a close up of multiple burning incense sticks

Is Incense Bad For Cats?

Is incense bad for cats? Can incense kill cats? The short answer is that you shouldn’t burn incense near cats. They can develop asthma from incense and suffer from smoke inhalation. Read on to learn more…

Are you a fan of burning incense at home? This aromatic meditation and prayer accessory has a long history of use, extending back to some of the most ancient religions on earth. Responsible cat owners who like burning incense want to know is incense bad for cats?

Incense was popular in religious ceremonies in Ancient Egypt and Greece and across Asia in China, Tibet, India, and Japan.

The word incense comes from the Latin “to burn.” Today, incense has many different uses across the world. Some people use it to enhance the atmosphere at religious services, while others use it to chase away bad spirits, and some just like the smell around their home.

Incense comes in a variety of different scent profiles, with everything from lavender to cannabis-scented fragrances. However, while cat owners might enjoy the pleasant smell wafting around your home, your cats might not find it as agreeable. Is incense bad for cats?

close up of seven burning incense sticks

Is Incense Bad For Cats?

Incense might smell great to you, but your cat probably detests your habit of burning this material in your home. Incense creates smoke when burned, and it collects in your home or room.

You might not notice it as much as your cat, and while you can breathe easily, your cat is looking for the nearest exit.

Incense consists of various plant materials and extracts collected to a stick when wet and dried in preparation for burning.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), incense may contain carcinogenic contaminants that increase lung cancer risk and other adverse health disorders like skin irritation, asthma, and eye problems.

Cats have a stronger sense of smell and sight than humans, and their eyes are larger in proportion to their heads than in people. As a result, they have a greater sensitivity to the smoke created by burning incense.

Burning incense in your home regularly may cause the onset of asthma in your cat, with the leading cause of the condition in felines being smoke inhalation.

Your Cats Sense Of Smell

Your cat’s sense of smell is between nine and twelve times stronger than yours, and they have extremely sensitive lungs that can’t handle smoke exposure.

When you light incense and burn it, it’s a pleasant smell as it fills the room. However, if you want to experience what it’s like for your cat, imagine locking yourself in the shower and burning the incense in that small space – it’ll choke you out in a matter of minutes.

Cats’ lungs are sensitive and have a much smaller capacity than humans. Therefore, overexposure to smoke occurs easily in cats, especially in poorly ventilated areas. Regular exposure to smoky environments may cause the development of asthma in your cat.

Cats also have greater sensitivity to smell, and they rely on it for survival. It might surprise you to learn that cats utilize a dual-smelling system unique to felines and canines in the animal kingdom.

Your cat has regular scent receptors picking up aromas in the air. However, cats also have a secondary smelling mechanism in the roof of their mouth. The “vomeronasal organ” detects pheromone signatures that the cat’s normal scent receptors don’t pick up.

The cat uses this organ to detect the biological data in territorial markings, determining the other cat’s biology and sexual health, all with a sniff.

cat having heart listened to by a vet with a stethascope

What Are The Symptoms Of Smoke Inhalation In Cats

Cats experiencing excessive exposure to incense smoke may start to develop respiratory issues that affect their health. Smoke inhalation may cause issues like neurological dysfunctions, along with respiratory issues such as secondary pneumonia.

The incense smoke impairs the delivery of oxygen to the blood while irritating the mucous membranes. If you notice your cat starting sneezing fits or coughing a few minutes after lighting the incense, they’re letting you know it doesn’t agree with them.

Cat’s have a funny way of showing you they don’t agree with what you’re doing. Look for the following signs in your cat that show they’re having a hard time dealing with the incense.

  • Your cat might start breathing with its mouth open.
  • Your cat might start panting and taking shorter breaths.
  • Your cat might show erratic breathing patterns showing it’s struggling with handling the smoke.
  • Coughing is common after a few minutes of exposure to smoke.
  • Your cat will squint its eyes or close them completely.
  • The cat’s eyes may start watering, or they might start pawing or grooming around the eyes.
  • Your cat might start vocalizing its discomfort to you in cries or mews.
  • Your cat might stand by the door mewing at you to let them out.

If your cat does ask for you to let them out, comply with their request, or put them in another smoke-free room.

a cat panting whilst walking outdoors

How Can I Keep My Cat Safe While Burning Incense?

The best way to keep your cat safe when burning incense is not to burn it. However, we realize it’s a religious rite for many people that are also cat owners.

If you enjoy burning incense, do it in rooms with plenty of ventilation. Avoid burning it in areas of the home that have no windows or open doors. Try to burn incense in a dedicated room of your home, away from your cats.

Are There Any Cat-Friendly Incense Alternatives?

Incense is dirty. Like all other smoke, it gets over the paint on the walls and the ceiling of your home, causing stains. The smoke also penetrates the fibers of your couch and curtains.

While the incense smoke smells pleasant during the burn, stale incense smoke hanging on your curtains might not be as attractive.

Fortunately, there are plenty of incense alternatives for homeowners. If you’re not using incense for religious reasons, then there are much better alternatives to keep your home smelling fresh.

Diffuser sticks are a good choice; they soak up essential oils from a jar, dispersing them into the air. You get hundreds of fragrance options to suit your needs.

Himalayan sea salt lamps are becoming attractive for people looking for an alternative way to clean the air at home.  

An essential oil diffuser works the same as the diffuser sticks but more efficiently. Use it in combination with cat-friendly fragrances.