HomePet HealthEssential Oil Safety With Cats

1190665_catsDo essential oils affect cats differently than dogs?

As beneficial as essential oils are for humans, dogs, horses, goats, etc., many essential oils can be overpowering for cats. Cats are built differently and need to be treated with a great deal more caution.

Its a Matter of Physiology

Most essential oils are made up of hydrocarbons and terpenoids. In dogs, horses and humans, the terpenoids are transported to the liver to be metabolized after the oils have been absorbed through the skin or inhaled into the lungs. After the necessary metabolic processes occur in the liver and bloodstream, the remaining water-soluble metabolites are eliminated through the urine and feces.

But cats are different. Cats lack the liver enzyme (glucuronyl tranferase) that would allow them to break down these compounds. So it takes much longer for the metobolites to be eliminated from the feline system.

In cats, these otherwise harmless substances can build up in the liver, sometimes very quickly, depending on the amount of exposure. This can cause toxicity problems and liver damage. It’s usually a slow process and doesn’t show up until it’s too late.

This is not the only thing cats are extremely sensitive to. Cats are also particularly sensitive to chemicals, such as insecticides, herbisides,

According to Wikipedia, there are many substances that are toxic to cats:

Substances That are Toxic to Cats:

1112472_petteriSome houseplants are harmful to cats. For example, the leaves of the Easter Lily can cause permanent and life-threatening kidney damage to cats, and Philodendron are also poisonous to cats. The Cat Fanciers’ Association has a full list of plants harmful to cats.

Paracetamol or acetaminophen (trade name Panadol and Tylenol) is extremely toxic to cats, and should not be given to them under any circumstances. Cats lack the necessary glucuronyl transferase enzymes to safely break paracetamol down and minute portions of a normal tablet for humans may prove fatal. Initial symptoms include vomiting, salivation and discolouration of the tongue and gums. After around two days, liver damage is evident, typically giving rise to jaundice. Unlike an overdose in humans, it is rarely liver damage that is the cause of death, instead methaemoglobin formation and the production of Heinz bodies in red blood cells inhibit oxygen transport by the blood, causing asphyxiation. Effective treatment is occasionally possible for small doses, but must be extremely rapid.

Even aspirin, which is sometimes used to treat arthritis in cats, is much more toxic to them than to humans and must be administered cautiously. Similarly, application of minoxidil (Rogaine) to the skin of cats, either accidental or by well-meaning owners attempting to counter loss of fur, has sometimes proved fatal.

In addition to such obvious dangers as insecticides and weed killers, other common household substances that should be used with caution in areas where cats may be exposed to them include mothballs and other naphthalene products, as well as phenol based products often used for cleaning and disinfecting near cats’ feeding areas or litter boxes, such as Pine-Sol, Dettol (Lysol), hexachlorophene, etc. which, although they are widely used without problem, have been sometimes seen to be fatal. Ethylene glycol, often used as an automotive antifreeze, is particularly appealing to cats, and as little as a teaspoonful can be fatal. Essential oils are toxic to cats and there have been reported cases of serious illnesses caused by tea tree oil, and tea tree oil-based flea treatments and shampoos.

Many human foods are somewhat toxic to cats; theobromine in chocolate can cause theobromine poisoning, for instance, although few cats will eat chocolate. Toxicity in cats ingesting relatively large amounts of onions or garlic has also been reported.”

Does this mean that all essential oils should be avoided with cats?

Perhaps the question that needs to be asked is what is the quality of the essential oils used? Because so many essential oils are adulterated or created in a laboratory and completely artificial, they can contain many unnatural, harmful elements. Since we know cats are highly sensitive to chemicals and artificial ingredients, it could be that the toxins in inferior oils are the culprits. There are many cases of therapeutic-grade essential oils benefiting cats, and even saving cat’s lives.

Nonetheless, it’s prudent to be cautious. The cat’s unique physiology makes it difficult for their livers to metabolize the compounds in essential oils, even when inhaled. This is particularly true with oils high in phenols and hydrocarbons. That’s why it’s important to avoid essential oils high in phenols and hydrocarbon monoterpenes with cats.

Low-phenol hydrosols are generally accepted as OK for cats, but not by all animal experts. There are no studies to tell us what the feline tolerance is to hydrosols. Many people use them with great success. Others avoid them.

Here is a partial list of essential oils that should be avoided with cats from
Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals by Kristen Leigh Bell. (This list is not necessarily inclusive and there are no assurances of it’s accuracy).

Essential Oils to Avoid with Cats*

Essential Oils High in Monoterpene Hydrocarbons

Lemon

Lime

Orange

Bergamot

Tangerine

Pine

Mandarin

Spruce

Grapefruit

Fir

Essential Oils High in Phenols

Cassia (cinnamon)

Thyme

Clove

Savory

Oregano

 

Other sources list additional oils as toxic to cats. According to GreenPaws.org, the following essential oils are very toxic to cats:

Citrus oils
Bay
Cinnamon
Citronella
Clove (Eugenol)
Eucalyptus
Geranium
Lavender
Pennyroyal
Rue
Tea Tree

GreenPaws.org also states that any products containing linalool (found in lavender and coriander oils, or d-limonene, found in citrus oils), are toxic to felines.

Essential oils that are safer for use with felines include:

Cedarwood
Lemongrass
Peppermint
Rosemary

According to Dr. Nancy Brandt, DVM, Thyme should not be used on cats as it is high in phenol.


Comments

Essential Oil Safety With Cats — 123 Comments

  1. Thank you so much. That helps a lot! I really appreciate the time you take to give us all such thoughtful and helpful replies.

    I’ve decided NOT to use the Woundade. I always prefer to err on the side of caution, and this product sends up some red flags.

    I use Himalayan Crystal Salt myself, so I think I’ll add some to a spray bottle of purified water and try spritzing my cat’s coat with that. I also keep a container of Sole on hand, so I might dab some of that on her irritated spots.

    Thank you for all your suggestions. I’ll also look into DMSO. Color therapy sounds very interesting.

    I’d like to make a comment about one of the ingredients in the Feline Itchy Skin Spritz, if I may — the aloe vera. This is something I learned around the first of the year. I took my cat to her holistic vet for her checkup, and mentioned that I had purchased an aloe gel made specifically for animals, to use when her allergies are acting up. (http://www.aloelife.com/ezStore123/DTProductZoom.asp?productID=16)

    The doctor told me not to use it. She said that aloe is toxic to cats. That really surprised me, because I’ve always heard how beneficial it is for people and animals. A couple of months later I purchased an excellent book titled The Complete Guide To Holistic Cat Care, by Celeste Yarnall, PH.D., and Jean Hofve, D.V.M. On page 125, under the heading “Not all Supplements are Safe for Cats”, it says: “Aloe Vera: It contains a latex-like compound that can cause serious irritation in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract if ingested by cats. It is often preserved with sodium benzoate, another toxin.”

    The instructions for the gel I’d been using said to apply 2-3 times daily, and to give 1/2 teaspoon 1-3 times daily directly in mouth or mixed in food. I’d been using the stuff for a few weeks, so I was really glad that I told our vet about when I did. I just thought it might be helpful to mention this here.

    Thank you again for your help!

    Ronn

  2. Ronn,

    Thank you for letting me know about Aloe Vera. I’m going to put a note in the recipe above. I tried giving Aloe Vera to my cat a while back and he turned his nose up at it – guess he knew!

    I think the sole should be helpful and couldn’t possibly hurt, and possibly DMSO and color therapy. I also wonder if your cat would benefit from being supplemented with MSM. MSM is a naturally occurring source of bioavailable sulfur important in the formation of links between collagen molecules, which provides strength to tendons, ligaments, and joints and benefits the skin. It also helps allergies.

    MSM quality varies widely and it’s hard to get MSM that is pure and doesn’t have fillers or silicone dioxide. ValleyVet.com has MSM of excellent quality.

  3. I followed your advice and ordered a bottle of pure MSM powder (the brand “Doctor’s Best”, which is OptiMSM and doesn’t contain any additives at all – got it at Amazon, 250 grams for $8.99).

    It really seems to have done the trick! I’ve been giving her 1/8 tsp twice a day with her food for about a month now. Her fur has grown back beautifully, and she is no longer itching and scratching all the time.

    Can’t thank you enough for all your help, and especially for your suggestion to try MSM!

  4. Hi, I am totally new with the EO thing, I have been diffusing some oils, spraying, applying to myself, as a cleaners… My oils are different brands, Do terra, swiss Just, and. Native American NUtriotionals, the oils are lemon, geranium, Bergmot, peppermint (used only twice on my daughters bath, two drops each time), palmarosa wich I used on me and my necklace, the one that really concerned me was the Lemon that I used today almost all day long on my ceramic (don’t want to say I burnt it, because I mixed with water about 5 drops) my cats started to act a little bit different, that’s why I came online to read about EO and cats…. So you think my cat will be ok, after I did that? I am monitoring him, seems ok by now, isolated some, just going to keep eye on him, but there is no way I can use this oil again? I mean I have bergamot, sweet orange, lemon, eucalyptus (haven’t used it yet) can you please tell me which ones i can use, or I have to stop using them. I keep bergamot with geranium with me all the time on my locket charm, should I stop. Appreciate, really your help. Thank you.

  5. Vanessa,

    I hope your cat is OK. Be sure to give him lots of water.

    Citrus oils are very toxic to cats and so is eucalyptus. Diffusing them all day when the cat is in the same room/house is very risky. I would not risk it. Your cat may be able to handle one day of it, but over time the outcome couldn’t be good…

    Keeping the oils in your locket charm should be OK, as long as your locket is sealed, but I would put the cat outside when I diffuse, or at least in a separate room with the door closed so the cat doesn’t have to be in the same room with the diffusing oils.

    You can use the oils topically – just wait 20 minutes or so until they absorb before you handle your cat.

  6. Cedarwood
    Lemongrass
    Peppermint
    Rosemary

    These are the only oils you can safely use around cats. I LOVE Lemongrass and use it even as an air/ fabric freshener. Lemongrass and Rosemary in a diffuser is heavenly! Lemongrass and Cedarwood are great at keeping fleas, ticks and other nasty bloodsuckers off your kitties. Just brush it through their fur once a week. You won’t need to use harmful pesticide store bought crud ever again!

  7. Hello All!

    Sorry to not be commenting for a while! Wanted to specifically get back to a couple comments quickly. Katrina – your kitty with the Rodent Ulcer. It may make you very happy to know that I have recently posted a webinar on my membership website on Rodent Ulcers – so you can get a ton of holistic information on this – what we do for steroid replacement (kitty raindrop) what we use for supplements – etc… It is a whole body remedy for sure – but oils are extremely helpful as well.

    But Vanessa’s issue brought me here the most – as cats and oils are my passion. Citrus oils are not truly toxic to cats – when they are high quality. When they are not toxins, pollution, chemicals, pesticides – are concentrated into the essential oil. Or the essential oil is created synthetically in a lab. These are the things that cats do not tolerate :( Do you know which brand of Lemon you used? There are definitely certain brands that I get “over reported” with cats not doing well from. I would LOVE – to actually have a sample of that oil from you – as it is my area of research. I love to document what might be different from that oil to another that would create lethargy, etc… in a specific animal.

    My own cat (a pregnant and very expensive queen) would select to lay next to a diffuser running with citrus oils in it – and had the healthiest pregnancy and litter ever. She knew best – and chose to be near high quality oils. I did blood work before ever bringing oils into my home, and repeated them regularly on my cats as I started using oils. I have no concern when the oils are high quality – but the difficulty is in HOW we know if they are quality or not.

    I am working hard on how we might be able to make this criteria for all companies – but for now – I trust my nose and the use of the oils in animals to tell me more. Since many people contact me – I get a good idea of which companies are having good quality and which aren’t.

    And, even when you use one company that you think is great – there can be a batch variation in the oil – and you always have to trust your supplier and your own nose… Just like milk – I say – even if you buy really high quality milk – if it smells sour to you – don’t drink it! LOL

    I really need to know what brand of oil (a sample would be awesome) – the species (lemon is fine for most) – any lot numbers or data, when purchased if known – and especially how you used it. How many drops – exact diffusion method – pictures are great if hard to describe… How often and how long the oil was used for. How long it took for your cat to be “off”…

    Also has there been any blood work on your cat before or after oil exposure? Any other health concerns…

    All of these things make for much needed information – but it is helpful for all people!

    I am really trying to get to the bottom of things and create an accurate database.

    Usually, once an “offensive” oil has been removed in a situation like diffusion – things go back to normal. But it is still a good idea to have a blood work panel done.

    How were the cats acting different? Some plants are related to catnip – and we have seen cats act a bit “high” and really like them :)

    Melissa Shelton DVM
    http://www.OilyVet.com

  8. Hello my cat Cletus is 2 years old and has always had a problem with eating. I have to feed him extremely small amounts of food at a time or he just throws it all up. Sometime even with the small amounts at a time he still just brings it up. We pick on him and say he has an eating distorter, but it’s really not funny at all. I give him no more then 3 tablespoons of food at a time. Most of the time I have no problem with this but with warm weather coming me and the children will be spending more time hiking, swimming and other out door things which means I will be gone longer and not able to feed him every 3-4 hours like I do now. He is a indoor only cat and has had all his shots and wormed. I have used hair ball treatment from the vet also. Nothing seems to help. If you have any ideas I would love to find a solution!

  9. Amanda,

    This is a tough problem. My first guess would have been parasites, but you already had your cat wormed. It could be a smaller parasite, however, that the worming medicine wouldn’t affect.

    Does your cat seem overly nervous or in a state of stress all the time? It could be a nervous stomach. Could be a liver issue or an allergy or something else. Is there anything in the food you are giving your cat that he could be allergic too? Or anything in the house (like new linoleum, carpet, paint) that could be affecting him?

    Linoleum off-gasses for 10 years, BTW. Some people keep air fresheners plugged in 24/7 and that can really do a cat in. Some people make their cats sleep on bedding that reeks of fragrances from the laundry detergent or dryer sheets – big mistake.

    Has the vet done any blood work? All things to think about.

    Also, I’ve asked Dr. Shelton to take a look at your comment and answer it. She’s very busy so I don’t know when she’ll be back.

    In the meantime, can you leave food out (or put it in a cat food dispenser) when you are away? And don’t worry, if your cat misses a small meal once in a while, it won’t kill him. Just be sure to leave plenty of water out.

  10. Hello Amanda,

    What you are describing about your cat sounds to me most like a food issue. This is common for my clients who have any of these ingredients in their food especially – corn, soy, wheat, egg or dairy. I have a free webinar that you can view on “hairballs” on my website – http://www.AnimalDeskReference.com – this website is part holistic vet consult and part tutorial on how to use oils for animals. I cover all holistic things that we use – but it especially focuses on “how” to use oils as well. I think if you go to this site, and click on demo webinars – and watch that one – it will help you a ton!

    Melissa Shelton DVM
    http://www.OilyVet.com
    http://www.AnimalDeskReference.com

  11. I am too distraught to seem to find the proper place to post this question. Apologies. When traveling to my parents my mother she asked if I wanted to try some stay calm in the cat carrier. I sprayed it in.

    Now my Zeekee is very ill. Lili is not. They were in the carrier together.

    Yes – the stuff had citrus. But didn’t know till a few minutes ago.

    This morning: trip to the vet today because Zeekee was vomiting and had thin diarrhea. The vet looked him over. Vitals fine. Gave penicillian shot bc they think he got some rancid food. He is on a raw/canned diet.

    Now that we are home his hind legs aren’t strong. He was jumping up and down from a window earlier. Granted he hasn’t had water and food in many hours. Tried to get charcoal and water down him. Vomiting was orange yellow. Runny poo smells normal and no blood.

    I was so stupid and didn’t check the bottle label for ingredients. No warning on the bottle but YES citrus oils!!! I feel so dumb. Usually I am the opposite and check every detail about things for them – diet, litter…

    Oils sprayed in carrier about 25 hours ago.

    Any chance these are signs of toxicity from essential oils.

    Any ideas on how long it will take to get theough his system. I am hundreds of miles from another vet in rural America. Trying to keep droppers of water down him but he locks his jaw shut.

    Very upset as you all can imagine.

    Sending love to you and your animals. Thank you for any assistance!!!!!!!!!

  12. Katrina,

    I can understand your being upset! I would be too!

    These symptoms could be from the citrus oils, but they could also be from eating rancid food, as your vet thought. In the post above, Dr. Shelton says that “Citrus oils are not truly toxic to cats – when they are high quality.” If you suspect that the quality of the citrus oils you used may not have been the highest, its a possibility that the additives are what your cat is reacting too.

    That his vitals are fine is a very good sign. And you are doing the right thing by trying to get water and charcoal into him. Charcoal absorbs and clears a lot. A vet would probably hook him up to an IV if he wasn’t drinking for a long time. Keep getting water into him – that’s the main thing to do. He’ll probably pull through if it has been 25 hours already since exposure.

    If he gets worse, you’ll have to get to a vet somehow and have the vet check his liver.

    I truly wish you and your cat the best.

    Rufina

  13. Since we can not use Essiantial oils for flea remendy, what can we use that does not have chemicals? Our cats are both indoor and outdoor cats. They come and go all day and night. I do not like to use chemicals and have been looking for something that will be good but still a holistic/natural flea repellent.
    Will you give me a recipe for my cats please?

    Sincerely
    Sandy

  14. Sandy,

    As mentioned above in the response to Eve,

    “With cats, is far safer to use food-grade diatomaceous earth (make sure its food-grade, NOT the kind used for pool filtration). You can put it in a shaker and shake it on your cat’s fur and over your carpet and work it it. It won’t hurt your cant and it vacuums up later, so it won’t ruin your carpet either. You can shake on the outside perimeter of your house.

    You can also shake it on your cat’s food like salt. My friend shakes 1/4 tsp a day onto her cat’s food every day. She gives her cat small meals so her cat has to eat often and is hungry often. You have to use wet food to do this. It won’t work with dry food. She gives her cat diatomaceous earth continuously to keep the fleas and worms away all year.

  15. Hi! I’m so glad I found this site! Does anyone know whether Bed Bug Bully would be safe to use around my 5 cats? It contains clove, citronella, rosemary and mint oils. I was hoping it would be safer than all the pesticides out there, but after reading here, I’m not too sure. I would not apply it to the cats, of course, but to my mattress, furniture and carpets.

    Any info or ideas would be welcome! Thanks so much!

  16. Citronella is especially bad and the other oils you mention aren’t great for cats either. I would not use them in my cat’s environment! If you are trying to eradicate bed bugs, fleas or any other creature with an exoskeleton from your environment, please consider FOOD GRADE Diatomaceous Earth (not the kind used for pool filters / gardens as it is TOXIC!) Food grade diatomaceous earth mechanically destroys insects (+ eggs, larvae, etc.) by abrading their shells & dehydrating them. It is absolutely safe for all animals (though you want to avoid breathing it in as it can be irritating like any dust). It can even be used internally (ingested) to get rid of parasites. Sprinkling around your baseboards, on your bedding / your cat’s bedding, & on carpets will do the trick. It takes a couple days to kill the bugs so don’t vacuum up right away. I leave it where I can stand to (under the bed / furniture) & it keeps on working. This is readily available on amazon or at pet shops, super cheap & very safe. Google it & you will see how effective it is!

  17. It is very unlikely to have been the myrrh essential oil that caused the cat to die. Myrrh is one of the safest of the essential oils and has been used successfully to treat gum disease in cats. My guess would be that this kitty was exposed to something else while staying at the friend’s home. It is possible that a trace of an oil toxic to cats was on her hands when put the myrrh on the cat. There is also the remote possibility that there had been a processing error on the part of the manufacturer that resulted in contamination of the myrrh with a more toxic oil.

  18. My cat has painful teeth and bad kidneys such that he needs to be given subcutaneous fluids every day. He is now throwing up his food and in pain and we think it’s his teeth but the vet says his kidneys won’t tolerate anesthesia so he can’t help with the teeth. I want to give him oil of oregano because that kills gram negative bacteria such as grow in teeth infections. I read that cats can take this if it’s natural (high quality w/o fillers of any kind) and of course that it must be diluted as oil of oregano is extremely irritating. At the same time I see at many other sites that oil of oregano is toxic to cats because it requires some enzyme (glucaridase?) to eliminate phenols (whatever their source). So…I am not talking about giving this every day but maybe for 3-5 days or so to get rid of infection. What advice do you have on this? Thanks

  19. A suggestion to the woman cleaning up under couches and chairs after a cat who is relieving h=itself there…my sister researched how to stop marking behavior on the web and found that acts don’t like to step on aluminum foil so she put foil down anywhere the cat wanted to pee. It seems to help and even if it did not it would catch the pee before it soaked in to anything. I think it would be easy to put foil under your couches and chairs, so much easier than cleaning up issues afterward!

  20. My cat of 15 yrs who kept inside most of the time turned up missing about a week and a half ago. I came across this website because the I’ve been scrambling for reasons why he just vanished since he never leaves his home. There are so many possibilities and I haven’t given up my search but the one thing I wondered about his the eucalyptus oil I put in the humidifier that night. One of my sons had a cold and I put a few drops of pure eucalyptus oil in but the dropper came off and a quite a bit spilled in the bathroom and humidifier. It’s was strong with the smell so now I’m wondering if my cat left his him because of the smell. I have another cat but she is still with us. Anyone have a similar experience? I would think I could find him near my home though and still my little friend is missing. An important note is he had a hyper thyroid problem. He was on medication for this twice a day to keep his thyroid under control.
    I appreciate any kind and helpful advice.

  21. Lonette,

    Cats are so individual, one might be OK with the smell of eucalyptus, but another might not be able to tolerate it and run off. Then again, it could be an exploring nature that make your cat go off for an adventure. It’s so hard to know.. and so hard to lose your pet.

    I hope your cat turns up soon.

  22. rydra,

    What a brilliant idea of putting aluminum foil under the furniture to prevent your cat from urinating there. It certainly is a lot easier than cleaning up after the fact.

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