Are Essential Oils Dangerous To Cats? The Ultimate Guide
This post contains affiliate links.
Cats lack a particular enzyme in their liver, glucuronyl transferase which is responsible for metabolizing and eliminating toxic compounds such as bilirubin and phenols from the body.
The lack of glucuronyl transferase makes essential oils dangerous to cats as the bilirubin, phenols and toxic compounds found within some essential oils are not flushed from the body but remain within the liver impeding its function.
Incurable liver damage can occur quickly or over a long period of time depending upon the conditions and the signs of essential oil poisoning can be hard to spot.
In this guide, I explain what makes essential oils dangerous to cats, list the essential oils dangerous to cats, explain how to use essential oils around cats, how to spot the signs of essential oil poisoning, and many other things.
So I recommend you take a quick look at the table of contents and jump to whatever interests you the most first and then check out the other good stuff at your leisure.
What Makes Essential Oils Dangerous To Cats?
1. Essential Oil Potency
Essential oils are volatile, organic constituents of plants that are extracted via distillation or cold pressing, and they consist of hundreds of naturally occurring compounds, some of which are toxic to cats.
Once the extracted oils are distilled and processed the extracted oils are extremely concentrated and can be up to 100 times their original concentration.
It is this high level of concentration that makes essential oils dangerous to cats as at this potency they can quickly overwhelm a cat’s senses causing illness or fatally poisoning a small or weak cat in moments.
2. Ease Of Essential Oil Absorption
Essential oils of full strength or diluted can quickly be absorbed through a cat’s thin skin membrane which allows for easy transference of essential oils from the skin to the blood.
In addition, Full strength or diluted essential oils can collect on the fur through petting and rubbing and are easily ingested when the cat begins the grooming process or inhaled when the oils are diffused into the air.
3. Quality And Consistency
Many Compounds Present Within Essential Oils Are Toxic To Cats
Essential oils are volatile constituents of plants and are formed from hundreds of compounds any one of which might be toxic to a cat.
But essential oils are not regulated which means that even a 100% pure essential oil may have been tainted with a toxic chemical compound within the manufacturing process.
For example, an organic crop may have been tainted with pesticides blown in from a neighboring field causing the oil to be rejected and sold on by a reputable essential oil manufacturer.
However, the purchasing company may bottle the tainted oil and sell it as 100% pure and organic as there is no enforceable regulation body to enforce the organic status.
The company may even use it as a cheap extender to a more expensive higher quality oil so that they can get more bang for their buck!
So without an agreed operating standard and safety checks, who can really say what is in the bottle. So please don’t take single ingredient essential oils at face value and believe that they are inherently safe for your loved one?
I recommend that always read the label carefully, investigate the company, check the packaging before purchasing, and never be tempted to buy a counterfeit essential oil.
Counterfeit products can be diluted with any product and have a greater potential to be deadly to our feline friends.
I cover how to spot fake and potentially toxic essential oils in greater depth in this article: How To Select High-Quality Essential Oils And Spot The Fakes
What compounds In Essential Oils Are Dangerous To Cats?
- Phenols, sometimes called phenolics, are a group of compounds that can be found in many commercial disinfectants.
These compounds are also found in some essential oils. These oils include cinnamon, clove, thyme, and oregano and are known to be toxic to cats.
- Monoterpene Hydrocarbons (Terpenes) are another group of compounds found in essential oils and these are highly toxic to cats.
They are especially highly concentrated in oils like coriander, dill, rosemary, citrus (limonene), and petitgrain essential oils.
It should also be noted that Monoterpene Hydrocarbons occur in a very high percentage in all of the citrus (limonene) essential oils.
The highest concentrations are in grapefruit, wild orange, lemon, and lime where concentrations can reach up to a staggering 95%!
Petitgrain oil is taken from a tree’s twigs and leaves and is steam distilled to produce an herbaceous essential oil such as pine.
This is why a cat licking a bowl of liquid potpourri for instance may receive a deadly dose with just one lick.
List Of Essential Oils Dangerous To Cats
This list may not be exhaustive due to the lack of scientific research available in the study of essential oils.
List Of The Most Toxic Essential Oils Dangerous To Cats:
- All Citrus (d-limonene) variants
- Birch (all variants)
- Tea tree (melaleuca) is exceptionally toxic
The higher the concentration of essential oil ingested, the greater the risk and the shorter the time you have to act. If your cat is Poisoned by any of the above essential oils you must go to, or seek veterinary advice immediately.
It should be noted that the above list is being expanded as our knowledge of essential oils and their effects on a cat’s metabolism increases.
it is perfectly possible that your cat could be in distress by coming into contact with an essential oil that is not on the list.
Like humans, cats are individuals and could be distressed by a particular smell or heavy scent, remember some cats are more sensitive than others.
Therefore, closely observing your cat’s behavior is the best indicator of how they are reacting to essential oils.
Education is everything but you know your cat better than anyone else and you should always trust your instincts.
With that in mind, please check your aerosols for underlying ingredients which may include essential oils.
Ylang-Ylang for example is often included in fresh air aerosols, but only listed in small lettering underlying the main scent.
Signs And Symptoms Of Essential Oil Poisoning In Cats
Accurate observation and diagnosis of symptoms of essential oil poisoning in cats are linked to three main factors.
These factors are:
1. Type of essential oil involved
2. Period since poisoning occurred
3. Level of exposure involved.
Visible symptoms of essential oil poisoning can include:
- Jaundice, yellowing of the skin, eyes, ears and gums
- Drooling, Hypersalivation
- Excessive burping
- Lethargy, depression, or dullness
- Low heart rate
- Respiratory distress (breathing with their mouth open), Coughing, gagging, choking, Wheezing, Hyperventilation
- Ataxia (wobbliness)
- Seizures, coma
- Low body temperature
- Liver failure
- Redness or burns on their tongue, gums, lips, nose, or pads (not always present)
- Collapse or seizures.
If a cat displays any of these symptoms then 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 along with the suspected oils.
Please note that cats do vomit a lot as they frequently cough up hairballs, Therefore be mindful of this when diagnosing the symptom of vomiting.
A stressed and struggling cat, possibly poisoned, will be close to the ground and trying to vomit.
This is different from a furball cough vomiting action that is off the ground with little to no abdominal movement.
Remember, if you suspect your cat has been poisoned by essential oils, contact your veterinarian immediately. Do this even if they aren’t showing symptoms.
It is far better to be safe than sorry.
Common Ways A Cat Can Be Poisoned By Toxic Essential Oils
- Direct skin/fur contact. Never apply any essential oils to your cat’s skin or fur as they are at risk of licking it off and ingesting it. The licking action may even cause noticeable burns to the tongue, mouth, and throat.
- Eaten/swallowed: Cats are very inquisitive by nature and can easily swallow oils if they happen across them. An example of this would be drinking the liquid contained in/on reed or other passive diffusers.
- Cats will often lick their owners so don’t allow your cat to lick any areas that might contain essential oil compounds from perfumes or diluted oils.
- Absorbed: Many homemade natural cleaners contain essential oils which can be absorbed through the skin on a cat’s paws.
- Inhaled. Essential oils can be inhaled if the oils are airborne from the use of fragranced candles, diffusers, sprays, and potpourri products.
The immediate toxic effects of inhalation are relatively easy to combat because the essential oils used are quite diluted.
However, for kittens, elderly, sick, or weak cats with underlying medical conditions, like asthma, using neat essential oils in sprays or active diffusers will greatly increase the risk.
- Accidental: Toxic compounds from essential oils can be found in commercial products and just be marked as a fragrance – plug-in air fresheners are the worst culprits.
Flower waters known as Hydrosols are a weak alternative to essential oils and are thought to be safe by many people. However, it is not the strength that is the problem here.
It is the hidden toxic compounds from the plant matter used to make the hydrosols that form the danger to your cat.
What To Do If You Suspect Your Cat Has Been Poisoned
Signs of poisoning tend to appear suddenly, depending upon the poison, so it is important to be aware of this.
However, even if you only suspect that your cat has swallowed or touched something poisonous, action must be taken immediately.
Essential oils can, for example, be quickly absorbed into the pad of a cat and enter the bloodstream.
Contact a veterinarian immediately.
Don’t wait for signs of illness as by then your cat may be too sick to survive.
If you can see the poison, remove the cat away from it immediately.
If possible, take a sample of the poison and the original container with you to the veterinarian.
This will be invaluable in helping the vet evaluate the best course of treatment.
The veterinarian may ask you to bring the cat in immediately or may give you advice over the phone.
Forcing, or encouraging, a cat to vomit may not be helpful, and you should not try to treat a cat’s symptoms without a veterinarian’s advice.
Essential oils cannot be completely removed from a cat’s system without a veterinarian’s assistance. Any delay in treatment can be deadly so, when in doubt, always contact a veterinarian for advice.
The sooner the cat has the correct medical attention, the sooner the treatment can begin. This reduces the time for the poison to have a devastating effect and will increase the chances of a notable recovery.
Essential Oils Dangerous To Cats Poisoning Hazards – Diffusers
Diffusers are one of the most common household devices that can expose your feline friend to toxic essential oils dangerous to cats. So let’s take a closer look at these and the dangers they represent.
Evaporative cold air diffusers work by the slow evaporation of essential oil and the resulting fragrance then being released into the air.
These types of diffusers include reed diffusers and motorized diffusers that use a fan to blow air through a filter that has been permeated with essential oil.
Both these diffuser types are easily knocked over by a curious cat which then has access to the essential oils at a concentration level that may prove fatal.
Evaporative warm air diffusers work by rapidly heating the essential oils to an evaporation point. As the heated oil evaporates, the fragrance is released into the air and this occurs at a higher rate than traditional cold air diffusing.
However, the heating of essential oils in this manner can change the chemical compound of the oil which can be hazardous when inhaled, especially if the essential oil is counterfeit.
Active oil diffusers disperse microdroplets of essential oil into the air in addition to the fragrance.
These types of diffusers are more dangerous to cats due to the high oil-to-air ratio and include nebulizers and ultrasonic diffusers.
My advice would be that if you are going to diffuse essential oils around cats, then please diffuse small amounts of your chosen essential oil, for a short period of time and without your cat in the room.
And never diffuse an essential oil on the list of essential oils dangerous to cats!
Additional essential oil poisoning hazards around the home.
Misting from natural homemade recipes has the same effect as active diffusers so care must be taken here.
This is especially true of those recipes that use citrus essential oils sprayed as a mist as these oils are a particular irritant and toxic to cats.
Misting also makes it much easier for essential oils to enter a cat’s bloodstream via inhalation into the lungs.
Respiratory problems may first occur and then the oils will be quickly transported to, and accumulate in, the Liver.
Topically applied oil on humans as cats love their owners they will rub, lick, and cuddle them to show affection. This will result in the transference of the oil to the cat and become a possible poisoning route.
Holistic recipes where the instructions for humans have transferred to the cat without any consideration for feline anatomy, physiology, and behavior.
Most importantly, concentrated or diluted essential oils should never be directly applied to any part of a cat’s anatomy.
An example of this would be diluting essential oils with a carrier oil such as coconut oil and then applying it to a cat’s fur.
Essential oil holistic recipes for cats are to my mind very dangerous and I advise that you do not entertain them.
Remember cats cannot metabolize essential oils and a build-up of toxic compounds in the liver may not be noticeable at first but eventually will be fatal.
Are Essential Oils Dangerous To Cats In Commercial Flea And Tick Products
Essential oils, including Peppermint, tea tree, limonene, cinnamon, and lemongrass can all be found in some popular flea control products but at extremely low concentrations.
However, cats can have serious adverse reactions to some of these ingredients, even when the product is used according to label directions.
This is because, cat allergies are not uncommon, and the fragrance of the oil or oil absorbed into the skin or ingested from the fur mat cause an adverse reaction.
The side effects of these commercial products may include skin irritation, agitation or lethargy, drooling, vomiting, tremors, and seizures.
I believe it to be best practice when using these products to start small and work your way up and never try to replace a commercial product with a homemade alternative.
If your cat does show signs of distress then stop using the product immediately and consult your local veterinarian.
It is essential never to use flea or tick treatments intended for dogs on your cat. This is because some of these products contain Permethrin, and this is very poisonous to cats. Permethrin however is well tolerated and highly effective on dogs.
How To Expose A Cat To Essential Oils not on the Essential Oils Dangerous To Cats List – (Do’s And Don’ts)
If you must expose your cat to essential oils it is vitally important to give the cat an escape route.
This will also help to relieve any stress felt by yourself which will then be picked up and mirrored by the cat.
An escape route can be achieved by simply leaving some doors and windows open and the cat flap unlocked.
Start by Introducing essential oils to your cat in small quantities to avoid any stress and always monitor the cat’s reactions.
Small quantities refer to half the recommended quantities of oil, over shorter periods, with a break for observation.
It may also be a good idea to contact a veterinarian first, especially if the cat has any underlying health issues.
I strongly recommend that you should never diffuse essential oils and leave the house.
This is especially important if the oils are being introduced for the first time or it is a new combination of oils.
And it is equally important to never leave liquid essential oils unattended as an ‘inquisitive’ cat may wish to sample them.
Signs of ingested oils may include; a watery nose or eyes, a burning sensation in the throat, nausea, drooling, heavy breathing, and/or vomiting (perhaps with blood). Ingested oils may also leave burn marks around the mouth, tongue, and nose area.
Also, remember that oils diffused into the air from active oil diffusers must fall somewhere. Oil droplets in the air may settle onto a cat’s fur, and in time; these oils will be ingested as the cat cleans and grooms itself.
Additionally, cats get everywhere and oil droplets that settle on surfaces that the cat frequents can be absorbed by the cat fur or through the paws. In this way, secondary contamination can occur, further compounding the problem.
How To Spot Fake And Potentially Toxic Essential Oils
Even a ‘safe‘ essential oil can be toxic to cats, or any other pets if it is from dubious origins. So every precaution must be taken to buy only Pure and third-party tested essential oils.
Third-party testing means that the essential oil has been tested by a laboratory that has no connections to the original manufacturing company and is not on their payroll.
Third-party testing ensures that all of the ingredients are pure, have never come into contact with pesticides, and have no added chemicals. This is why third-party testing is so important in an industry that has no universal standard agreements.
So Consider these questions before you buy your essential oils:
- Have you heard of the company before?
- Can the company prove that its essential oils are third-party tested?
- Does the bottle list the Latin name for the plants used to make the oil?
- Is the price of the essential oil comparable to similar oils and brands, or very cheap?
- Does the label state the purity as 100%?
- Have you heard of the company before?
- Does the product smell like you would expect it to smell?
- Is the bottle a dark, well-sealed container? (essential oils degrade more quickly when exposed to heat and light)
- Is the bottle plastic? (plastic bottles are never used to store essential oils).
- Does the label or packaging include a statement about the growing practices used and if it’s pesticide-free?
- Does the essential oil leave a residue on white paper? (Pure essential oils do not leave a residue when they dry).
- Does the essential oil feel greasy? (Pure essential oils are absorbed quickly and do not leave a greasy feeling).
If there is any doubt in your mind after you have run through the above checks then do not buy the oil. I cannot stress enough that essential oils have become very popular and as such are open to abuse.
A poor standard oil with unknown additives can be very dangerous to the health of any cat.
Trusted Third-Party Tested Essential Oil Suppliers
Do not look upon this list as being full, complete, or totally trustworthy. Like any list, it is only as good as the day it was compiled so things may have changed.
My advice is always to Double-Check everything to your own satisfaction.
However, I hope this list will help to guide you when you are looking for an essential oil that is not dangerous to cats.
- Plant Therapy
- Eden’s Garden
- Original Swiss Aromatics
- Rocky Mountain Oils
- Young Living
- Aura Cacia
- Lisse Essentials
- Mountain Rose Herbs
- Now Foods Essential Oils
I Use Essential Oils In My Home – How To Reduce The Risk Of Essential Oils To Your Cat
Actions to take that will minimize the risk of your cat coming into contact with essential oils.
- Always store essential oils away from your cat. In this instance, curiosity might kill the cat! So find a lockable box or container and always return sealed bottles directly to it.
- Don’t touch your cat after handling essential oils. If you touch undiluted essential oils, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before touching your cat.
- Only use diluted essential oils in natural cleaners when cleaning. Avoid using undiluted essential oils for cleaning or misting (fresh air spray). Cats get everywhere and essential oil droplets can easily be absorbed by their fur.
- Thoroughly check the ingredients list on all commercial products. Many products contain essential oils to enhance the sweet smell experience and these are predominately listed. However, this is not always the case and some oils are added surreptitiously.
Always read the ingredients list thoroughly and check for hidden oils. Ylang-Ylang is a favorite hidden additive that is toxic to cats.
- Try to use oils that are diluted for personal grooming. If you use essential oils for personal grooming, or around the home, try to make sure that they are always diluted first.
Also never use the essential oils on the dangerous to cats list and place them on a non-cat-friendly spot on your person. This will help to minimize the risk to your cat but allow you to comfort them.
- Keep your cat away from diffusers. Whether you use passive reed type diffusers or active diffusers such as a nebulizer, always have good ventilation and an easy escape route for your cat.
Never leave your cat and an exposed essential oil alone in the room together. Remember, all essential oils are poisonous if taken in the right quantities.
- Use a commercial flea product with care. Dogs and cats react very differently to certain chemicals so NEVER use a dog product on a cat.
Moreover, as essential oils aren’t regulated, non-commercial flea products may use oils with a more than dubious heritage. So I would always recommend getting a prescription flea treatment product from your vet or a pharmacist.
A Final Word On Essential Oils Dangerous To Cats
I believe that due to the hundreds of highly volatile compounds that can be found in every essential oil that no essential oil can ever be guaranteed to be 100% safe.
All essential oils have the potential to be dangerous to cats due to their high concentration levels coupled with the fact that a cat’s anatomy is very sensitive and easily overwhelmed.
But more importantly, I do not recommend using essential oils around cats as they lack the important enzyme glucuronyl transferase that prevents toxicity in the liver.
If you feel as though you want to use essential oils around your cat, I would advise you to always use common sense and start slow. Introduce them to your cat in small quantities to avoid stress and continuously monitor their reactions.
If you have young, weak, or sick animals, of any kind, then don’t use essential oils until you believe that they can cope with them.
Always ask your veterinarian’s advice before using essential oils near your cat in order to check which ones are potentially harmful. Research is limited and all cats are individuals with individual peculiarities and allergies.
When using an essential oil or a combination of oils for the first time, always monitor your cat for at least ten minutes to see how it reacts to them and give them an easy escape route.
Look out for signs that suggest that they are uncomfortable, stressed or feeling unwell, and if so, stop immediately and monitor for the next 24 hours.
Always diffuse in an area that is open and well-ventilated and never use essential oils in a small enclosed space with little or no ventilation or a viable escape route.
Do you know what to do in an emergency situation? Learn how to perform life-saving first aid on your pet.
Learn more with – First Aid For Pets
Other Related articles: –
Essential oils and the danger to cats, dogs, and birds.
Essential Oils Toxic To Birds (Avoiding Harm)
Adding Essential Oils To Fish Tanks ( The Pros & Cons )