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

White Cockapoo Laid On Brown Chair Arm Looking Sad About Essential Oil Odour

The popularity of essential oils has grown considerably in the last thirty years.

However, While aromatherapy has been practiced for centuries in various cultures, it has yet to be properly evaluated for medical effectiveness on both humans and animals.

Long-term scientific studies and independent analysis in humans are rare and even rarer in animals.

But we know that the use of undiluted essential oils is especially problematic and, if placed upon sensitive skin or in the nostrils, can irritate or burn.

Birds are particularly susceptible to this as they have delicate lung membranes and may die from undiluted essential oil inhalation.


Other domesticated animals have similar characteristics that are unique to them regarding essential oil usage. However, not all oils are dangerous, and some can be complimentary if used correctly.

Therefore this article will briefly cover which essential oils are dangerous to cats, dogs, and birds and why. Plus, a little background information on how to identify the good oils and how to use them.

I highly recommend that you read this article. Your pet will thank you for it!

Are Essential Oils Poisonous?

Alarmingly, it seems that, because it says organic, pure, or 100% natural on the bottle – and it’s plant-based – that many of us assume that it must be ok and safe to use.

Consequently, this assumption places everybody in a perilous position—a position of putting trust in a product without genuinely investigating what the components of it do.

And how toxic these components can be to all the members of the family.

I think Paracelsus said it best when he said:

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

So, this raises the question; is the dose acceptable to us, also allowable to our beloved cats, dogs, and birds?

And as we are all of a different species, are some essential oils toxic to one, but not another? 

From this, I believe that if we chose to bring essential oils into our home, we should first gain an understanding of them.

This article focuses only on those oils that are dangerous to cats, dogs, and birds and highlight the warning signs of essential oil poisoning.

Essential Oils And Cats, Dogs, And Birds

Humans and animals react to different things in different ways because our bodies have evolved at a D.N.A level to do so.

We may have the same organs, but they process things differently, and if we ignore this, we can potentially kill our animals with kindness.

As an example of this, I know that if I feed my dog any food from the onion family, or chocolate, grapes, even raisins, I know that I am potentially causing him severe internal damage.

Damage that may eventually kill him!

Essential oils are no different. There are some oils that are beneficial for humans; however, that same benefit cannot be transferred onto an animal. 

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

This evolution is also true within the animal kingdom and even within the same species. Here we can find cockatoos tolerant of Eucalyptus while zebra finches are highly intolerant. 

This makes the world of essential oils around cats, dogs, and birds a reasonably difficult one to negotiate. But not impossible, and a little knowledge and understanding can go a long way.

This article will explain essential oils and the main dangers, symptoms, and signs to look out for regarding oil toxicity.

For a more in-depth look at using essential oils around pets, please read the following articles:

Essential oils toxic to cats (the ultimate guide).

Essential oils toxic to birds (avoiding harm).

Adding essential oils to fish tanks (the pros and cons).

What Are Essential Oils?

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. Additionally, these oils are also extremely concentrated and must be treated with care and respect.

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? 

We know that essential oils have long been used to sweeten the air, kill pests, sanitize surfaces, relieve maladies, and lessen ailments.  Without question, their powers have been documented for the last 5,000 years, so we are familiar with them and feel safe using them.

However, I would say “user beware,” never in human history have they been so concentrated and easily accessible and in so many forms. 

Are essential oils dangerous to humans?

In these super-concentrated forms, essential oils can be beneficial to humans but can also be very dangerous to our beloved pets.

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 can pose a toxic risk to household pets, especially 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.

Essential Oils And Cats

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 to 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 for 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.  As 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 can eventually cause liver failure.

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

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, then they need to be taken 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 oils you used in a sealed container for the veterinarian to examine. 

Essential Oils Dangerous To Cats

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

Essential oils toxic to cats.

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

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

Even low levels of the above oils will collect in the liver, and toxicity can occur very quickly or over a more extended period of time, depending upon the concentration 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.

Essential Oils And Dogs

white puppy dog running through grass

Unlike cats, dogs do have a metabolizing enzyme in their liver. Fortunately for them, this enzyme can help to eliminate the potentially toxic effect of some essential oils. (NOT PUPPIES). 

This is why we find essential oils used as an ingredient in some doggy products, such as shampoo or flea killer.

The quantities used in these products are very low and have undergone a great deal of testing at these levels, which is good news for your pooch. (Score one for the dogs, unless it’s bath night)! 

For this reason, please be aware that if you use a commercial product with an essential oil listed as an ingredient, don’t assume that it is safe to use that oil in a more potent form.

For example, many commercial flea-killing products list Tea tree oil as an ingredient. However, please note that this oil, in its concentrated form, is a killer for dogs. 

Be aware also that just like humans, 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 “Fido or Mr. Tiddles” when introducing them to a new product.

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

puppy dog big eyes looking sad sniffing essential oils

Essential oils have long been documented as having health benefits for humans, so why not share those benefits with your four-legged friend? 

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

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!

Pet owners should be aware that scientific research into the effects of essential oils on animals is still limited, and the long-term effects are not known.

For example, we once thought that putting lead in our makeup was safe. It then took many years before the long-term results were noticed.  So please look to the science, not the groundbreaking celebrity.

Danger Signs To Look For In Essential Oil Poisoning

A dog with potential essential oil poisoning may have difficulty breathing, 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 any product is on the skin or fur, then wash it off with haste and take the suspected product to the clinic with you.

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 Dangerous To Dogs

Please be aware that variable tolerance levels exist between individual dogs,  dog breeds, and animal species. Also, note that extracted essential oils are of a higher concentration than that of the source plant.

Therefore, please do not assume that an oil is safe because it can be found in a dog product or food. For example, Pennyroyal can be found in many flea and tick treatments, but I would never let it anywhere near my dog.

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 or 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 or 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 and to decrease swelling and pain in sore joints.

It is easily absorbed with both dermal or 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 keep essential oils, diffusing oil, and potpourri out of 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, and 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.

Essential Oils And 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 just 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 a very sensitive respiratory tract.

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 pet.

Especially as a caged animal has nowhere safe to escape to and cannot control the flow of air. 

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, it may be preferable for some people to use essential oils in the cage cleaning process. However, great care should be taken never to allow the bird to come into contact with the oils.

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 Dangerous To Birds

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, then it is safe to use all unlisted essential oils around your feathered friends, as it is not. Again, 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 respiratory systems.

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

Thirdly and most importantly, that 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.

Diffusing Essential Oils Near A Bird – Is It Safe?

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 Your 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 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.

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. Again, 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 oils near birds. And never add oil directly to a bird’s skin or feathers.

How To 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, then don’t use the oils until you believe they can cope with them. Always ask your veterinarian before using oils in order to check which ones are potentially very toxic to them.

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. Provide an accessible escape route.

Look out for signs that they are uncomfortable, stressed or feeling unwell, and if so, stop immediately and monitor for 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 oil or combination of oils.  

bottles of essential oils on natural fibre mat

Choosing Essential Oils

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.

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.  

Please read how to select high-quality essential oils and spot the fakes.

How Can I Ensure That I Am Buying Pure Essential Oils?

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 of 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?

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 that 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

Types Of Essential Oil Diffusers

Nebulizing Essential Oil Diffusers

Nebulizing diffusers do not require heat or water and contain no plastic. They work by using pressurized air and oil. A stream of air blows across a small tube, creating a vacuum that pulls the oil to the surface of the tube, where it is blown away in a fine mist. 

Ultrasonic Essential Oil Diffusers

These diffusers use electronic frequencies to create ultrasonic vibrations to break up the molecules’ distribution in a fine mist. The diffusers use a mixture of essential oil and water, which means that the oil’s potency is reduced upon use. As citrus essential oils are corrosive to plastic, they will need to be cleaned regularly to keep them running smoothly.

Evaporative Cold Air Essential Oil Diffusers

As the essential oil evaporates, it is released into the air as it turns from a liquid to a gas. These diffusers can use a small fan to blow air past the oil, causing it to evaporate faster than usual.

Evaporative Warm Air Essential Oil Diffusers

As the heated essential oil evaporates, it is released into the air as it turns from a liquid to a gas. These diffusers can use a small fan to blow air past the oil, causing it to evaporate faster than normal. Heating essential oils can change the oil’s chemical composition and change the predicted effect of the oil.

essential oils burner diffuser

If you are considering using any essential oils in your home or on your pet, please seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian first. 

In Conclusion:

Please remember that many essential oils are fine for one species but deadly to 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.

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.

Any questions or comments would be greatly appreciated. 

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.

Mark

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.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Thank you for your kind comments Janessarae
    So glad you liked the post, and I love the name Zoey for a parrot. As a kid, I named my lovebirds Adam and Eve.

  2. Oh thank you so much. I was very appreciative to find this information. I love my now and plant therapy oils but I wanted to be sure I wouldn’t poison my animal family. I have a Senegal Parrot, a dog and 3 cats. I’m adding this information to my phone screen as a short cut. I wont be using them unless my animals are in a completely different area or without ventilation. This may have saved my parrot, Zoey’s, life.🦜

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