with incense is the particles produced by the smoke. In order to limit the number of particles that can settle into your cat’s lungs make sure the area where you’re burning incense has plenty of ventilation. The easiest way to do this is by opening up a window but it’s also important to consider the size of the room.

Use High-Quality Incense

There’s a BIG difference between incense quality and using a lower quality product will result in more unhealthy particles in the air. The main thing you need to for is the difference between traditional incense and “dipped” incense. explains that traditional incense is made using a centuries-old process that combines raw ingredients into a powder form. That powder is then mixed with honey to make a kind of dough that is then carefully rolled onto a plain bamboo stick. This is a delicate and time-consuming process which means it’s also more expensive.

Dipped incense on the other hand is the low-cost and mass-produced version. Instead of a plain bamboo stick (which has a clean burn), this process adds sawdust or charcoal powder to the stick. These sticks are sometimes treated with chemicals as well before they’re dipped into a scented mix. So instead of the clean and more natural burn of traditional incense, you have a mix of chemicals burning along with your scent!

That means more particles, more smoke, and more health hazards for you and your cat. If you absolutely must burn incense, make sure you’re paying extra to get a quality product. While you’ll need to find your own preferred scent, here’s an example of traditional incense on Amazon from Nippon Kodo.

Incense Alternatives

There are plenty of excellent cat-friendly alternatives to incense that can make your home smell great or enhance your meditation without producing any harmful smoke.


Febreeze gets a bit of bad rap in the feline world from unfounded rumors that’s its a danger to cats. However, the ASPCA reports that after careful evaluation from their veterinary toxicologist Febreeze is safe to use around pets. Of course, you still want to follow the instructions on the label and don’t allow your cat to come in contact with the wet products.

It’s also worth noting that this is specific to the Febreeze fabric air fresheners (you can find them on Amazon here) and not the aerosol air fresheners. All aerosol air fresheners have the same problems that make them unsafe for cats. You can read more about that on PetMD by clicking here.

Air Purifiers

While an air purifier won’t actually add any smells to your home it can help reduce odor. Air purifiers essentially sanitize the air and remove harmful particles (like smoke debris) from the air. The big difference between an air purifier and something like incense or a candle is that air purifiers actually remove the odor by cleaning the air instead of just covering it up. That means you’re actually addressing the root of the problem.

My favorite air purifier is one from LEVOIT which you can find on Amazon. I’m a light sleeper and this is the quietest air purifier I’ve been able to find. It’s also one of the stronger ones as I really think I can feel a difference in the entire house and not just the room it’s in.

Create Your Own Kitchen Scents

Using your stovetop or oven you can make your entire home smell great! One of the more popular methods is creating stovetop potpourri to create your own simmering aromatic. You can find a lot of recipes on YouTube for creating these and you can click here to see one of my favorites (but I’d skip the rosemary). Unless you want to purposely keep your cat out of the kitchen using certain smells, make sure you’re using scents that cats either like or tolerate. That means avoiding citrus altogether and a few herbs like rosemary.

But I think it’s even easier to just use your oven to create a warm, pleasing scent that can fill up the entire house. All you need is a little cinnamon and vanilla! Keep in mind cinnamon isn’t a favorite smell for most cats but it ranks a lot lower on the list than anything citrus. I’ve also actually just baked a little vanilla and skipped the cinnamon entirely!

Closing Thoughts

Incense isn’t a great option for cats but with the right management, you can keep cats safe while burning incense. Still, with the EPA labeling incense as a source of indoor air pollution, it may make more sense to look at other more effective alternatives that are also cat-friendly.

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