Essential oils can be found in many homes and are not just limited to aromatherapy. Created from natural plant compounds, they are used to fragrance candles, room sprays, and perfumes, amongst other things.
Are essential oils bad for cats? Many essential oils are understood to be bad for cats and are certainly not recommended for use in their presence. These highly concentrated plant extracts can present a serious toxic risk to all pets, but cats in particular because their livers are unable to metabolize compounds they contain.
Are some essential oils safer than others? Let’s find out.
Why is it that essential oils are bad for cats?
Essential oils have been used as alternative medicines for many years. They were considered safe for cats and used to treat ailments such as respiratory conditions, stress, and parasite infestations. That was until it was proved that essential oils have the propensity to be toxic to cats.
The reason behind essential oils causing toxicity in cats is a deficiency in their liver function which prevents them from metabolizing certain compounds efficiently. One of these compounds is phenols which are present in many essential oils.
Being small makes cats susceptible to poisoning from relatively small quantities of essential oils, particularly if they ingest it. The resulting toxins build up in a cat’s liver and can cause seizures, liver damage, and even liver failure.
Some Essential Oils are not safe for cats
Another problem with essential oil is guaranteeing its quality and ingredients. The market is flooded with cheap, poor quality, altered and even synthetic versions.
It’s difficult to know if you are buying a pure, unadulterated essential oil or not, and I’ve been heard you may not even be able to trust what you read on the label. And if the essential oil itself isn’t toxic, the carrier oil it’s suspended in might be.
I would play safe, assume all essential oils are bad for cats, avoid using any near them, never apply it to their skin and ensure they never ingest it.
List of Essential Oils that are Toxic to Cats
The majority of essential oils are toxic to cats but in particular, be aware of:
- Anise oil
- Basil oil
- Bergamot oil
- Bitter Almond oil
- Calamus or Cane oil
- Cinnamon oil
- Citronella oil
- Citrus oil (including lemon oil, lime oil, and orange oil)
- Clove oil
- Eucalyptus oil
- Geranium oil
- Horseradish oil
- Japanese Yew oil
- Lemon oil
- Lemongrass oil
- Mustard oil
- Oregano oil
- Pennyroyal oil
- Peppermint oil
- Pine oil
- Rose oil
- Sage oil
- Sandalwood oil
- Sassafras oil
- Sweet Birch oil
- Tea Tree oil
- Thyme oil
- Wintergreen oil
- Wormseed oil
- Ylang Ylang oil
And there are probably others. Always by a trusted brand and check the ingredients carefully.
These are the symptoms of essential oil poisoning
With so many essential oils being poisonous to cats and many of these being unknowingly present in fragrances in our homes, even when you are careful not to use oils your cat may still become exposed to them.
If your cat has come in to contact with essential oils you may notice the following symptoms:
- Unusual Lethargy
- Inability to walk
- Inflammation of the mouth and nose
- Red skin patches
- Respiratory distress
- Low body temperature
- Slow heart rate
If your cat is drooling or has any of the above symptoms, don’t waste time – go straight to your vets.
How Cats Come into Contact with Essential Oils
Essential oils can be toxic to cats, whether they are inhaled, ingested, or applied directly to their skin or fur.
Diffusing essential oils around cats is never a good idea. A room diffuser fills the air with oil particles for your cat to inhale. Particles of oil also collect on a cat’s fur. The next time it grooms itself it ends up ingesting those particles. If you do use a room diffuser, make sure the oil is extremely diluted.
If you apply essential oils directly to your cat’s skin, they will be absorbed directly into its system and will be filtered straight into its liver to cause a toxic build-up.
You may wear perfume or lotion containing essential oil. If your cat has a habit of licking you it will ingest it but, equally, if you cuddle your cat you will transfer particles to its fur, ready for it to lick them off.
Depending on the level of phenols in the essential oil your cat is exposed to, toxicity can occur over a long period or extremely quickly.
What Essential Oils Are Safe to Diffuse Around Cats?
No essential oils are 100% safe to diffuse around cats no matter what you might read. Even if you diffuse an extremely diluted oil, the particles can still build up on its fur and will include those from the carrier oil used to dilute the essential oil, which may not be safe either.
List of where essential oils are found:
- Reed diffusers
- Aromatherapy diffusers
- Room sprays
- Scented candles
- Scented wax melts
- Lamp fragrance
- Air purifiers
- Plug-in diffusers
All of these things should be safely out of reach of your cat and should not be used in any rooms your cat inhabits. If you can smell essential oil fragrance, you are inhaling particles and so is your cat.
Are Any Essential Oils Safe For Cats?
As mentioned above, the majority of essential oils are toxic to cats. I would exercise extreme caution where essential oils and cats are concerned. If you have a cat with a known liver condition, don’t risk using any.
Even if you believe a particular essential oil is safe, you can never be sure if it is blended with something that isn’t safe that’s not mentioned on the ingredients list. If you think you’ve found an essential oil that is cat-safe, please seek your vet’s advice before using it.
You may read that essential oils such as lavender, copaiba, helichrysum, and frankincense are safe to use around cats and they may well be. Please seek a guarantee of this before using any of them.
Are There any Safe Alternatives to Essential Oils?
You may have heard that hydrosols (also known as flower waters) are a natural and safer alternative to essential oils. Let’s look more closely at whether this is true.
What Are Hydrosols?
Hydrosols are aromatic waters created by steaming plant matter and collecting water that condenses from the steam. The result is a much more dilute solution than an essential oil that can be safely applied directly to human skin.
The Danger of Hydrosols to Cats
As hydrosols are dilute solutions, they are relatively safe to apply to our skin, but may not be so harmless to cats. Certain pets may tolerate these flowery waters more than others but bear in mind hydrosols could be dangerous for cats with health conditions such as liver disease.
Other Essential Oil Information
Is Lavender Safe for Cats?
If you grow lavender in your garden, don’t rush out to dig it up. Whilst lavender essential oil derived from the plant is toxic to cats, fresh lavender as it grows in your flowerbeds is not. Don’t panic if your cat has a nibble of your lavender bush as, at worst, it will only suffer from an upset stomach.
Tea Tree Oil and Cats
Its rise in popularity means 100% tea tree oil can be found in many homes. In this concentration, it is highly toxic to cats. If you apply this oil to your skin and then touch your cat you will be transferring a harmful toxin where your cat can easily ingest it. Only ever use tea tree oil diluted to a maximum concentration of 1% anywhere near your cat.
Is Peppermint Oil Safe For Cats?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking because catmint and catnip are safe for cats, that peppermint oil is okay for them too. It may seem like a similar product but peppermint as an essential oil is highly toxic to cats if ingested or inhaled.
Are essential oils bad for cats? – Conclusion
It’s not easy to know for sure if essential oils are bad for cats in all forms. It may be safe to diffuse them. It may be OK to burn candles that contain them. I would avoid applying any essential oils directly o a cat’s skin, no matter how diluted.
Find further information at the Pet Poison Helpline.