Recently I had occasion to visit a pet store with an animal loving friend who is always in search of environmentally friendly products which her three cats will accept. She happened upon a bio-degradable pine scented kitty litter which, for all intents and purposes, seemed ideal for her family. In the back of my mind, however, I knew that pine in certain forms is toxic to cats.
It has always perplexed me that so many litters these days contain the pine scent for odor control, and yet a part of me wants to believe that no manufacturer would purposefully use toxic substances in their litter products. I shared all this with Alyson and her reaction was one of a responsible pet guardian: “If there is even a small question about toxicity, I’m not buying it!” That put me to researching…
Interestingly, when I did a basic Internet search using keywords “pine” and “feline” the first several results were a myriad of pine-scented cat litter products. There are so many! When I got to the real information, however, I found a number of resources which confirm that in fact pine oil and many derivatives of pine and the scent of pine are toxic to cats. Several veterinary blogs and Q&A forums answer the question of pine scented litter, and the common answer is “we DO NOT recommend using any form of pine or pine scent near your cats at all. The reason for this is pine oil can cause upper respiratory infections. We can recommend an alternative litter product …”
Then there was this exchange regarding a particular type of bio-degradable pine pellet litter:
As a researcher I can tell you that pine pellets are indeed toxic to cats. Phenols in particular are poisonous to the cats’ neurological system. You cannot eliminate phenols from those pellets. The first sign of toxicity is facial tics and abnormal whisker and ear movements.
David, I was concerned about your comment and so I called [the manufacturer of a particular product], and the woman I spoke to reassured me that they have eliminated phenols from the pellets.
If you can smell the pine then the phenols are still present.
Several other resources further discuss pine oil and pine scent in an equally cautionary way. The primary culprit in pine and other essential oils (part two will discuss other essential oils) is, as the exchange above states, phenols. There is no debate that in their original form phenols are toxic to cats. Hydrosols, the diluted form of essential oils, are what is left after the oils are distilled to a seemingly non-toxic state. I say “seemingly” because there is controversy. Many of the research sites discuss hydrosols as a safe alternative, however some animal advocates insist that hydrosols have not been tested, and therefore unknown risks may exist.
If you are currently using a pine-scented litter, I encourage you to check the label carefully. If “oils” or phenols are listed, there is a good chance the product is unsafe for your kitty. While you are reading labels, review your household products as well. Furniture polish, common floor and counter cleaners, paint removers and solvents with pine scent may contain undiluted/undistilled oils which may be toxic for your cats.
Pine oil is just one of several essential oils which can be dangerous to cats and small house pets. Part two will further explore common essential oils and their relationship to our pets.