Are Essential Oils Safe For Cats in 2021?

In this post, I’ll answer the question ‘Are essential oils safe for cats?’

Most essential oils are toxic to cats. This is due to cats having a different metabolism than humans.

There are a few exceptions and safe options that won’t cause any harm to your cat. Most times, essential oils are generally best avoided to keep your cat safe.

A lot of people believe essential oils are a good natural treatment for improving health.

However, many of these concentrated oils are toxic to cats.

Cats can suffer a range of problems from exposure to essential oils such as weakness, trembling, respiratory problems, and even death in extreme cases.

My name is Derrick and I write for Simply Cat Care. I am not a veterinarian and I recommend consulting with a vet if you are unsure about anything about essential oils. With that said, I spent some time researching this issue. I am going to share my findings in this article.

I always want to learn more about cats and what I can do to help them live longer and healthier lives.

In this article, I will cover the following things.

Let’s get into the article.


What are essential oils?

Aromatherapy is the main use of essential oils, obtained from plant extracts. Distillation or cold pressing methods, extract the aromatic oils from plants [1].

The secretory parts of many plants contain essential oils [3].

Are essential oils safe for cats

How many types of essential oils exist?

There are many essential oils, with at least 300 types on the market [3].

Popular oils include wintergreen oil, clove oil, cinnamon oil, pennyroyal oil, lavender oil, chamomile oil, peppermint oil, tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, geranium oil, jasmine oil, rose oil, lemon oil, orange oil, rosemary oil, and sandalwood oil [3].

The list goes on!

The oil is a concentrated form of natural ingredient extracted for use.


How are essential oils used?

People use diffusers with essential oils for aromatherapy (e.g. liquid potpourri products, room sprays, essential oil diffusers).

Essential oils are also applied topically [2]. The topical application includes bathing salts, oils, creams, lotions, and clay masks [2].

People use these therapies to treat health problems such as stress, headaches, insomnia, or bacterial infections, among other things [1].

The efficacy of essential oils in treating these conditions is generally low and not proven with scientific literature [1].

Nonetheless, these concentrated herbal remedies form a large part of the alternative medicine market.

Essential oils are also used for flea control. Check out my helpful article on whether essential oils are safe home remedies for fleas.


How are essential oils absorbed?

The bioavailability of the compounds found in essential oils depends on the route of administration (e.g. skin, air inhalation) [1].

The pharmacokinetics depend on metabolic barriers, digestive factors, and genotype [3].

Essential oil molecules absorb into the body via inhalation or through topical application.


Are essential oils toxic in cats?

Research into the use of topical melaleuca oil on cats found symptoms of depression, weakness, incoordination, and muscle tremors [4].

A retrospective study on cats sent to health clinics between 2006 and 2008 found negative effects from essential oil use [5].

92% of animals presented to clinics with one or more adverse effects when given topical essential oils. Two cats died due to essential oil usage [5].

Agitation and hypersalivation were common symptoms of essential oil poisoning [5].

Tea tree oil also leads to toxicity in cats and can result in death [6].


Benefits of using essential oils in cats?

There are some benefits to a few essential oils for cat health.

A study on 28 cats treated with garlic, marjoram, and ozonated olive oil, found improvement in infection of otodectes cynotis with a dose of 5 drops applied to the facial area [7].

Another study found benefits to artemisia absinthium extract when orally administered to cats at a dose of 300 mg/kg and 600 mg/kg [8].

Despite these benefits, consult your vet for specific treatments.

There are many approved treatments for conditions such as fleas and worms that have research-based evidence supporting their use.

The dose and type of essential oil all affect outcomes. The higher the concentration of essential oil, the greater the risk to the cat [9].

What essential oils are safe for use in a diffuser?

A few common essential oils that are safe to use in diffusers around your cat include lavender, copaiba, helichrysum, and frankincense [12].

Consult a vet before using essential oils around the home.


Which essential oils are toxic in cats?

Cats lack the liver enzymes needed to metabolize and eliminate essential oils [9].

Cats are not able to perform a liver process called glucuronidation. This is a process where the liver adds glycosidic bonds to help with drug excretion [11].

In basic terms, the liver needs to take chemicals and add/remove things so the body can get rid of them. Cats lack some processes to do this, so the chemicals build up.

As such, cats have a harder time disposing of toxins, especially phenolic compounds [11].

Since cats groom themselves, the topical application of essential oils results in an oral intake of oils [11].

Cats are very sensitive to phenols and phenolic compounds, found in a range of essential oils [9].

The attached articles contain a list of toxic oils that cause poisoning in cats [9, 11].


Symptoms of essential oil toxicity in cats

The symptoms involved in essential oil toxicity depend on the type of exposure and oil [9].

They can include drooling, vomiting, tremors, ataxia, respiratory problems (e.g. difficulty breathing), low heart rate, low body temperature, and liver failure [9].

A cat might also start coughing, crouching low with no abdominal movement [9].

This is not normal and requires veterinary assistance.

Cats with respiratory issues such as asthma and airborne allergies are at risk for developing severe respiratory irritation versus cats without such conditions. [9].

Kittens and cats with liver disease are more sensitive to essential oils [10].

Pet owners should not apply concentrated oils to the skin or fur of the cat, as they groomed and ingest the oils.


Are essential oils safe for cats?

Since there is a wide range of essential oils, using them around your cat is akin to playing Russian roulette.

The type of essential oil, the dose, and the method of application (topical or inhaled) impact the toxicity towards your cat [11].

For logistical reasons (e.g. funding and ethics), there isn’t enough comprehensive data on all toxicity of essential oils [11].

Using an essential oil as a treatment is not recommended.

If you intend on using an essential oil, avoid using any on your cat [11].

Avoid the essential oils that that are unsafe for cats, and ask your vet if you intend to use a diffuser around the house [11].

Avoid getting any oils on the fur or other body parts of your cat.


How can I prevent my cat from getting toxic exposure to essential oils?

Never have potpourri or diffuser items in access to cats [10].

Keep in mind, cats like to jump and access high spaces, don’t assume your cat cannot get to the top of your cupboards, because they can [10].

Don’t leave these products open.  Never apply concentrated oils to your cat.

Seek veterinarian advice before using any essential oils around your cat. Avoid using essential oils on other pets or dogs.


What if I suspect my cat is poisoned?

Contact the pet poison helpline or an animal poison control center appropriate to your location.

Remember, signs of poisoning include

  • Vomiting
  • Respiratory distress (e.g. coughing)
  • Sneezing
  • Drooling
  • Tremors
  • Weakness
  • Hair loss or lesions that look like burns on the skin (this is most common when an topically applying essential oil on the cat) [15]

A workup can show things like liver damage and other metabolic health problems.

Don’t use essential oils on your cats. It can’t be any simpler than that.


Conclusion: Are Essential Oils Safe for Cats?

That wraps up this article on whether essential oils are safe for cats.

The final answer is no, essential oils are not safe for cats.

There are over 300 different types of oils on the market (e.g. tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil). There is not enough evidence for the safety of each oil.

There may be a handful of essential oils that are safe with diffusers around cats. Many will harm your pet’s breathing and pose a risk to health. It’s best to stay safe and avoid using them.

The difficulty with essential oils is the wide range of products are natural health remedies (which does not mean ‘safe’).

When concentrated and ingested by cats (e.g. grooming) essential oils pose a dangerous problem to cats.

They lack some of the enzymes involved in detoxifying the compounds found in a range of essential oils.

If you need to use a diffuser, consult with a vet before applying these in your home. Always research the specific product you are using before application and treatment.

If you suspect poisoning (e.g. your cat has ingested some essential oils), don’t hesitate to contact the pet poison hotline.

You can also call the animal poison control center for assistance.

Consult with a veterinarian for advice about using essential oils around the home.

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