Is Burning Incense Bad for Dogs?


woman with incense

I like to burn incense around the house. But I also have a dog, and I care tremendously about his health. So I decided to do some research into whether or not the incense that I burn may actually be harmful to my dog.

So is burning incense bad for dogs? Yes, burning incense around dogs is bad for them. Burning incense emits smoke which contains a number of chemicals known to cause disease and other health problems in humans and animals, so it is advised to only burn incense around your dog in open areas that are well ventilated.

Many people wrongfully assume that because incense is burned so freely and actually smells good, that there is no harm in the smoke. This is simply not true. So let’s take a closer look at exactly what is in the incense that we burn.

Harmful Chemicals Emitted From Burning Incense:

  • benzyne
  • carbon monoxide
  • sulfur dioxide
  • formaldehyde

Types of Incense

While incense is most commonly sold in stick form, it is also manufactured in other ways:

  • sticks
  • joss sticks
  • coils
  • cones
  • rope
  • rocks
  • charcoal
  • smudge bundles
  • powders

What Is Stick Incense Made Of?

A breakdown of the materials used in incense:

Herbal and Wood Powders

  • Glycyrrhiza uralensis: Chinese licorice. A flowering plant from the legume/bean/pea family.
  • Cinnamomum cassia: Chinese cinnamon from the bark of an evergreen tree or shrub. This is what we are usually getting when we purchase cinnamon in the U.S.
  • Nardostachys: A flowering plant from the valerian family. It is used both as a perfume and as medicine.
  • Foeniculum vulgare: Commonly known as fennel, it’s an aromatic flowering plant from the carrot family. We use it to flavor all types of food and drink.
  • Rheum officinale: Also known as Chinese or Indian rhubarb. Its stalk is eaten both raw and cooked. In Indonesia it is also used to manufacture a traditional Javanese cigarette.
  • Radix Aucklandia: Part of the Daisy family, it has a wide range of uses – from treating indigestion and anorexia to a hair coloring agent. It has also been traditionally used to protect clothes from moths and other damaging insects.
  • Asarum: It is called wild ginger because it smells and tastes similarly. In the U.S. consumption of Asarum is warned against by the FDA, as it contains aristolochic acid, a potent carcinogen.
  • Magnolia: This is a flowering plant family, it also includes trees and shrubs. The fragrance from Magnolia comes from its essential oils.
  • Eugenia caryophyllata: Also known as clove, it is commonly used in cigarettes (though since 2009 they are classified as a cigar in the U.S.). Clove oil is also used as an ant repellent – it disrupts scent trails and kills ants on contact.
  • Ocimum basilicum L.: This is what we know as basil. It’s used in food preparation, both raw and cooked.

Adhesive Powder

This is comprised of the powdered bark of a rainforest tree called Litsea glutinosa. Also known as bolly beech, sycamore, and brown beech.

The powdered bark itself is known as jiggat. The bamboo stick is first soaked in it and then covered with fragrance, along with wood and herbal powders.

It is dipped and dried several times, similar to candle production.

Fragrance in incense

  • Lysimachia foenumgraecum: A flowering plant.
  • Juniperus chinesis: Also known as a juniper shrub or tree.
  • Liquidambar formosana Hance: This is a species of tree also known as the Chinese sweet gum.
  • Santalum album L.: This is a tropical tree also known as Indian sandalwood.
  • Musk abrette: This is an aromatic plant which also has medicinal purposes.
  • Musk ketone: This is a synthetic compound which is used in many perfumes and cosmetics. (It was made by accident by a German chemist when he was trying to find a better way to produce TNT!)
  • Musk xylene: This is a synthetic musk fragrance. It is used in perfumes and many other consumer product.

Pet Asthma

Just like you, your dog has the unfortunate ability to develop asthma.

Asthma is a respiratory condition where your dog has repeated episodes of wheezing, coughing, or difficulty breathing.

Interesting fact: Asthma is most common in dog breeds which have flat faces – breeds like:

  • Bulldogs
  • Bull Mastiffs
  • Boston Terriers
  • Boxers
  • Pugs
  • Shih Tzus
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Pekinges

Dogs also have the same asthma triggers as many people. These include:

  • smoke
  • aerosol sprays
  • grasses
  • pollens

An asthmatic dog may tip you off through its behavior of the problem. So be aware of the following symptoms:

  • intolerance to exercise
  • heavy or labored breathing
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss

If your dog has asthma, burning incense carries with it the very real possibility of triggering it.

And if your dog does not have asthma, be aware that exposure to burning incense can actually cause it.

If you do choose to burn incense around an asthmatic dog, be sure that you do it only in extremely well-ventilated areas.

Where to Place Incense When Burning It

Aside from incense smoke being harmful to your dog, remember what is producing the smoke – heat. Burning incense is a fire hazard!

The first and most important rule is to never leave incense burning in a room with your pet unattended.

Also, remember that lit end of incense will burn anything with which it comes into contact. This includes your pet’s fur. It is important to place lit incense where your dog will not brush up against it.

So if you have a dog, make sure that you place it on an elevated surface. Be aware not to burn incense on any surface which is the same as your dog’s height.

And remember that happy dogs wag their tails. Be aware of this, and keep burning incense away from where your dog’s tail may come into contact with it.

Besides potentially burning your pet if it comes into contact with it, incense also presents a fire hazard if knocked over.

Unlike a candle, incense will most likely not go out if it falls over. Incense will continue to burn anything which it contacts. Carpets are especially vulnerable.

Proper Ventilation

Fans and Air Purifiers

As previously mentioned, it is advised to burn incense only in well-ventilated areas. This holds true when burning it around both people and animals.

However, sometimes this is not practical or possible. For example, if you live in a place with extremely cold winter weather, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to keep a door or window open when it’s freezing outside.

One option is using keeping the door to a room open and using a fan to spread out the smoke to other open areas.

If you are burning incense where this is not possible, consider using an air purifier.

There is a wide range of air purifiers on the market today, and they span a huge spectrum in terms of quality and price. So if you plan on buying one, make sure that you do your research.

Is There Any Incense That Is Safe for My Dog?

Unfortunately, the answer here is no. Anytime that you burn incense, it is going to emit smoke. All smoke contains particulate matter which is potentially harmful to both you and your pet.

Some companies offer incense which they advertise as pet-friendly. But what they are actually selling is a fragrance which they are suggesting that your dog will enjoy.

Even if their claims are completely true, it doesn’t change the fact that they are still selling incense which is meant to be burned, and which still produces toxic smoke.

So be aware of this, and understand that there is no such thing as a truly pet safe or pet-friendly incense.

Alternatives To Burning Incense

Fortunately, you still have options which will allow you to create aromatic scents around your home without doing harm to your dog.

Oil Diffuser

oil reed diffuser

Consider using an oil diffuser. An oil diffuser uses a base filled with aromatic oil and reeds coming out of it to distribute scent. There are tons of different types of aromatic oil scents which can be used in an oil diffuser.

This oil reed diffuser from Chesapeake BayOpens in a new tab. is a great product. It’s relatively inexpensive, comes with everything you need, and it lasts up to 3 months. I find that the scent is pleasant while not being overbearing.

Opens in a new tab.

You still need to be aware of how your dog reacts to different smells. Not all concentrated scent compounds are safe to use around dogs.

So if you do choose to use an oil diffuser, be sure to check with your veterinarian first.

There is plenty more to cover on this subject, and you can find it here in a great post on aromatherapy and dogs.

Scented Candles

Scented candles can work as a safe alternative to incense for use around your dog.

But be aware, not all candles are created equal.

Most candles are made from paraffin. Paraffin is actually a petroleum product which contains carcinogens. These carcinogens are released when a candle is burned. These include:

  • Lead: This is contained in the core of many candle wicks. It is used to stiffen the wick in order to keep it out of the melted wax. When burned, particles spread throughout the air and get deposited on surfaces.
  • Benzene: This especially affects pregnant animals by being harmful to their developing fetus. It can also damage the blood and immune system, as well as cause cancer.
  • Toluene: In animals, it has been shown to have a toxic effect on their liver, kidneys, and lungs. It can also impair their immune system.
  • Acrolein: This can affect the gastrointestinal health of animals. Effects include hyperplasia (precancerous), ulceration, and hemorrhage.

Dog Safe Candles

There are however candles which are not made from paraffin and are safe to burn around your dog.

Soy candles: (with a cotton wick) These actually burn longer and cleaner than paraffin candles. Soy candles are non-toxic to either humans or animals.

I highly recommend trying out Mrs. Meyer’s Soy Candles. They are cruelty free, as the ingredients are never tested on animals, and seem to burn forever. Reasonably priced, and they smell great as well.

Beeswax candles: Similar to soy candles, beeswax candles burn cleaner and longer than paraffin candles. And they do not emit harmful toxins into the air.

If your preference is a beeswax candle, you may want to give this a try made by Candle by the HourOpens in a new tab.. These particular beeswax candles are self extinguishing, have a really long burn life, and they simply just look great with a classic and rustic design.

When burning any type of candle, remember that candles are a very real fire hazard. Take extreme care when finding a proper place to burn a candle.

It is important to burn candles in as much out of the way place from your dog that you have available.

Also, be aware to not place a lit candle on any type of runner or cloth which may be dangling off of the edge of a table or other surface. Your dog may brush up against it and pull it and the candle down together.

Final Thoughts

In summary, it is best to stay away from burning incense around your dog. If you must, follow the above-listed precautions.

And simply use your common sense. If incense smoke is irritating to you or others, although they can’t tell you, it’s also very likely to irritate your dog.

Hunter Reed

I've owned and trained German Shepherds for over 18 years now. I'm originally from Indiana, though I've lived in many different states and traveled extensively. The places change, my dogs don't. German Shepherds have been my constant companions. I love every aspect of training them and simply just having them around. I also enjoy sharing my knowledge about German Shepherds with the world, and I encourage all future dog owners to consider one as a companion as well. Read my story here.

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