Essential Oils: Are They Safe For Your Pet?

By January 18, 2018Cat Health, Dog Health

The use of essential oils for people has greatly increased over the last few years.  Many are seeking a more natural way to manage their health care, and some are even using essential oils for their pets.  But, are they safe, do they work, and does it effect different species in different ways?  Here’s what we do know:

  • Essential oils are the aromatic oils (fatty liquid) that are extracted from plants. They can be found in aromatherapies, personal care products, flavorings, herbal remedies, liquid potpourri, and insecticides.
  • Dogs are not small humans, cats are not small dogs:  Each species has their own unique physiology.  Some oils that are safe for dogs may not be safe for cats and vice versa.  Do not assume that because something is safe for humans means it is safe for dogs, and because it may be safe for dogs, does not mean it is safe for cats.
  • Cats and essential oils:  Cats have an extremely sensitive sense of smell and respiratory system.  If a cat already has any respiratory problems, like asthma, inhaled allergies, or is exposed to cigarette smoke, they are more likely to have respiratory irritation from essential oils. Cats also lack an enzyme in their liver that helps to metabolize some substances in essential oils, and therefore the cat’s body cannot eliminate them and they become toxic, causing damage to the liver.  According to Pet Poison Helpline, “Essential oils that are known to cause poisoning in cats include oil of wintergreen, oil of sweet birch, citrus oils (d-limonene), pine oils, Ylang Ylang oil, peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, pennyroyal oil, clove oil, eucalyptus oil, and tea tree oil.”   
  • Consider the source:  The internet has a lot of, not only erroneous information, but downright dangerous information.  When using oils for your pet, please consult your veterinarian and an aromatherapist experienced in using essential oils for animals.  Trying something you find by simply “googling” can put your pet’s health at risk. Always seek professional advice before using oils on your pet.
  • It’s all in the delivery:  How essential oils are delivered has a definite effect how it can be a risk to your pet’s health.  
    • Passive diffuser: Reed diffusers, wax burners, plug-ins, diffusing pendants and bracelets, and filter based motorized diffusers fall into this category.  Exposure risk is lower since oil particles aren’t actively put into the air. Greatest risk with passive diffusers is a pet ingesting anything that may contain the essential oil, ie candles, wax, etc.
    • Active diffuser: These are much more popular these days, and can greatly increase a pet’s risk, depending on the oil used.  Active diffusers put tiny particles into the air which can not only irritate the respiratory tract, but also drop down onto fur, where it can then be ingested as a dog or cat grooms themselves.
    • Topical: The skin is the largest organ in the body, and is able to absorb anything applied to it, which is one reason to use caution with essential oils and pets, especially cats.  It is also very easy for a pet to ingest essential oils that have been applied to the skin or fur, during normal grooming.  We do not recommend topical application of essential oils unless directed by an animal-experienced aromatherapist. Essential oils should also never be applied full strength to animals.
  • Animals sense of smell is very strong.  What may smell good to us, may be very irritating to them.  Pay close attention to how your pets act and react if using oils in your home.  If they don’t like it, or run away from the smell, it’s best to stop using it.
  • Other pets are at risk, too:  Birds, ferrets, rodents (mice, rats, gerbils, chinchillas and guinea pigs), rabbits, hedgehogs, reptiles and amphibians all have very sensitive respiratory systems.  We do not recommend using oils on or around them.

Adverse effects in dogs and cats can vary, depending on the oil used and the amount of exposure.  In general, if you notice your pet having difficulty breathing, drooling, vomiting, having tremors, acting ataxic (wobbly), with a low heart rate and/or low body temperature, get them to a vet immediately.

Essential Oils That May Not Be Safe For Pets

Anise, Birch, Bitter Almond, Boldo, Calamus, Camphor, Cassia, Chenopodium, Cinnamon, Citrus, Cloves, Eucalyptus, Garlic, Goosefoot, Horseradish, Hyssop, Juniper, Mugwort, Mustard, Oregano, Pennyroyal, Peppermint, Pine, Red or White Thyme, Rue, Santolina, Sassafras, Savory, Tansy, Tea Tree Oil, Terebinth, Thuja, Wintergreen, Wormwood, Yarrow, Ylang-Ylang,


The Takeaway:

  • Use caution regarding essential oil use for, and around, your pet(s)
  • Always consult your veterinarian and, preferably, an aromatherapist experienced in using essential oils for animals that can discuss your pet’s individual health concerns before using oils for your pet.  Essential oils can be helpful for some conditions, but proper guidance is needed for the safest result.
  • Cats metabolize essential oils differently, and more essential oils can be toxic to cats.  We do not recommend any topical application of essential oils in cats.  Any use around cats should be used with extreme caution.
  • Birds and other “exotics”/pocket pets can be extremely sensitive to essential oils and should not be around them.
  • If your pet is acting abnormal, please see a veterinarian right away.  If you know your pet may be having a reaction to or has ingested an essential oil, contact Pet Poison Helpline 855-764-7661 or ASPCA Poison Control 888-426-4435, then get to your veterinarian for treatment.
Source: Pet Poison Helpline, “Essential Oils and Cats”                                       Vet Street, “Do Essential Oils Pose a Risk to Pets”        All Natural Pet Care