Candle safety is more than keeping burning candles out of his reach. What they’re made of is also of paramount importance.

Candles are favorite home décor items. They come in a huge array of colors, shapes and sizes and are often used to grace dining room tables, mantelpieces and windowsills during the holiday season and other special times of the year. A lit candle has a mellow, magical effect, but it can rapidly become a serious danger if you’re not careful, especially if you have an active, curious dog or cat in the house.

Location, location

Ideally, burning candles should never be left unattended, whether you have animals or not. “They present an obvious fire hazard around rambunctious dogs, and even moreso around cats who like to jump up on furniture,” says holistic veterinarian Dr. Marcie Fallek. Candles should always be extinguished when you leave the room, or else moved to another location where you can keep an eye on them. If you’re busy with guests or meal preparation, however, it’s not always easy to follow this rule to the letter. In that case, you need to take extra precautions.

“Candles should be placed well out of reach of animals,” says Dr. Fallek. Keep them off coffee tables and low windowsills. If you have dogs, a shelf, high table or mantelpiece should do it. Just be sure not to place the candle on or near a runner or dangling decoration that could be pulled down by a playful pooch. With cats, you need to be more creative, since kitties can access just about any surface, no matter how high it is. Be very cautious when approaching ceiling height with candles. One woman found that the top of her china cabinet was the only place in the house her cat couldn’t reach – but because it was so high, it was impossible to burn candles up there without blackening the ceiling and greatly increasing the risk of fire. With a cat, you may simply have to ramp up the supervision, perhaps by assigning a family member to keep an eye on her while you’re busy, or else keep her out of the room when candles are burning.

“Placing the candle and its holder in a bowl of water can help obviate danger if it is inadvertently knocked down,” says Dr. Fallek. Be sure the bowl is wide enough to accommodate the full length of the candle, plus its flame, if it gets toppled over. It’s also a good idea to use thick pillar candles with wide bases – they’re less likely to fall over than tall, thin candles.

What are your candles made of?

 CandleWhen a candle is burning, it draws on the wax and wick to stay alight. But what is it giving off as it burns? Depending on what the candle and its wick are made of, it could be emitting toxins into your home environment, and that’s bad for your dog or cat as well as for you.

“Animals are more sensitive in general to poisons, partly due to their size and also to their metabolism,” Dr. Fallek says. “Conventional candles contain many toxins that may pose a risk to your animal. These dangerous chemicals are likely or known carcinogens, neurotoxins and reproductive toxins. We and our animals inhale these toxins into our lungs, and from there they go directly into the bloodstream.

“Unfortunately,” Dr. Fallek adds, “candle industries are not regulated and don’t have to label their ingredients.” If the candles you want to buy don’t label their ingredients, ask the seller or manufacturer for more information. If they can’t or won’t answer your question, don’t buy the candles.

You can protect your animal and human family by being aware of the following candle ingredients and avoiding them wherever possible.

  1. Paraffin: Most candles are paraffin, a wax made from petroleum waste that releases carcinogens when burned.
  2. Lead: Some wicks have a metal core, which may contain lead. It is entirely possible that the lead released into the air will be above the EPA threshold; even low doses can harm the central nervous system.
  3. Benzene: This known carcinogen is emitted from the soot of some candles.
  4. Acrolein, acetaldehyde and formaldehyde: These dangerous chemicals can also reduce the air quality in your home.
  5. Toluene: Found in candle soot, it’s known to affect the central nervous system.
  6. Artificial colors and scents: These can cause allergies and respiratory problems.

When shopping for candles, look for products made in the US or Canada from beeswax or natural soy or vegetable-based wax, that contain lead-free 100% unbleached cotton wicks. These candles burn cleanly and safely – in fact, beeswax candles can actually help purify the air! They’ll be more expensive than regular paraffin candles, but it’s worth it. Opt for unscented candles, unless pure essential oils have been used (even then, use these fragrances with caution around cats). If you want colored candles, check that non-toxic vegetable-based dyes were used. Again, you may have to ask questions and do some homework, but as a rule, makers of quality, non-toxic candles are happy to share what their candles are made of and how they’ve been produced.

By choosing the right products when shopping for candles, making sure they’re strategically situated when you bring them home, and keeping a watchful eye on them and your furry friends, you can help ensure everyone’s health and safety.

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