Most of us use essential oils, whether it’s in air fresheners, cleaning spray, hand sanitizer, fragrance, laundry products, cosmetics, skincare, or even certain medications. But while essential oils might be safe for human use, does the same apply to our cats? In a word, no. Most essential oils are toxic for our feline friends, causing everything from vomiting and drooling to liver failure and even death. The problem lies with an aromatic organic compound called phenol. While humans have a relatively high tolerance for phenol, cats don’t. Even a small amount of most essential oils, especially the undiluted variety, can be dangerous. Here’s what you need to know about what essential oils are safe for cats... and what ones aren’t.
What Essential Oils are Safe for Cats?
While it’s best to assume that all essential oils are dangerous for cats and avoid using them until you find out more about the particular variety you plan on using, some essential oils (primarily those with a low phenol content) are slightly less dangerous than others. Cedarwood, chamomile, marjoram, and valerian essential oils are among the safest – however, in their concentrated form they can still present a risk, so take extra special precautions whenever you use them. The more diluted the oil, the better, so always use diffusers instead of concentrated.
Which Essential Oils are Toxic for Cats?
Most essential oils have the potential to be a danger to your cat, depending on how concentrated they are, the general health of the cat, and the rate and amount of exposure. However, according to canadianveterinarians.net, the oils that you should be particularly wary of using around a cat include:
- Bergamot (Citrus bergamia; Citrus Aurantium)
- Bitter almond (Peumus boldus)
- Calamus essential oil (Acorus calamus)
- Clary Sage
- Clove (Syzgium aromaticum)
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.)
- European Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
- Geranium oil (Pelargonium sp.)
- Horseradish (Amoracia rusticana)
- Japanese yew (Taxus spp.)
- Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)
- Lemon oil (Citrus Lemonia) citronella
- Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
- Lime oils (Citrus aurantifolia)
- Orange oils (Citrus sinensis)
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum)
- Pennyroyal; American false pennyroyal (Haedeoma pulegioides)
- Pine, spruce, juniper oils
- Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
- Wintergreen, peppermint, spearmint, mint (Mentha sp.)
- Ylang Ylang
How are Essential Oils Dangerous For Cats?
Essential oils, particularly undiluted ones, can become a big problem for your cat in the following ways:
- Ingestion: Cats like to keep clean, which is great most of the time, but less than ideal if they’ve rubbed against something coated in essential oil. Most things that get onto a cat’s fur inevitably end up in their mouth, which is when the problem starts.
- Inhalation: Reed diffusers and plug-ins might make your house smell nice, but if you’ve got cats, you might want to think about just cracking a window instead. Although toxic effects from inhalation are relatively rare in healthy cats (largely because most essential oils used in reed diffusers and plugins are diluted), it can be a big problem for cats with ongoing respiratory conditions such as asthma. Regardless of whether your cat has an existing condition or not, stay away from nebulized or ultrasonically diffused neat essential oils.
- Absorption: Applying undiluted essential oils to your cat’s skin is a one-way ticket to an emergency visit to the vets. As well as causing contact dermatitis, there’s also a risk your cat could ingest the oil during grooming.
What Are the Signs of Essential Oil Toxicity?
Toxic essential oils, whether inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin, can pose a serious health risk to cats, leading to a host of distressing problems such as low blood pressure, respiratory infection and in extreme cases, seizures, foreign body pneumonia, liver failure, and even death. If you suspect your cat has come into contact with any toxic essential oils, book an appointment with your vet asap while watching out for the following symptoms:
- Watery nose and eyes
- Labored breathing
- Trouble walking
- Red patches on skin
How To Keep Your Cat Safe From Toxic Essential Oils
As pdsa.org.uk notes, there are plenty of things you can do to minimize the risk that toxic essential oils present to your cat. These include…
Check the Ingredients on Flea Products
If you need to de-flea your cat, stick to prescription flea products. Numerous over-the-counter flea treatments contain essential oils, which are not only less effective than prescription products, but potentially dangerous for your cat’s health.
Wash Your Hands
It may sound obvious, but make sure that you wash your hands after using any essential oils to reduce the risk of transferring them to your cat’s skin.
It’s becoming increasingly common for cleaning products to include essential oils, but think twice about introducing them to your home. Cats aren’t too careful about where they walk or what they brush up against, with the result that anything you use to clean could wind up in their fur, and from there, their digestive systems.
Dilute, then Dilute Again
The more concentrated the essential oil, the bigger risk it becomes. Stay safe by using a carrier oil to dilute any essential oils you use around the house.
Store Them Away
Keep any essential oils stored safely away to stop little paws from getting into things they shouldn’t.
Open A Window
If you plan on diffusing any essential oils using a plugin diffuser, a nebulizer, or a reed diffuser, keep your cat out of the room while you do it and open a window afterward to ventilate the area before they come back in.
What Should I Do If My Cat is Exposed to Toxic Essential Oils?
No matter how careful we try to be, accidents sometimes happen. If, despite your best efforts, your cat ingests or gets toxic essential oil on their skin, the first thing to do is not to panic. Cats are more empathetic than we sometimes give them credit for, and will quickly become stressed if they notice your concern. Avoid trying to induce vomiting as this can be unsafe. Also avoid giving them any medicine in case of any contraindications with whatever treatment your veterinarian recommends. Schedule an emergency appointment with your veterinarian as soon as you can. If it’s outside of normal working hours, don’t wait for them to open – call an emergency pet hospital that offers round-the-clock appointments. From there, your veterinarian will be able to assess what treatment is needed.