When it comes to at-home relaxation, there’s nothing better than settling in with a glass of wine and lighting a nice, scented candle for some ambience. It’s probably not something you think twice about. But if you have a canine companion in your house, could candles be doing them more harm than good? Are candles bad for dogs?
Candles in the U.S. are a serious business—with the market valued at over $7.15 billion. By 2028, that’s predicted to reach $13.38 billion. Many pet parents will have a candle in their home, but should you be worried about their effects on your dog? Let’s take a closer look.
Do Candles Contain Harmful Ingredients?
All candles release chemicals into the air as you burn them, but there isn’t any definitive research that those released from unscented candles can cause health problems. Candles also release particulate matter, and prolonged exposure to this may lead to heart and lung problems over time, although that’s still being researched.
Paraffin is the most widely used wax for candles, although candles can also be made with beeswax, palm wax, and soy wax. Paraffin is a petroleum by-product and releases soot into the air as it burns. Soy, beeswax and palm are natural materials and release less soot than paraffin candles.
Are Scented Candles Toxic?
Scented candles contain additional volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which create those appealing smells. But they can sometimes also contain other VOCs including benzine and formaldehyde, which are carcinogenic. But, research found that the quantities of these compounds in candles are well below levels that could cause health issues.
Some candles made by disreputable manufacturers may contain contaminated oil, or synthetic fragrances. The manufacture of candles with lead wicks has been banned in the US since 2003, as has their importation.
You might be tempted to light a scented candle to mask the occasional doggy stink… but should dog owners avoid candles and incense, or can you find dog-safe candles or pet-safe candles?
Are Candles Bad for Dogs?
We asked Dr. Erin Downes, co-founder of Paoli Vetcare for her advice. “The short answer is—in general, candles are safe for dogs. As with any scientific question though, the best answer to this question has certain caveats and nuances we need to consider,” she says. Let’s explore those in a little more detail.
Candle Dangers for Dogs
If you are going to light candles around your dog, it’s worth considering some potential dangers and how you can reduce those risks.
Are Scented Candles Bad for Dogs?
While burning scented candles is generally considered safe for dogs, our canine companions have a far better sense of smell than we do. Downes notes that dogs “may be more likely to be irritated by odors.”
She recommends avoiding candles that contain essential oils. “Although there is a lot of variability, a number of essential oils are straight up toxic to pets,” she adds.
What To Do if Your Dog Ate a Candle
Some scented candles might smell delicious to your dog and they might not be able to resist having a nibble or even eating the whole thing. If you think your dog has eaten a candle, Erin Downes shares her recommendations for what to do next.
“Most ingredients in candles are not toxic and should not cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract. Soy, paraffin, and wax are not poisonous, but some additives—like dyes and scents — are potentially problematic. If possible, get the list of ingredients and call the ASPCA Poison Control Center hotline to ask for advice,” she says.
Should you be worried about other parts of the candle too? Potentially, yes.
“An additional concern is the possibility that the wick or metal parts may cause damage to the intestines. Consult your veterinarian, as they may want to induce vomiting or take an X-ray,” says Downes. “If your vet advises ‘watchful waiting’ — you should observe your dog carefully over the next week and seek veterinary care immediately for symptoms such as lethargy, vomiting, constipation, or decreased appetite. Hopefully, the ingested material will pass through your dog’s system without incident.”
What To Do if Your Dog Burns Themselves on a Candle
Accidents happen—and it’s always best to be prepared. If you are burning candles while your dog is in the house, here’s Erin’s advice for what to do for hot wax or burn injuries.
For Hot Wax or Minor Injuries
Step 1: If hot wax gets on your dog, you should immediately submerge the area in cold water and keep it there for 10-20 minutes (or as long as your dog will let you!) before trying to remove the wax. This is most easily done in a bathtub, sink, or bucket with ice cubes. If it’s an area that’s hard to submerge, apply cold compresses.
Step 2: Next, remove the wax. Clip off the hair that is coated with wax.
Step 3: If there’s wax coating the skin, you may remove it—but only if it lifts off easily. If the wax doesn’t lift up easily, it’s best to have a vet assess the injury because there’s also likely to be significant damage to the skin which may require specialized care or surgery.
Step 4: If the wound is minor, apply an over the counter antibiotic ointment and cover with a sterile dressing, if possible. Change the dressing every 24 hours and prevent your dog from licking the area.
For Burn Injuries
Step 1: If there is a large area affected or the burn is severe, seek veterinary care immediately for pain relief and prescription burn ointment like silver sulfadiazine.
If in doubt, always seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.
Dogs and Smoke Inhalation
Should you be worried about your dog breathing in smoke from candles? “While you are highly unlikely to see an acute problem from exposure to candle smoke or incense in dogs, there are theoretical concerns to consider,” Downes says. “Smoke is composed of ultra fine particles and chemicals that may cause problems for both humans and pets with prolonged exposure.”
Is Incense Safe for Dogs?
Incense sticks or cones contain concentrated resins or powdered fragrances. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that burning incense can increase the potential of health conditions including contact dermatitis, asthma, and even cancer.
As such, it’s probably best to avoid burning a lot of incense around your dog. If you do burn incense, always keep a window open for ventilation.
Dog Candle Safety Tips
If you’re burning candles around your dog, here are some safety tips to keep in mind:
Keep candles out of reach. Place candles on high surfaces where your dog can’t reach them and avoid keeping them on surfaces where a dog’s tail, fur, or ears may accidentally brush or hit the candles.
Look for natural ingredients and limit strong scents. Choose candles made from natural waxes that release less soot than paraffin wax. Use unscented or lightly scented candles if possible.
Always supervise. Never leave your dog unattended around burning candles.
Contact your vet if you’re concerned. Contact your vet if you think your dog is having any adverse reactions.