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Danger for Cats: Essential Oils

A previous post discussed pine oil and the possible safety issues of the use of pine in cat litter and other common household products. Pine is just one of several essential oils which can be toxic to cats and small house pets.

carrieroilheaderEssential oils are quite common in many forms throughout our homes including some common household products. In fact, several essential oils such as orange, lemon, and pine are well known as powerful cleaning agents, and therefore these scents are quite common in cleaning products. Many of us enjoy aromatherapy and use various essential oils in potpourri or a diffuser to enjoy the healing properties of the oils. Lavender, Tea Tree Oil, Orange or Lemon Oil, and Eucalyptus are all pleasant and useful to humans for their various medicinal properties. Unfortunately, these same oils pose danger for cats and other small house pets.

Cats are unable to properly metabolize essential oils and over time the toxins build up and can damage the liver. Cats in toxic overload may exhibit symptoms such as dizziness, lack of appetite, vomiting, lack of balance, lethargy, and extreme cases of toxicity may lead to death.

While many of us know not to apply essential oils directly – either via mouth or by spraying or rubbing the oils on our cats – it is important to realize that simply inhaling essential oils also poses a danger to cats. Whether absorbed through the skin or inhaled, repeated exposure to essential oils can build toxic levels to the danger point.

Hydrosols, a distilled by-product of essential oils, are considered by most to be safe for cats. If you are a big fan of aromatherapy for yourself or your animals, hydrosols may be an alternative to consider, and some household products are now using hydrosols in place of essential oils.

CatsCats are extremely sensitive to scent, and animals in general have an innate sense of danger. If your cat is showing signs of avoidance – of a room or area of the house, or even of their litter box – check to see if there might be essential oil scents which concern your cat. Some strong-smelling candles, for example, are scented with an essential oil, and just the candle in a room may be enough to turn your cat away. If your cat is having litter box issues, check the ingredient list on the litter to see if an essential oil is being used for odor control.

There are many essential oils and I can’t list them all here, but I will list those considered to be the most dangerous to cats based on several different resources and in no particular order:  Oregano, Bay Leaf, Parsley and Savory, Cedar Leaf, Sage, Hyssop, Cyprus, Lavender, Eucalyptus, Mint ,Caraway, Citronella, Clove, Ginger, Chamomile, Thyme and Rosemary, Pine, Peppermint, Lemon, Melaleuca and Tea Tree Oil, Cinnamon Bark Oil, Wintergreen, and other oils containing phenol (see “Danger for Cats: Pine and Essental Oils” for more on phenols).

There is myriad of information, some of it conflicting, available. As a start, I recommend the Lavender Cat website for more in depth explanations than what I’ve been able to provide. Note: essential oils should not be confused with flower essence remedies. Flower essences are generally considered very safe for animals.

36 comments to Danger for Cats: Essential Oils

  • Jomo

    Gah! Please talk to your vet. Just because someone says oils are poisonous, doesn’t make it true! Do you really think all oils are toxins?? That’s ridiculous.

    • Agreed, Jomo. We all need to be in partnership with our vets and do our due diligence with anything we use with our beloved pets. I don’t believe there is anything in this post stating that “all oils are toxins” only that we need to know what is in each essential oil and choose carefully.

  • Andra

    My cat just came into contact with bubble bath liquid – I think he got curious because he was salivating and it was foamy (I’m hoping because of the liquid) but he seems fine now…I’m debating calling but I’m not sure there’s anything I can do – so do I just wait and take him to the vet if he shows signs…?

    • I’m not familiar with what is in bubble bath liquid. I would call your vet to ask about the ingredients listed on the bottle. Sometimes physical symptoms are a long time in showing up so better to safe by just checking with your vet while it is still recent.

  • ADogand2cats

    I’m crying right now because I think I may have accidentally killed my two cats. We started diffusing last November and my male cat started showing signs of illness in mid January. He was dead by March. My girl cat started showing signs of illness soon after he did. She died in May. The vet said lymphoma but we didn’t go for surgery or chemo because he said they had almost no chance of survival and it would just be painful and expensive. I’m so furious with myself because I had read that essential oils were toxic to cats and I allowed myself to be convinced they were safe by a well meaning friend. She said that so long as they were of high quality, the cats would be fine. They were 12 years old but perfectly healthy until their rapid decline. I used to brag about how they showed no signs of aging. They were such good cats and I miss them terribly. My whole family does. My kids loved them so much. I just can’t believe their death may be my fault. I wish ther was some way to know definitively. They exhibited all the signs mentioned here. But they also had several abdominal masses, which is why my vet said cancer. Would oil toxicity cause masses?? Or cancer?

  • Healthy Life

    Thanks for all the comments left here! I wanted to use essential oils for spiders which MANY websites recommend as safe for pets but after reading everyone’s personal experiences I would rather kill spiders the old fashioned way.

    I never fully trust warnings to not use certain things with pets because it’s often individual to each animal but this was compelling.

    Just for example, I gave my lil 5lb dog the same lemon water I drank for years before ever hearing it was a risk but obviously I stopped when I saw other dogs reactions to citrus fruits but she happily drank lemon water for several years before that. My cat has used a natural pine litter his whole life and is a healthy 10 year old cat but I certainly won’t risk using pine essential oils now. I’ve known people who fed their dogs garlic for flee control on farms for over 50 years and never had a problem with any of their animals or flees but other dogs get sick from it. My cat won’t touch anything toxic yet my friend’s cat will eat everything toxic and she has to watch everything she brings in the house.

    It seems the main idea is to know your pet, recognize their behaviour and watch for changes… but with essential oils it sounds like the risk outweighs the benefit since symptoms can appear far too late. It’s important to remember essential oils are concentrated forms of natural plants and tend to have much stronger effects.

  • Tiffany

    My cat is 18 years old, and in incredible condition. She spends most of her time in my bedroom, which is where I keep my diffuser and diffuse oils.
    She is also all over the house, up and down. And when I have to clean my counters where she jumps and I prepare my food, it’s a choice between toxic chemicals or essential oils and vinegar. I guess they’re both harmful, but which one is most harmful?

  • liz nielsen

    yes my cat ,,all of a sudden started having trouble breathing ,,he does have asthma, but, ive been using lavender oil. for a while for calming ,,and now he is, struggling to breath, scared me to death, can he have a reaction to the lavender now,, i stopped using it aired out my house and put my air purifers on high,,.so can he be having a reaction to the lanvender,, ?

  • Jeremy

    My cat had an eye infection and I was told to use Chamomile oil by my grandmother who’s had cats for over 30 years. She claims this oil clears up any infection my cat may have. I don’t see how chamomile is toxic to cats.

  • Beverly

    I had started to use essential oils in the form of a DIY facial serum on my face nightly. My cat always sleeps at the bottom of the bed, but have I caused an inhalation danger? My facial serum does have lavender, geranium, rose, sandalwood, frankincense, and helichrysum it. I do give her late-nite chicken but only after I have oil-cleansed my face, washed my hands – well more like scrubbed them and give her treats and she leaves the room. That’s when I put on my facial oil but she usually doesn’t come back for about 15 minutes. I should also mention that at her last vet visits her liver enzymes were slightly elevated but that started before I went back to using my facial oil. Oh, also, during the day she’s never around and I keep all oils in a closet drawer no where near she sleeps.
    Thank You

  • Sarah

    I was hoping to use eucalyptus oil in a diffuser for my cat that has asthma. I guess this would probably be a bad idea?

  • Teneal Gagnon

    I have been using a differser with citrus oils patchouli and others around my kitten, I noticed she’s been sneezing a lot and has a stuffed nose and when sounds congested when she breathes. I have stopped all sources of essential oil after coming across this information. Do I need to seek veterinarian assists if my kitten has been in contact with these oils?

  • Elf

    I was looking to make a deterrent spray when I saw these concerns about essential oils frequently used in deter ant sprays. I found one recipe using pepper infused water. Are there any known issues with pepper / pepper oils (if there is such a thing)?

  • Jenna

    Are there any that are safe?

  • Amber

    I have an indoor/outdoor cat that is strictly not allowed into the bedroom due to my allergy to her dander would it be safe to use my oils in a diffuser in my bedroom? Or is that still going to cause her harm?

    • Remember, not all oils are harmful for felines. I personally choose to not have oils in my house that are harmful to animals, however some would say that keeping the door closed and never allowing the cat in the room would be safeguard enough. You’ll need to make a judgment call on an oil-by-oil basis.

  • jules

    I just got my diffuser last night and i was diffusing orange. My cat seems to like the smell but on some websites it says orange is bad for cata, some it doesnt mention orange at all. Help????

    • Orange is not on the primary lists I use as a reference, and I believe the key to any essential oil whether the essential oil contains phenols. If you can check for that compound in the brand of essential oil you use, that would help you to make the final determination if the orange oil you are diffusing is safe for your cat. Good luck!

  • Buddamomma47

    For 6 yrs,I have been putting tea tree oil directly between are cats shoulder ladies to help with fleas,they have never shown any sign of any toxicity symptoms.
    We use peppermint spray on us to keep fleas at bay. For two yrs after we bomb the house every yr.
    The only time are cats have shown signs of any type of upset is after frontline and advantage and bio heartz and sargents flea drops,they come down with itchy sores.
    We used DE all over the house and cats last yr,but found that it caused us breathing problems as an after effect, plus cloggers he vacuum filters.
    DE does keep the fleas gone,but your house looks like you had a powder party,white powdery stuff everywhere but it works.
    This yr,the fleas are back and so I’m back to using the Dr Bonners peppermint soap and water in the spray bottle on us and the cats.
    The problem is we have one cat that is just covered in flea bit ochies,she has a allergic reaction to the fleas,
    Last yr I sprayed my cats with the Dr Bonners soap water mixture every other day and it helped both cats with the fleas,but not this yr,I only done it twice for are one little cat, and she just miserable,I know something wrong with her,but my ex won’t take her to the vet,it’s his cat,I can’t afford a vet trip for both cats because I’ve bought the flea bombs and flea drops.
    I’m wondering if anyone know if Dr Bonners soaps are safe for cats if it’s done by diluting it 50/50 with water.

    • Michele

      Never use the cheap topical flea remedies like Sergeant’s or Hartz. These can be toxic to pets. Anything with permethrin is toxic to cats for that matter. I would try using Revolution as that seems to be effective against fleas. I don’t know anything about Dr. Bronner’s but peppermint is dangerous to cats as stated above and on other sites so I definitely would not use it at all.

  • Jessica

    Is eucalyptus and cinnamon toxic only if cats DIGEST it, or is the smell enough? I want to have my dog stop peeing in the same spot, and these are two scents they are said to hate, but I would not either if it would be poisonous to my cat if inhaled only. Of course, I would let it dry before allowing my baby in. A response would be greatly appreciated! Thanks.

    • Jessica, the essential oils which are toxic to cats are, indeed, toxic when inhaled, ingested, or absorbed in any way. To be safe, please keep your kitties out of the room where you are using essential oils (if those oils are on the unsafe list) for at least 48 hours after use.

  • Stephanie

    I am so glad I came across this information. I just bought a humidifier and was using eucalyptus. I used it for an hour. I would be devastated if something happened to my fur babies! Thank you all!

  • Whitney

    Last year I started using a nebulzing diffuser with “winter” oils (peppermint, clove, cinnamon, pine)and had it on most of the day. The cat who spent the most time in the living room with me quickly developed lethargy, lack of balance (he couldn’t walk straight), no interest in food. I had no idea that essential oils could be to blame, and after a vet visit it was clear that he was having liver problems. He died within a week, a horrible, painful death after 48 hours of emergency vet care, but they were unable to stop his decline. They didn’t do an autopsy, but I am 99% sure that it was the nebulized essential oils that killed him.

    • Jodi

      I just now discovered the harmn that oils can do to cats! I had no idea! I experienced a similar situation to yours about a 1 1/2 years ago when my sweet Kitty was put down. Unknowingly, I had been spraying a thick tea tree oil solution around the edges of my apartment to fight off spiders. The vet offered kidney damage or auto immune disease, but until now I never connected the dots. I truly believe I ignorantly killed my innocent Kitty. I will be sure to spread the word about the dangers of these supposedly all-safe household products. So sorry about your cat:(. I understand.

  • Janet Williamson

    I just purchased a spray for calming cats that stated on the front of the box that it had Lavender chamomile in it. It was made by Sentry and was called Sentry Calming Spray. I was told by the clerk at Pet Smart that it could be sprayed in the air by the cat, and sprayed on a towel to wrap around him to calm him when cliping is nails. Then a clerk at Pet Smart said that lavender oil is very bad for cats. I am confused! Please Help!

  • LuAnn

    My friend just told me a horrible story about a cat and eucalyptus. His wife had put eucalyptus in the water spray bottle for some reason and didn’t tell him. He use the bottle to spray the cat from accr9ss the room so it would get off the table. He sprayed it twice and within a week the cat died. He said it acted crazy for a while before it died.

  • Laura

    I have two cats n have started using essential oils as an alternative to skin and health care for myself. Could contact with me be of danger to the cats? Laura

  • Didier

    For Alison regarding Melaleuca oil and lavender oil: both of those oils are toxic to cats, and your cats are being exposed to them from your skin and the air as well. You may not notice signs until it’s too late, as toxicity builds gradually until organ failure ultimately occurs. Any of the camphor-type oils are especially hard on cats – tea tree, eucalyptus, Melaleuca. You can get the benefits of those oils without using them as much – use them during the day when you are away from the cats, and take a shower before you interact with your companions. Remember that walking around barefoot can also expose them if it’s in your skin – cats paw pads are very sensitive and thin. Even better, there are many other “natural” products that can keep you healthy and looking your best without the toxic exposure for the cats.

  • Alison

    Most of the bath products I use contain Melaleuca oil and I like to use lavender oil before bed. The lotion I use daily and every night also contains Melaleuca oil. My cats sleep with me. I’m wondering how sensitive they are and if I need to discontinue use of the products. I have not noticed any red flags in cats. Thanks!

  • We diffuse oils all the time in my home. I really need to pay attention to how the cat is reacting. Hmmm. Good info.

  • Cats are unable to properly metabolize essential oils and over time the toxins build up and can damage the liver. Cats in toxic overload may exhibit symptoms such as dizziness.

  • My frined has started having problems with both her cats using their litter tray, I will tell her about this, she probably hasn’t thought this could be a problem. Thanks.

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