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Essential Oils and the Danger to Cats, Dogs, and Birds

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In this article, I cover which essential oils are dangerous to cats, dogs, and birds and why some essential oils are toxic to one animal but safe for another.

I also list the risks, symptoms, and signs of essential oil poisoning and which oils are particularly deadly for each species.

Finally, I will give you some important information on how to identify essential oils that are genuine and how to use them safely near your pets.

Why Are Essential Oils A The Danger To Cats, Dogs, And Birds?

Animals have evolved with the ability to ingest or absorb trace amounts of specific variations of essential oils as they naturally occur in nature.

However, over-the-counter essential oils have been mechanically harvested and processed into a concentration level so high that if misapplied they could overpower and destroy the organs of many cats, dogs, and birds.

Furthermore, even at trace levels, there are essential oils that can be tolerated by one species of animal but are fatal to another.

For example, cockatoos are tolerant of Eucalyptus while zebra finches are highly intolerant. 

Also, oregano is dangerous to both cats and dogs but only the cat lacks the necessary enzyme to expel it from the body, meaning that it will permanently reside in the cat’s liver and higher concentrations of oregano may prove fatal.

Cats, dogs, and birds, also react to essential oils differently than humans and we should never assume that just because an essential oil is pleasurable to a human then it is pleasurable for an animal.

For example, Eucalyptus can help humans breathe easily but can be toxic to a cat’s liver. 

This makes the world of essential oils around cats, dogs, and birds a reasonably difficult one to negotiate.

Fake oils can kill pets so I highly recommend that you read this and my other related articles:

What Makes An Essential Oil A Danger to cats, Dogs, And Birds?

Essential oil is a natural product extracted from a single plant species. The oil may be extracted from the fruits, flowers, leaves, stems, seeds, roots, or virtually all parts of the plant.

These essential oils are then mechanically processed and concentrated into a very dense liquid up to 100 times the strength of the original trace element.

Do you know that it takes 75 lemons to make one 15ml bottle of lemon oil!

I think we all know the effect on the body when we bite into a lemon (scrunchy sour face).

Now because dogs and cats have such sensitive noses, how do you think they feel when placed near these products? 

Imagine this reaction on the small, frail organs of a cat or the sponge-like consistency of a bird’s lungs.

And essential oils do not mix with water meaning that they will not disperse and lose their toxic potency when ingested.

A large human may have some chance to survive such an attack on the system but a small animal will not.

All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; the dosage alone makes it so a thing is not a poison.

Paracelsus
Dangerous Dogs 3
Dangerous Dogs 3

Are essential oils dangerous to Cats?

Just like cigarette smoke and the human body, it may take some time to see the harm that essential oils are doing to our faithful friends.

Essential oils pose a toxic risk to cats, as they lack an enzyme in their liver that metabolizes and eliminates essential oil compounds oil from their body.

Here, the higher the essential oil concentration (i.e., 100%), the greater the risk to the cat.

Symptoms could include drooling, vomiting, tremors, respiratory distress, ataxia (wobbliness), low heart rate,  low body temperature, and liver failure. 

If you are considering using any essential oils in your home or on your pet, please seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian first. Not all essential oils are the same, and your veterinarian will be able to recommend a reputable supplier—additionally, an up-to-date list of “safe” oils and delivery methods.

Why Are Essential Oils Dangerous to Cats?

A tabby cat laid in the grass looking at the camera

Unlike dogs, cats spend a lot of their time grooming themselves and can reach almost every part of their body.

For this reason, it is highly recommended to understand which essential oils are unsafe for your furry friend and then keep them out of the house.

Understand also that some essential oils that we like to use on our bodies can also act like cat repellent. So even if it’s classed as “safe,” it may be the cause of your cat’s apparent grumpiness.

As mentioned earlier, cats lack an enzyme in their liver, which means they have difficulty metabolizing and eliminating certain compounds found in some essential oils.

Without this enzyme, toxic substances will build up within the liver and eventually lead to liver failure.

The toxins I refer to might be the concentrated essential oil itself, or perhaps, the phenols and phenolic compounds present within them.

Phenols, sometimes called phenolics, are a group of compounds that can be found in many commercial disinfectants—a chemical group in oils derived from plants such as Thyme and Oregano.

It is for this reason that, personally, I do not recommend using an essential oil diffuser around cats.  Essential oils, by their very nature, are easily absorbed both orally and through the skin.

These oils can quickly find their way to a cat’s liver and remain in situ.

As the liver cannot process this compound, it builds up over time as a toxin to the cat’s body and this can eventually cause a failure of the liver.


The time that this will take will be dependent upon factors such as age, health, level of ingestion, and any pre-existing allergies that might be present.

I must stress here that the most important factor to note is that although everything might seem ok on the surface, your furry friend might be struggling on the inside, so please avoid the non-cat-friendly oils.  

Essential Oil Poisoning In Cats – Signs To Look For

Inhalation of strong-smelling essential oils can cause some cats to develop a watery nose or eyes, a burning sensation in the throat, nausea, drooling, heavy breathing, and/or vomiting (perhaps with blood).

Ingested oils may leave burn marks around the mouth and nose area.

Heavy or difficult breathing is not normal in a cat and can be evidenced by rapid panting, labored breath, fast breathing, coughing, or wheezing.

Cats do cough up hairballs; however, a stressed and struggling cat will be close to the ground and trying to vomit, and you will observe little to no abdominal movement.

If your furry friend displays these symptoms, they need to be taken immediately to a source of fresh air.

If they do not recover quickly, then you need to take them to a veterinarian urgently.

Please also take the bottle, or bottles, of essential oils that you used in a sealed container for the veterinarian to examine. 

Essential Oils that Are Dangerous To Cats – A Listing

This list may not be exhaustive due to the lack of scientific research in the study of essential oils.

Essential oils toxic to cats.

Cats can accidentally absorb essential oils very easily because they are regularly grooming themselves and any airborne oils that land on their fur will be ingested or inhaled through the grooming process.

IF YOUR CAT INGESTS ANY ESSENTIAL OILS ACCIDENTALLY, THEN GO TO THE VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY.

Even low levels of essential oils can build up and collect in the liver, meaning that toxicity can occur very quickly or over a more extended period of time, depending upon the concentrations ingested.

Symptoms of essential oil poisoning include:

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Low heart rate
  • Respiratory distress
  • Ataxia (wobbliness)
  • Tremors
  • Low body temperature
  • Liver failure
  • Redness or burns on their tongue, gums, lips, or nose 

For more information please read essential oils toxic to cats the ultimate guide.

Are Essential Oils Dangerous To Dogs

white puppy dog running through grass

Dogs have a metabolizing enzyme in their liver that can help to eliminate the potentially toxic effect of some, but not all, essential oils.

THIS ENZYME IS NOT PRESENT IN PUPPIES! 

It is because of the enzyme that we find essential oils used as an ingredient in some doggy products, such as shampoo or flea killer.

The quantities of essential oils used in these products are extremely low and have undergone a great deal of testing, which is good news for your pooch.

Score one for the dogs, unless it’s bath night! 

Be aware that if you use a commercial product with an essential oil listed as an ingredient you cannot assume that it is safe essential oil to use in a different manner or in a more potent form.

For example, many commercial flea-killing products list Tea tree oil as an ingredient.

However, please note that Tea tree oil, in its concentrated form, is a killer for dogs. 

Please also be aware that dogs can have allergies and may show an adverse reaction to any essential oil, even at the lowest level.

For this reason alone, I would always recommend that you monitor your dog when introducing them to a new variant of essential oil.

If you like this informational post you might also like: 32 Toxic Foods For Dogs + Signs Your Dog Is Poisoned

It Must Be Ok If A Youtube Vet Is Recommending It?

puppy dog big eyes looking sad sniffing essential oils

it is true that some holistic veterinarians and enthusiastic owners, especially on youtube, are incorporating essential oils into their treatments.

However, please be aware that the use of these oils to treat pet ailments is still relatively new and unproven.

I prefer my veterinarian to be a veterinarian first and not a ground-breaking celebrity with a big smile and lovely hair!

Scientific research into the effects of essential oils on animals and humans is still very limited, and the long-term effects are simply unknown.

For example, we once thought that putting lead in our makeup was safe and It took many years of lead misuse and poisoning before the long-term results were discovered.

So please look to the science and not the groundbreaking celebrity whose heart appears to be in the right place.

If you like this you might also like: Zero-Waste Dog Care – From Puppy To Oldie (The Ultimate Guide)

What Are The Symptoms, And Signs Of Essential Oil Poisoning In A Dog

A dog with potential essential oil poisoning may have difficulty breathing, along with heavy panting, labored breath, burns, and/or swelling around the nose, mouth, and lips.

The dog may be trying to vomit, and that vomit may include blood. There may also be signs of muscle tremors and displays of poor coordination and balance.

Your dog may have difficulty walking, be lethargic, weak, and drooling excessively. The skin may be inflamed and red in places, and he may be pawing at the face whilst whining.

Another tell-tale sign to look for would be the strong aroma of the oils on the dog’s body, coat, or breath.

If your dog shows these signs, then it must be taken to a veterinarian immediately.

If there are any essential oils on the skin or fur, then they must be washed off with haste, and you will need to take the suspected essential oils to the clinic.

Do not induce vomiting or give the dog activated charcoal without a veterinarian’s advice, as this could worsen your dog’s condition.

The Pet Poison Control Center based in the US reports that they have seen an increase in essential oil toxicity in recent years. 

They report that this is due to the increase in pet owners’ desire to treat more holistically or with natural remedies using essential oils.

Their advice is to find a reliable source to gain the education you need to keep yourself, your family, and your pets safe. 

If you are considering using any essential oils in your home or on your pet, please seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian first. Not all essential oils are the same, and your veterinarian will be able to recommend a reputable supplier—additionally, an up-to-date list of “safe” oils and delivery methods.

Essential Oils That Are Dangerous To Dogs – A Listing

Please be aware that variable tolerance levels exist between individual dogs, dog breeds, and animal species.

list of essential oils dangerous to dogs

In addition to the above information, I would like to briefly break down four of these potential toxins to give you an idea of how seriously your beloved pet can be harmed.

Pennyroyal

Pennyroyal is usually administered to clear up flea infestations.

It is easily absorbed with both dermal and oral administration and both result in toxicity.

Signs include:

  • Vomiting (may include blood)
  • Diarrhea (may include blood)
  • Lethargy

Death due to hepatic necrosis             (acute toxic injury to the liver)

Pennyroyal is a known toxin to dogs – and in all forms, it should be avoided around dogs.

Melaleuca Oil

Melaleuca oil, also known as Tea Tree oil, is usually administered to a dog’s coat or skin in an attempt to clear up a skin condition or fleas.

It is easily absorbed with both dermal and oral administration and both result in toxicity.

Signs include:

  • Depression
  • Ataxia (uncoordinated gait)
  • Paralysis of the rear legs
  • Vomiting
  • Hypothermia
  • Dermal irritation

Pine oil

Pine oils are used as an antiseptic to decrease swelling and pain in sore joints.

It is easily absorbed with both dermal and oral administration and both result in toxicity.

Signs include:

  • Dermal irritation
  • Gastrointestinal irritation
  • Vomiting (may include blood)
  • Drooling
  • Weakness
  • Ataxia (poor gait)

This oil can also cause potential renal and liver failure problems and attack the central nervous system.

Wintergreen

Oil of wintergreen contains methyl salicylates, more commonly known as aspirin.

It is used topically as a pain reliever for muscle aches and pains.

Dogs can show signs of aspirin toxicity by vomiting due to severe gastrointestinal upset and ulcers, and potential renal and liver failure. 

Aggressive veterinary care would be needed for gastrointestinal protection and renal and hepatic support.  

Unlike cats, who prefer moving objects, dogs are inquisitive animals, so it is best to keep essential oils, diffusing oil, and potpourri out of the reach of dogs at all times.

Your four-legged friend may wish to investigate the sweet smell, and as we all know, a curious dog will eat or taste just about anything. I know mine does!

Furthermore, the essential oils present in potpourri will be synthetic or of a very low grade. This means that the aroma itself may be hugely unpleasant to a dog, but the oil could be fatal.

If you are considering using any essential oils in your home or on your pet, please seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian first. Not all essential oils are the same, and your veterinarian will be able to recommend a reputable supplier—additionally, an up-to-date list of “safe” oils and delivery methods.

Are Essential Oils Dangerous to Birds

green-yellow-budgie-on-tree-branch

Essential oils are volatile compounds and can therefore be potentially toxic to birds at certain concentrations.

Think of the 75 lemons used to make one 15ml bottle of oil; now, think of your active diffuser pushing that concentration into Polly’s cage.

All bird lovers know that birds have very sensitive respiratory tracts.

This is why miners used to take them into the mines to detect toxic fumes and other gases.

The birds would inhale the fumes or gas and die very quickly even though the miners had not yet detected the deadly toxins.

So knowing this, bird owners should be very cautious when using essential oils around their beloved pets.

Especially as birds are normally kept in a cage meaning that it has nowhere safe to escape to and cannot control the flow of air within their environment. 

My advice would be that for birds, in particular, you should always consult an avian veterinarian before exposing your feathered friend to essential oils.

Also, although it may be preferable for some bird owners to use essential oils in the cage cleaning process. Great care should be taken never to allow the bird to come into contact with the oils.

Warning

Birds can rapidly absorb essential oils through their feet, and a toxic oil such as Tea tree can quickly kill them.

Essential oils should never be applied directly to a bird’s feathers as birds prefer to clean them individually, and so ingesting the oils will occur. 

Essential Oils That Are Dangerous To Birds – A Listing

I am aware that some of the oils mentioned can appear on an ‘essential oils safe for birds’ list. And that points to disagreement about whether those particular essential oils must be avoided.

However, the research carried out in this field is very low, and the findings are both limited and mostly unverified. So for bird safety, I think it best that I include those oils within the list.

essential oils toxic to birds

Please do not think that as this is a very short list, it is safe to use all unlisted essential oils around your feathered friends, as it is not.

The research carried out in this field is very low, and the findings are limited and mostly unverified.

So before you begin testing new oils around your bird, first remember that birds have very small and fragile respiratory systems.

Secondly that today’s essential oils are very concentrated forms of nature’s original compounds.

Thirdly and most importantly, in nature, these two elements –Bird and Oil – would never meet in this strength.

Therefore if a bird ingests any essential oil at 100% concentration, the result will be fatal.

Is It Safe To Diffuse Essential Oils Near A Caged Bird?

Knowing that essential oils diffused into the air will undoubtedly be inhaled by your feathered friend, you must consider which type of diffuser you will use.

Once you have done that, please think about the type and concentration of oil you will use.

In my opinion, juvenile birds and very small birds should never come into contact with any essential oils.

I believe that their respiratory and metabolic systems are just too sensitive to cope with them. 

For more information, please read essential oils toxic to birds (avoiding harm).

How To Use Essential Oils Near A Caged Bird

If you are considering using any essential oils in your home or on your pet, please seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian first. Not all essential oils are the same, and your veterinarian will be able to recommend a reputable supplier—additionally, an up-to-date list of “safe” oils and delivery methods.

Diffuser: You can use a cold air diffuser with no more than 4 drops of essential oil to get the essence of the oil into the air.

You and your bird can then inhale this at a safe level.

Be sure to keep the room ventilated and never diffuse in a small room where the fragrance can become intensive.

Never use essential oil diffusing in a room with an uncaged bird as the bird will have direct access to the oil or diffuser and contact is inevitable.

Misting: A bird-friendly mist can be made up, and a few spritzes added to the room to freshen the air.

However, you must make sure to spray it away from the bird and never near the eyes.

Also, please ensure that the room is adequately ventilated and monitor the bird for any signs of stress.

As birds are so sensitive personally, I do not recommend using essential oils near birds.

And I never recommend adding any essential oil directly to a bird’s skin or feathers.

How To Safely Diffuse Essential Oils Near Cats And Dogs

First, I would like to say that I do not recommend using essential oils around cats as they lack a vital enzyme to deal with them.

If you feel like you want to use essential oils around your pets, I would always use common sense and start slow. Introduce them to your pets in small quantities to avoid stress and always monitor their reactions.

If you have young, weak, or sick animals, don’t use the oils until you believe they can cope with them. Puppies do not have the enzyme to metabolize an essential oil.

Always ask your veterinarian before using essential oils in order to check which ones are potentially very toxic to your breed of pet.

The lists in this post are not exhaustive. Every animal is an individual, and the research completed on essential oils is limited.

When using an oil or a combination of oils for the first time, always monitor your pets for at least ten minutes to see how they react and let them leave if they want to. Always provide an accessible escape route.

Look out for signs that they are uncomfortable, stressed or feeling unwell, and if so, stop immediately and monitor them for the next 24 hours.

Always diffuse in an open room, never in a small enclosed space with little or no moving air or ventilation.

If the animal can see a way out, it will be less stressed, and so will you, so it’s a win-win situation.

Never diffuse and leave the house, especially if you are using a new essential oil or a combination of essential oils.  

bottles of essential oils on natural fibre mat

Choosing Essential Oils That Are Safe For Cats, Dogs, And Birds

Information given here does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your aromatherapist, healthcare professional, or veterinarian.

Not all essential oils are made the same way, have the same purity, are 100% organic, have third-party testing, or are pesticide-free even though they say 100% natural.

Please read: How To Select High-Quality Essential Oils And Spot The Fakes

Due to the sudden rise in popularity of these products and the lack of legal testing, you must consider your purchase carefully before buying.

There is no universal standard for essential oil companies to abide by, so read the labels carefully.

I strongly advise you to always buy your oils only from a company that can prove that they have third-party testing.

Third-party testing means that their product has been tested by a laboratory with no connections to the manufacturing company and is not on their payroll. 

This will ensure that the ingredients are pure, have never come into contact with pesticides, and have no added chemicals.

Just because it says that it’s 100% natural and organic does not mean that every bit of it is, and that’s why third-party testing is so important.  

How Can I Ensure That I Am Buying Pure Essential Oils That Are Safe To Use Near Cats, Dogs, And Birds?

Consider these questions before you buy your essential oils:

  • Have you heard of the company before?
  • Can the essential oil company prove that it is third-party tested? 
  • Is the oil therapeutic grade? (marketing ploy only, not a legal term)
  • Does the bottle list the Latin name for the plants used to make the oil?
  • Is the price of the oil very low compared to other similar products?
  • Does the label state the words “100% pure essential oil”? 
  • Is the country of origin stated on the packaging?
  • Does the product smell like you would expect it to smell?
  • Is the bottle a dark, well-sealed glass container? (essential oils degrade more quickly when exposed to heat and light) 
  • Does the label or packaging include a statement about the growing practices used and if it’s pesticide-free?
  • Does the packaging state the method of distillation? 
  • Is the bottle made of plastic? (plastic contaminates essential oil)
  • Does the essential oil leave a greasy residue? (pure essential oils do not)
  • Is there a lot number on the bottle?
looking at essential oil bottle base with a magnifying glass

This is not an exhaustive list of questions, but they are important questions to consider regardless of this.

Which Essential Oil Brands Are Third-Party Tested?

Do not look upon this list as being complete. Like any list, it is only as good as the day it was compiled so things may have changed.

I am only providing this list as a starting point for you. This list has been provided so that you can get an idea of pricing and label quality.

Hopefully, this will help to guide you when you are doing your own investigations.

  • Plant Therapy
  • Eden’s Garden
  • Revive
  • doTERRA
  • Original Swiss Aromatics
  • Rocky Mountain Oils
  • Young Living
  • Aura Cacia
  • Lisse Essentials
  • Mountain Rose Herbs
  • Now Foods Essential Oils

In Conclusion:

Please remember that many essential oils that are considered to be safe for one species may not be safe for another.

Cats are vulnerable due to the lack of an enzyme and can suffer liver failure due to a build-up of toxins.

Birds’ respiratory tracts are especially vulnerable to strong odors as well as the oils themselves.

Even an oil on the safe list can cause them severe discomfort and could be fatal.

Dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in us. This means that ANY essential oil can cause a tremendous amount of discomfort, and therefore dogs need an escape route. 

I hope that you have found the information on this page helpful and informative. I have tried to be open-minded about using oils around the home, and obviously, my wife still loves them.

My dog Leo is fine and well and was the inspiration for me to investigate this subject.

Over the years, I have cared for many cats, birds, and fish but, to date, only two dogs.

If you liked this article,  be sure to check out my articles about using essential oils in your natural cleaning recipes

cat snuggling up to large dog in snowy garden

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional veterinary advice or medical care. Readers should also note that over time the currency and completeness of the information may change as the science progresses.

A proud father of two boys, an amateur actor, and a green living enthusiast, Mark has been sharing hints, tips, and sustainable living content on his website Sustainability Dad since august 2019.

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