What Essential Oils Are Safe For Rats?

Got pet rats and thinking that you might cheer them up with some nice smelling essential oils or hoping to cover up their scent with those oils? You might be wondering what essential oils are safe for rats.

Essential oils are not safe for rats as they have a very sensitive respiratory system, therefore you should avoid having essential oils in or near the same room as your rats. Rats are prone to respiratory infections and the use of essential oils will irritate them and cause stress.

However, to be complete we will look at rats and essential oils, which oils definitely must never be used around them, how to deal with the smell of rats and the one case where using an essential oil might be OK when cleaning up after your rats.

Can Rats Be Around Essential Oils?

We found a few people online who thought that there were circumstances where a “trained holistic professional” could use essential oils on rats – given that there is no such thing as a “trained holistic professional vet”, we disagree.

We also found a single scientific paper from Kaewwongse M et al. suggesting that Linalool, Cineole and Thymol might assist with rat stress. Yet, the full paper is not available just the abstract and given that there has been no follow up on this work – we’re going to again, err on the side of caution.

In short, you shouldn’t use essential oils around rats because they have a notoriously sensitive respiratory system. Any heavily scented product, such as an essential oil, can disrupt a rat’s respiratory system.

It is also possible that these products might be toxic for rats as no in-depth studies have been carried out on a rat’s immune-response to most essential oils.

Are Diffusers Safe For Rats?

If you can’t use essential oils around rats, it ought to follow that you can’t use a diffuser to spread essential oils around your rats too.

We can’t be too careful though and we strongly recommend that you don’t dilute some oil a bit and then pop it in a diffuser it isn’t any better. This is simply going to speed up any aggravation to a rat’s respiratory system as it will fully vaporize the oils.

It’s a bit like switching from cigars to cigarettes – they’re both not good for you. Arguing over which is “least bad” is not an argument worth having.

Which Essential Oils Must Never Be Used Around Pet Rats?

We do have a short list of essential oil compounds that have been scientifically demonstrated as toxic on rats and they include:

  • 1,8 – Cineole (better known as eucalyptol)
  • Cinnamaldehyde
  • Citral (which is from citronella oil)
  • Eugenol
  • d-Limonene
  • Menthol
  • Pulegone
  • Terpinen-4-ol
  • Thymol
  • Trans-Anethole

Pulegone is so toxic that it has even caused poisoning in human beings, so you can imagine that rats aren’t going to enjoy it very much.

In addition to the above a combination of black pepper and peppermint oil is, in fact, recommended to drive rats away from places prone to rodent infestations. It’s a form of natural pest control, so you can be pretty certain that blowing mint in your pet rat’s face is not going to be a welcome “treat”.

How To Deal With The Smell Of Rats?

OK, we understand that some people want to use essential oils to keep the smell of their rats at bay. We’d like to point out that this is not necessary if you clean your rat’s cages on a regular basis – rats are naturally quite clean animals and will groom themselves to keep in good shape but they can’t dispose of their own urine and droppings, you’re in charge of that as their owner.

Wipe Out The Cage Daily

We prefer a simple, daily wiping routine followed by a bigger clean about once a week (though this can vary a little depending on how many rats you have and how big an area they have to play in).

You don’t need to spend a fortune on rat cleaning either. In fact, you can easily make your own cleaning wipes at home which won’t cost a fortune.

You need to follow this simple recipe:

  • Get a big Tupperware or plastic container big enough to keep a complete roll of kitchen towels in
  • Put a big roll of kitchen towels in the Tupperware (buy heavy-duty towels, budget ones will just disintegrate in the next step)
  • Take some diluted white vinegar solution (4 parts water, 1 part vinegar) and then use it to moisten your kitchen towels until they are about as wet as baby wipes are

You can then use these wipes to clean the cage every day, don’t forget to put the lid on the container to stop them from drying out.

If you don’t want to follow this recipe, then you can always buy some pre-made anti-bacterial wipes from any supermarket or pharmacy that is safe for pets.

Prepping The Cage For Cleaning

The smell your rats make shouldn’t be coming from their poop. In fact, most rats will be happy to poop only in their litter pans and if you change these pans regularly, they will never poop elsewhere. Even here, rat poop doesn’t smell of very much. If you would like to find out more about how to stop pet rats from peeing everywhere or litter training them, then why not read one of our other posts here.

However, their pee is a bit stinky. That’s because (just like your pee) it’s full of ammonia and if left to hang around for any length of time, the ammonium whiff will get stronger and stronger.

So, those wipes that you’ve just made are for wiping down anything that is likely to be covered in rat pee. Rats mark their territory with pee and are generally unfussy about where they pee, so anywhere that your pets walk is possibly covered in their pee.

Just wipe away these spots and the odor should start to abate immediately. Though, if you wipe all the time, it should never build up enough to stink in the first place.

Then you need to turn your attention to the cage. We’d recommend using plastic protectors to place under the cage to ensure that wiping down for the day is really easy.

You should also put some plastic guards on the cage to stop pee from being sprayed anywhere.

Change Fabrics Regularly

If you keep bits of fabric in a rat’s cage including hammocks for the rats – they must be changed every 3-4 days at the maximum. This is because they’re going to end up soaked in pee.

You should also change the litter regularly as soon as it appears to need it. No need to wait for it to overflow, if it looks poop filled – get rid of it.

Baking Soda

Baking soda isn’t recommended for your rats cage either. If your cage has become a little stinky and you don’t have any time to clean – we wouldn’t suggest dusting the area beneath the cage in baking soda, it will absorb some of the odor, however it could harm your rats.

However, a stinky cage is indicative of poor hygiene and this should only be a very temporary measure. You wouldn’t like to be trapped in a room full of your own poop and pee and your rats won’t like it any more than you would. Try to keep their environment clean at all times.

Deep Clean

Once a week, you need to take your rats out and thoroughly clean their cage, get rid of any litter, clean absolutely everything that you can clean.

It’s fine to use soap and water or water in a white vinegar solution. (The vinegar will better neutralize that ammonia smell).

Then dry everything thoroughly and put it all back together again before your rats move back in.

Can You Wash The Rat’s Cage With A Solution Of Essential Oils?

We’d still prefer that you didn’t but you could use a diluted lavender oil to clean the cage but… first, we’d recommend that you thoroughly rinse it afterwards and we’d recommend you let it air dry for a few hours afterwards so that there is little to no trace of the oil left when your rats move in.


What essential oils are safe for rats? In our considered opinion – there are no safe essential oils for rats. Their use just risks upsetting your rat’s respiratory system and causing it distress. In fact, peppermint oil is often used to deter rodent infestations and several other oils are downright toxic to rodents.

It is easy to keep a rat in clean, safe surroundings which do not smell and do not involve the use of essential oils in any circumstances. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your pets.

Darren Black

I'm Darren Black, the owner, and author of AnimalKnowhow.com. I am from Scotland, United Kingdom and passionate about sharing useful information and tips about properly caring for an animal's wellbeing.

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