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Uncovering The Truth About Using Essential Oils With Cats

Posted on May 11, 2018 by Chad Pegura | 157 comments

Uncovering The Truth About Using Essential Oils With Cats

There has been quite a debate raging in recent months over the use of essential oils on cats. Though many veterinarians have been using various essential oils in a variety of applications on cats and other animals for many years with no adverse effects, some cat owners have voiced concerns over what is deemed “safe usage” and what can be seen as “toxic.” When it comes to using essential oils on cats, there are several things to keep in mind to keep your kitty healthy and safe.

Where We Stand On Essential Oil Usage On Cats

First of all, we don’t recommend applying essential oils directly to the skin or fur of any animal. That is something that should be left to the discretion of you and your veterinarian. Though there are many cases where certain essential oils (with dilution) have been applied directly to eliminate fleas, heal wounds, and improve joint pain in cats, it is a personal choice best left to the owner and the vet to determine.

Secondly, we do not condone oral ingestion of any essential oils for cats (or humans). Essential oils are highly concentrated and contain the purest part of the plant or flower that they are derived from. This is what makes essential oils so amazing for use on the human body. The high levels of concentration, however, can be too much for your cat’s system(s) to handle.

Finally, we know that many people have expressed their concerns on our blogs about cats and essential oils. We feel that we have a responsibility to provide honest and factual information regarding the use of essential oils on and around cats. With our voiced recommendations against oral ingestion and topical usage, we want to review the safety protocols when it comes to diffusing an essential oil near your cat.

The Basics Of Using An Essential Oil Diffuser

Diffusing essential oils in a nebulizing diffuser is the most common way to receive the benefits of aromatherapy. For humans, inhaling essential oils through the breathing pathways can help bring relief for a host of illnesses, both mental and physical. These are just a few of the ailments that can be treated with aromatherapy using a nebulizing diffuser:

  • Insomnia
  • Migraine Headaches
  • Respiratory Infections
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Joint and Muscle Pain
  • Nausea and Indigestion
  • Stress and Tension
  • Fatigue and Exhaustion
  • PMS and Menopause
  • Skin Infections and Burns

For this reason, people have been turning to essential oils for medicinal purposes for centuries. Essential oils contain all-natural compounds that occur in nature and are found in parts of plants, flowers, fruits, seeds, and bark. The oils are drawn out during a process that involves steam or cold compression to create the purest essential oils possible. When inhaled from a nebulizing diffuser, the natural chemicals in the oils can stimulate the brain to produce chemicals in your body that heal and soothe various pains and ailments. 

Over time, as people noticed how effective essential oils were at improving health on human beings, some began to use essential oils on their animals to produce the same effect. As many oils have been shown to work wonders on dogs, cats, horses, and even birds, it is still a personal choice whether or not to use essential oils on animals. And again, this is something that should be discussed with your veterinarian.

The Science And The Possible Toxicity

Since essential oils come from the deepest part of a plant, it stands to reason that people would think that any essential oil that is derived from a plant that is known to be toxic would have an adverse effect on a cat.  It is important to note, however, that some plants that are listed as toxic do not produce toxic essential oils. Plus, there are some essential oils that can be toxic if ingested, though the plant they come from is harmless.

Toxicity can come from certain compounds in certain essential oils. In fact, much of the essential oil controversy comes from certain compounds found in a few different essential oils. A cat’s liver can’t metabolize these compounds like a human’s liver can. 

The liver of a cat absorbs, filters, and metabolizes nutrients much differently than a human, or even another type of animal, does. They lack an important chemical that’s responsible for the breakdown of substances that enter the body. Most other animals have no trouble with these compounds, and this is why essential oil safety with cats is so important.

  • Phenols are a group of compounds which can be toxic to cats, but also cause sensitivity in humans if overexposed. This is why we always recommend small doses and plenty of dilution when using essential oils like cinnamon, clove, thyme, and oregano topically.
  • Monoterpene Hydrocarbons (Terpenes) are another group of compounds found in essential oils that can be harmful when ingested or applied topically to cats. They are highly concentrated in oils like pine, cajeput, and petigrain essential oils.

Essential oils that include phenols and terpenes should not be used topically, even if diluted in a carrier oil. Safety precautions should be taken even when diffusing in a room where your cat spends a lot of time. Always leave a door open so that your cat can leave if they so choose.

Toxic And Non-Toxic Plants

Much of the fear that has come out against essential oil usage around cats comes from the plants that are deemed as toxic if your cat were to eat it. But there is a vast difference between a cat eating a large amount of a toxic plant, such as lemongrass, and being exposed to lemongrass essential oil that is being diffused in a room of the home. Lemongrass is actually one essential oil that cats do not like the scent of, and it has been used to deter cats away from certain areas. It has not been found to cause death, but rather digestive problems. If your cat was exposed to any odor she found unpleasant, she would undoubtedly exit the area.

The ASPCA website has been referred to time and time again as a source to discover what plants your toxic to cats. Some of the most common herbs and house plants that are toxic to cats, according to the ASPCA website, include:

  • Tulip
  • Tiger Lily
  • Poinsettia
  • Oregano
  • Onion
  • Iris
  • Gardenia
  • Daffodil
  • Catnip

(Notice that catnip makes this list? And yet cat owners give it to their pets’ everyday around the world.)

Uncovering The Truth About Using Essential Oils With Cats  - Plants

It might be surprising to find that the following plants are just a sample of what can be found on the non-toxic plant list on the ASPCA website:

  • Basil
  • Cinnamon
  • Easter Lily Cactus
  • Fennel
  • Hibiscus
  • Jasmine
  • Lemon Balm
  • Rose
  • Sage
  • Thyme

Though some believe that peppermint essential oil can be very toxic to cats, peppermint is not listed on the ASPCA website as a toxic plant. The same can be said for cedarwood and rosemary. It all comes down to doing your research to discover what to avoid and what essential oils can be used safely in moderation.

All About The Essential Oils

The fact that we do not set forth any recommendations to use essential oils topically or orally on any animals is clear. The question that most people have concerns with is whether or not human cat owners can still reap their own benefits from diffusing essential oils with a cat in the house. The answer on that is both yes and no.

  • Yes, depending on the specifics of the essential oils.
  • No, depending on the specifics of the essential oils.

The specifics boil down to one thing: Pure therapeutic grade essential oils. Anything that is not purely derived can cause illness even in humans thanks to a poor synthetic composition or chemical additives. Never use a cheaply processed, untrusted brand of essential oil even for your own aromatherapy.

Once again, it’s important to keep in mind that diffusing essential oils is vastly different than applying them to your cat’s skin. While it would be wonderful to provide a list of essential oils that you should avoid using around a cat, diffusing is a different ballgame. There are oils that should be avoided topically, but even that depends on the dosage and amount of exposure. We don’t’ believe there are any essential oils that will cause a fatality from one sniff from a diffuser, and very few, if any, that will cause fatality with just one drop.

When looking to avoid essential oils for internal and topical application, take care with:

  • Birch
  • Oregano
  • Clove
  • Wintergreen
  • Thyme
  • Peppermint
  • Citrus-based oils
  • Eucalyptus
  • Melaleuca (Tea Tree)

Uncovering The Truth About Using Essential Oils With Cats  - Essential Oils for Cats

These essential oils have been deemed safe even if applied topically by various sources (Healing our Home, North American Essential Oil And Aromatherapy Experts) so it stands to reason that there should be no worries when diffusing into the air around a cat:

  • Cedarwood
  • Frankincense
  • Helichrysum 
  • Rosemary
  • Cardamom
  • Sandalwood
  • Myrrh
  • Spikenard

What The Essential Oil, Aromatherapy, And Cat Experts Have To Say 

The North American Essential Oil And Aromatherapy Experts uses an expert team of people who have been trained in areas of scientific research, health sciences, and product licensing and regulation to provide the best recommendations possible when it comes to the safety of essential oils. When it comes to the question of “Is essential oil safe for cats?” their answer “Isn’t a simple one.”  They do agree, however, that “diffusing essential oils around cats is one of the safest ways to use essential oils.” They also discourage oral and topical application.

Robert Tisserand is an international speaker, educator, and scientific essential oil researcher who has a passion for both aromatherapy and essential oil(s) knowledge. Working with essential oils for over 40 years, he believes that essential oil safety is paramount. He believes that everyone should use safety protocols when using essential oils; even humans. One should never use large quantities of any essential oil on a cat, but one can “diffuse essential oils around your cats safely, as long as you diffuse small amounts for limited periods of time.”

Meow Lifestyle concerns itself with all things healthy in regards to your precious pet kitty cat. After researching and pouring through the information available about essential oils and cats, they have given some safety tips and advice. Most of this advice comes down to eliminating the opportunity for your cat to inadvertently get into your essential oils. They suggest keeping essential oils in a place where the cat cannot reach them and ingest them, or absorb high amounts of them on their skin. Diffusing is ok, but they suggest avoiding diffusing the “toxic” essential oils around your cat.

What The Veterinarian And Essential Oil Expert #1 Has To Say

Veterinarian Dr. Melissa Shelton - has been regarded with many questions about essential oils and cats. Dr. Shelton has created a full line of essential oils that are made specifically for use on animals for ailments from arthritis to stress. Even after all of her research and usage, she was still cautious about using her essential oils diffuser around her cats at home.

She noticed that one of her cats was drawn to the diffuser, even laying right next to it daily. Dr. Shelton decided to begin monitoring her cat’s blood and urine for abnormalities. After many months of testing, she found no adverse effects and became more comfortable with diffusing essential oils around the rest of her cats.

Dr. Shelton believes that a lot of the information about the use of essential oils around cats is a result of misinformation and essential oil misuse. One needs to know the right oils to use before exposing their pet to any new substance, and education is everything. She has either met or spoken to “thousands of people who use essential oils successfully, and only a few that have had major problems with them.”

What The Veterinarian And Essential Oil Expert #2 Has To Say

Veterinarian Dr. Janet Roark – has used essential oils for personal benefits since 2005. After discovering how much they impacted her health and wellbeing, she began to incorporate them into her practice. She has read and researched essential oil usage extensively and dedicates her life to safe and effective use of essential oils.

She has a list of guidelines when it comes to the safest ways to use essential oils on or around your pet, including your cat. Lower concentrations, dilution, and therapeutic grade essential oils are of the utmost importance when it comes to safety. Some cats are more sensitive than others, and observing their behavior is the best indicator of how they are reacting to the oil.

There Is Still Some Support For Essential Oil Usage On Pets

Having said all of this, there is plenty of support out there when it comes to using essential oils directly on pets.

  • Melissa Shelton has customized blends of essential oils that are specifically for animals, including cats.
  • Robert Tisserand has used tea tree oil to heal a puncture wound that one of his cats acquired without and adverse effects.
  • Janet Roark uses essential oils on all of the animals in her practice topically. She advocates for safety through dilution and only using therapeutic grade oils.
  • Nayana Moag is a certified aromatherapist who has been using essential oils on animals since 1997. She agrees that phenols can have a toxic effect upon application, but that essential oils can be used safely on cats.

They all agree that not every animal should be blindly exposed to any essential oil one can buy from the local corner market. They advocate for the right essential oils used at the right time in right (small) amounts.

Discussing your worries with your own veterinarian can help answer your questions and ease your concerns. Never rely on any information as fact, good or bad. The internet provides a wonderful opportunity for the world to learn and discover things people never thought possible. Educating yourself on the difference between what’s true, and what’s exaggerated, can make the difference between health and harm in many areas. Just because one person believes something and tells everyone about it doesn’t make it so.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to essential oils and your cat, all of the experts agree on these important factors:

  • Do not use topically or orally without speaking to your vet
  • Use only high-quality, therapeutic grade oils
  • Refrain from using the essential oils that can be toxic in large doses
  • Use common sense with exposure amounts and times
  • Allow your cat to leave the room if it so chooses

And finally: Do your research on every aspect of your pet’s health. Chances are, the same people who strike fear in the hearts of others about essential oils on cats haven’t given a second thought to the brand of food that their cat eats every single day. There are foods on the market that contain chemicals that are known cancer-causing carcinogens, grains that can cause allergies and illness, and meat by-products that can come from any part of the animal and are unfit for human consumption.

Knowledge is power and by arming yourself with knowledge, you’ll have the power to keep yourself, your home, and your pets safe and happy for a lifetime.

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Uncovering The Truth About Using Essential Oils With Cats

 

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25 Responses

Mouse
Mouse

January 22, 2019

All I can tell you is that I have a sick cat who has been poisoned by AIRBORNE essential oils. I had no idea there was such a thing as essential oil toxicity in cats or that they can have seizures or even die from the smallest exposure. I know that different cats just like different people! Can react in different ways. But after seeing my poor cat suffer when his only ‘contact’ was the pleasing light scent of quality lavender essential oil in the air. Please, don’t ask if it could have been bad oils, sloppy handling, excessive use, or an accident. None of that happened, nor is it relevant. If you love your feline friends, you will forgo the essential oils, period. My heart is still breaking for my cat. It’s not worth the risk.

Beckster
Beckster

January 17, 2019

OMG, thank you, thank you.
JUST UNPLUGGED 🔌 TWO DOUBLE BOTTLED PINE SCENTED ROOM DIFFUSERS that can last for three months. I didn’t know. I think it may have affected one younger cat as he started drinking water often. Ok, I see our vet is in order ASAP. Thank you again for your information. WOW, we need this info as a lot of households use this very brand and scent of room deodorizer. They advertise as non toxic, safe, natural. I missed the small unreadable print about possible side effects to animals. Your blog just saved my baby 🐈!

Rebecca
Rebecca

January 17, 2019

My cat can’t wait to get in my room at night as that is where the diffuser is! I know if he wants in during daytime it’s because he wants to relax and sleep! I am very stringent in my drops of oil . I know my oil is pure and because of your site I have INFO! I have done additional research and cross checked other questions I had. Gathering knowledge from different sorts has been helpful, yours is the best though, thank you. You get right to the point! TY
Kindly,
Rebecca

Kathie Muth
Kathie Muth

January 15, 2019

I guess the best advice is to use essential oils sparingly and not directly on your pets.

Carol
Carol

January 13, 2019

I never gave a thought to essential oils having ANY effect on my cat, until it did. I had bought a humidifier that had a panel where an essential oil pad could be placed. I applied oil of lavender to the pad, inserted it and still never gave it a thought. After a spell, my very calm and aloof cat began to jump onto things that she never did before. She was drooling and making vocalizations that I now equate to cat cursing. She would run throughout my apartment like her tail was on fire. I don’t remember how I made the connection but when I did I asked a friend who is a Veterinarian and she didn’t have any experience with any essential oil’s effects on animals.

Ernest Miller
Ernest Miller

January 06, 2019

OK. But cats live indoor with humans. So, suppose one uses Lavender essential oil in the bedroom for sleep. Is the kitty doomed?

Please advise.

Karen M
Karen M

January 04, 2019

I’ve had my cat for 3 years, and she has sneezes a lot. I recently started diffusing a breathing blend of essential oil. Now she rarely sneezes. When she does, it’s because the diffuser stopped.

Catgrrl
Catgrrl

December 18, 2018

Because cats lick everything that comes into contact with their fur/skin is why this list is so important. You may not have considered orally dosing your cat, but you must realize applying to their skin means they will absolutely ingest it. SO glad I checked this website first! Pure, organic, oregano oil is my go-to for fighting bacteria, viruses, fungus, skin afflictions, etc., but I learned, it is toxic to cats! Thank you SO much for this article.

Knowledge is key in treating our loved ones responsibly.

Charmaine
Charmaine

December 15, 2018

I had a aresol can that said vanilla orchid anyways i got a oil diffuser and i wanted to check what oils were ok to safely use around my furbaby well i knoticed she had not been right for a week or so so when i chrcked for my oils tgat are kitty safe i remembered yalang yalang was on the toxic list i went to turn the aerosol spray on i thought i might just check what scent it is as i forgot and boom yalang yalang was in tiny writing under the main scent so now i know why my baby was a little off i called her vet the vet said im very lucky it wasnt a actual essential oil or she would be very sick so i took my aresol sprayer off the wall it landed 20 meters up my driveway theres no way in hell ill ever use any oils again or sprays my kitty is worth so much more than a pretty smell im also very supprised that a vet is advocating for essential oils as my vet said absolutely no oil ever

Charmaine
Charmaine

December 15, 2018

I had a aresol can that said vanilla orchid anyways i got a oil diffuser and i wanted to check what oils were ok to safely use around my furbaby well i knoticed she had not been right for a week or so so when i chrcked for my oils tgat are kitty safe i remembered yalang yalang was on the toxic list i went to turn the aerosol spray on i thought i might just check what scent it is as i forgot and boom yalang yalang was in tiny writing under the main scent so now i know why my baby was a little off i called her vet the vet said im very lucky it wasnt a actual essential oil or she would be very sick so i took my aresol sprayer off the wall it landed 20 meters up my driveway theres no way in hell ill ever use any oils again or sprays my kitty is worth so much more than a pretty smell im also very supprised that a vet is advocating for essential oils as my vet said absolutely no oil ever

BZ
BZ

November 12, 2018

This is from animal poison control website.
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ESSENTIAL OILS AND CATS

Kia Benson, DVM
Associate Veterinarian, Clinical Toxicology

Download our Essential Oils and Cats handout!

Essential oils are volatile, organic constituents of plants that contribute to fragrance and taste. They are extracted from plants via distillation or cold pressing. Essential oils are utilized in a variety of ways: as insecticides, in aromatherapies, personal care products (e.g., antibacterials), flavorings, herbal remedies and liquid potpourri.

Essential oils can pose a toxic risk to household pets, especially to cats. They are rapidly absorbed both orally and across the skin, and are then metabolized in the liver. Cats lack an essential enzyme in their liver and as such have difficulty metabolizing and eliminating certain toxins like essential oils. Cats are also very sensitive to phenols and phenolic compounds, which can be found in some essential oils. The higher the concentration of the essential oil (i.e. 100%), the greater the risk to the cat.

Essential oils that are known to cause poisoning in cats include oil of wintergreen, oil of sweet birch, citrus oil (d-limonene), pine oils, Ylang Ylang oil, peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, pennyroyal oil, clove oil, eucalyptus oil, and tea tree oil. Symptoms that develop depend on the type of oil involved in the exposure and can include drooling, vomiting, tremors, ataxia (wobbliness), respiratory distress, low heart rate, low body temperature, and liver failure

Kayla Rhodes
Kayla Rhodes

October 26, 2018

This was extremely lacking accurate information. And who wrote it? A vet? A pet nutritionist? A holistic vet? You don’t even say. Catnip is toxic to cats in large amounts but it doesn’t affect them in tiny doses. Also, you want to express the concern for oils…when you are telling people that Tea Tree oil is okay to ingest. Tea Tree oil is super toxic to humans, dogs, and cats to ever ingest. It is not a matter of, how much… this oil is to not be ingested at all. I will never trust your website for information on anything because you also do not link your “facts” to any research done by credible people.

Al
Al

September 15, 2018

So, it sounds as if quality and moderation are key.

SaraNS
SaraNS

August 24, 2018

This article was really helpful but it didn’t answer all of my questions. I have several cats and I’ve been looking into using a necklace diffuser for my anxiety and depression.
Since it’s such a small amount of oil do i need to dilute it less?
Any pointers that anyone has for using a diffuser necklace around cats would be greatly appreciated.

Ruth Wollerton
Ruth Wollerton

May 21, 2018

I love essential oils and use them constantly, but I wasn’t aware of the benefits for plants. Thanks for the chance xxx

Joy
Joy

May 21, 2018

Interesting, lots of great information.

Joan
Joan

May 21, 2018

Very informative, I had no idea there were blends of essential oils that are just made for pets.

clynsg
clynsg

May 21, 2018

I have to admit that although I have heard of using various essential oils for specific purposes on cats, I had never even thought of dosing the animal with them orally. The very fact that they are concentrated would make that a very bad idea.

Shakeia Rieux
Shakeia Rieux

May 21, 2018

This post is very helpful! I wish I would’ve known this when I had my cats, but I’m glad to know it now in case I get cats again. I will be sharing this.

Margaret Brown
Margaret Brown

May 21, 2018

This was very informative ty

Jeanette Leighton
Jeanette Leighton

May 21, 2018

Interesting article so many aliments that it could relieve would probably be beneficial to me

Janise Roberts
Janise Roberts

May 21, 2018

Loved all the information I don’t have cats but do have 2 Labradors
Essential oils are used frequently in our house THANKYOU

blake haugen
blake haugen

May 21, 2018

Thankyou, very informative. I never knew half the things that you mention. Great insight!

Lee
Lee

May 21, 2018

Wow learnt lots that I’ll take into account with my two kitties!

gaynor Vincent
gaynor Vincent

May 21, 2018

I have loved essential oils for years – thanks for the blog this has reinvigorated my interest!

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