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Are essential oils safe for dogs and cats?

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Are essential oils safe for dogs and cats?
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If you’ve ever wondered, “Are essential oils safe for cats and dogs?”, you’re in good company. In recent years, these natural, plant-derived oils have grown in popularity from their use in aromatherapy, integrative medicine, and more. In this article, we’ll explain the basics of essential oils, which ones can be potentially dangerous to the pets in your household, and what to do if your pet shows signs of essential oil poisoning.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts made by distilling, compressing or chemically extracting compounds that produce a plant’s specific fragrance. These natural oils can come in many forms including but not limited to their pure oil form, air fresheners and diffusers, flavorings, herbal remedies, room sprays, liquid potpourri, and perfumes.

But are essential oils safe for dogs and cats? 

In general, an abundance of caution should always be used when it comes to essential oils, since they can be dangerous to pets if ingested, inhaled, or applied topically. 

Pets react differently than humans to essential oils

Essential oils are lipophilic, which means that they are absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes before being carried into the bloodstream. Once this happens, most humans can metabolize the essential oils and eliminate them through the liver. 

While humans may notice some health-related benefits from essential oils, the same can’t be said with certainty for our pets. Cats, for instance, lack an enzyme in the liver that helps break down essential oils. In fact, essential oils may actually cause a range of unfavorable outcomes in dogs and cats, ranging from corrosive burns to the gastrointestinal tract if ingested, to respiratory distress and even liver failure in some serious cases. 

It’s also important to remember that pets have a much more sensitive sense of smell compared to humans, and scents that we consider to be light or fresh could be too overwhelming for our loyal companions. 

What are the risks of essential oils for pets?

It’s best to avoid diffusing essential oils around dogs and cats. In addition to inhalation exposure to potentially toxic essential oils, microdroplets of oils could collect on your pet’s fur. This exposure could lead to dermal absorption or eventual ingestion once your pet grooms or licks itself.

If you decide to diffuse essential oils in your home, it is recommended that you do so for a brief period, in an area separate from your pets. Additionally, make sure that your dog or cat cannot access the essential oil diffuser – and potentially expose themselves to essential oils in the process.

Even if certain essential oils are marketed for pets – like shampoos or calming sprays – always ask your veterinarian about the safety of these products before using them on your pet. For instance, one study found that plant-derived flea treatments containing an essential oil mixture caused adverse reactions in dogs and cats, while another report verifies the potential toxicity of essential oils despite their antimicrobial effect. It’s always a good idea to check the labels on any treatment or food given to your pets, even if they are labeled as “all natural”, and consult with your veterinarian to clarify any concerns.

Never give essential oils to your pet without the advice and guidance of a veterinary professional and always seek professional advice before introducing essential oils to your pet’s environment. 

Additionally, let your veterinarian know if you have dogs, cats, or other pets (like birds or pocket pets) in the same household. Certain essential oils may be more toxic to dogs than cats (or vice versa), and it’s important that your veterinarian knows the full story before administering treatments.

Essential oils that are toxic to cats

In addition to being sensitive to phenols and phenolic compounds, cats are not able to metabolize or eliminate certain toxins and essential oils. Plus, cats’ frequent self-grooming habits put them at a greater risk for ingesting harmful substances. 

Texas A&M University’s School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences has compiled a list of common essential oils that are toxic to cats. The list is not exhaustive, and you should consult your veterinarian with further questions or for advice.

  • Tea tree oil (also known as melaleuca oil) – This essential oil is metabolized through the liver. Since cats do not have the liver enzyme necessary for metabolization, cats can become ill when they come into contact with tea tree oil. According to one study, tea tree oil can cause adverse reactions in cats, ranging from tremors to central nervous system depression.
  • Basil
  • Bergamot
  • Bitter almond
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Clove Leaf
  • Eucalyptus
  • Geranium
  • Juniper
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Lime
  • Mint (including wintergreen, spearmint, and peppermint)
  • Myrrh
  • Orange
  • Pine
  • Rose
  • Rosemary
  • Sandalwood
  • Sassafras
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme
  • Wormwood
  • Ylang Ylang

In addition to this list, the ASPCA has a complete list of plants and other substances toxic to cats.

Essential oils that are toxic to dogs

Although dogs do not have the enzyme deficiency seen in cats, they can still be at risk when encountering essential oils. According to this list published by Texas A&M University’s School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, these are essential oils not safe for dogs. Always check with your veterinarian with questions regarding oils that may not be listed here: 

  • Tea tree oil (also known as melaleuca oil) - This oil is toxic to pets and can have serious consequences when it comes into contact with dogs and cats. According to one study, tea tree oil can cause adverse reactions in dogs, ranging from tremors to central nervous system depression.
  • Basil
  • Bergamot
  • Bitter almond
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Clove Leaf
  • Eucalyptus
  • Geranium
  • Juniper
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Lime
  • Mint (including wintergreen, spearmint, and peppermint)
  • Myrrh
  • Orange
  • Pine
  • Rose
  • Rosemary
  • Sandalwood
  • Sassafras
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme
  • Wormwood
  • Ylang Ylang

For more information, the ASPCA has a thorough list of plants and other substances toxic to dogs.

Symptoms of poisoning in pets

Your pet may be showing symptoms of poisoning if they have come into contact with a toxic substance, ranging from essential oils to potentially poisonous plants or food. Although symptoms will depend on factors such as the oil type, dose, and route of exposure, cat and dog poisoning symptoms may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Muscle tremors
  • Unsteadiness or wobbliness (also known as ataxia)
  • Blood in the stool/urine
  • Inability to urinate
  • Bruising
  • Nosebleeds
  • Salivation
  • Weakness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Low body temperature (in severe cases)
  • Liver failure

Although these dog and cat poisoning symptoms could be a sign of other general ailments, it is best to err on the side of caution and contact your veterinarian or poison control for dogs and cats if you believe your pet may have come into contact with something potentially toxic.

What to do if your pet is showing signs of poisoning

If you think your pet has ingested or been exposed to a poisonous substance, or if your pet is showing signs of poisoning, contact the nearest emergency hospital, veterinarian, or a pet poison control center right away. Try to provide the veterinarian or poison control hotline with as much information as possible about the potential toxin. In the case of potential essential oil poisoning, bringing a photo of the substance, or the essential oil itself (safely sealed in its original packaging) to the veterinary hospital can help clinicians understand what they may be dealing with. 

Remember: it’s important to follow the advice and specific directions of your veterinarian or help hotline professional. This piece of advice is especially crucial in cases of potential essential oil poisoning. Certain toxins with a fatty or oily base pose a risk for aspiration pneumonia if vomited, so it is imperative that you follow the guidance of a professional before attempting any treatment at home, such as inducing vomiting with peroxide.

These centers are available 24/7 and charge a consultation fee for their services:

If you have further questions or are still wondering if it’s possible to use essential oils safely with your dog or cat, please speak directly with your veterinarian about your specific pet.

The information provided and contained herein are the opinions of Pethealth Services (USA) Inc. which are based on external publication. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice. Pethealth Services (USA) Inc. assumes no responsibility or liability for any loss, claims or damages arising out of the within content.

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