Hi all my furry friends… Skye Blake reporting on a very confusing subject! What are essential oils?
Do they kill fleas? Are they safe to use on or around my furry feline?
There’s a lot of confusion swirling around the internet about essential oils.
People say oils are either safe or dangerous, but nobody gives scientific proof to back these claims.
Let’s discover more…
- Who Is Skye Blake?
- What Are Essential Oils?
- Essential Oils Can Be Beneficial or Deadly
- Claims About Essential Oils
- Are These Claims True?
- Claim #1 – Liver Enzyme Deficiency
- Claim #2 – Phenols
- Claim #3a – Citrus Oils: d-Limonene
- Claim # 3b – Citrus Oils: Linalool
- Claims #4 – Benzene Rings and #5 – Benzyl Alcohol
- Claim #6 – Pinene & Terpineol
- Claim #7 – Eucalyptus Oil and eucalyptol (1,8-cineole)
- Claim #8 – Peppermint (Mint Family)
- Claim #9 – Tea Tree (Ti Tree) (Melaleuca alternifolia)
- Claim #10 – Camphor
- Claim #11 – Methyl Salicylate (Birch, Wintergreen)
- Claim #12 – Oils That Nobody Should Use!
- The Wrong Way to Use Essential Oils
- Diffusion vs. Direct Application
- The Trouble with Stories About Essential Oils Being Toxic
- In Conclusion
- Related Pages of Interest
- List of Sources
Who Is Skye Blake?
Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you!
Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page.
All sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.
The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.
What Are Essential Oils?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “essential oil” as, “any of a class of volatile oils that give plants their characteristic odors and are used especially in perfumes or flavorings, and for aromatherapy”.1https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/essential%20oil
In their pure, most concentrated form, these oils are potent.
According to the Tisserand Institute, the oils you get in a bottle are 50-100 times more powerful than the oils in the plants themselves. 2https://tisserandinstitute.org/safety-pages/
Essential oils have become popular with people as aromatherapy for various medical conditions both by diffusing into the air and applying to the skin.
There are also some veterinary applications for essential oils (Veterinary Aromatic Medicine).3“The Science Behind Cats and Essential Oils” – written by Melissa Shelton DVM – Veterinarians Westminster, Maryland | Carroll County Veterinary Clinic (carrollcovet.com), posted January 31, 2018
Perfume, air freshener, “natural” flea treatments, and many other products have oils as active ingredients.
Essential Oils Can Be Beneficial or Deadly
Drugs and essential oils are similar because both can have great benefits in proper dosages, but both can be deadly when improperly used and abused.
“Essential oils need to be regarded similarly to how we use drugs. There are species considerations, dosing considerations, and interval considerations.”4“The Science Behind Cats and Essential Oils” – written by Melissa Shelton DVM – Veterinarians Westminster, Maryland | Carroll County Veterinary Clinic (carrollcovet.com), posted January 31, 2018
Dr. Jeff Wilcke wrote something interesting in light of the evidence about essential oils… “Even drugs known for toxicity in cats can be used safely if we are aware of and compensate for certain peculiarities.”5“Idiosyncracies of Drug Metabolism in Cats: Effects on Pharmacotherapeutics in Feline Practice”, by Jeff R. Wilcke, DVM, MS, Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice-Nov. 1984, Vol. 14, No. 6
Claims About Essential Oils
People have made various claims about essential oils. Here are a few…
- Cats are deficient in a liver enzyme that makes them unable to process (metabolize) certain chemicals in oils, causing the oils to build up and kill the cat
- Phenols are toxic to cats
- Citrus oils contain d-limonene and linalool that cause liver damage or failure
- Cats are sensitive to compounds containing benzene rings
- Pinene and terpineol are toxic to cats
- Benzyl alcohol is toxic to cats
- Eucalyptus oil and eucalyptol (1,8-cineole) are toxic to cats
- Mint (especially peppermint) is toxic to cats
- Tea Tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) is toxic to cats
- Camphor is toxic to cats
- Methyl Salicylate in birch and wintergreen is toxic to cats
- Certain oils exist that should not be used for humans or animals
Are These Claims True?
I searched and searched for scientific studies, anything to back up these claims, but found only a few studies and resources.
There are two sources that have scientific references, Tisserand Institute and Melissa Shelton, DVM.
Both advise you to treat essential oils the same way you do drugs… carefully and with the guidance of a knowledgeable veterinarian.
Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young have written a helpful reference book, “Essential Oil Safety“, reviewing 400 oils.
If you want to know more about these oils, this book is worth exploring.
Melissa Shelton, DVM
The other is Melissa Shelton, DVM, a holistic veterinarian whose interesting article, “The Science Behind Cats and Essential Oils“, talks about what essential oils are and how they affect your feline friend.6“The Science Behind Cats and Essential Oils” – written by Melissa Shelton DVM – Veterinarians Westminster, Maryland | Carroll County Veterinary Clinic (carrollcovet.com), posted January 31, 2018
Using her veterinary skills and experience, Dr. Shelton has developed a line of high-quality essential oils that are safe for cats.
Find out more at AnímálEO (I make no money from these).
Dr. Shelton’s explanation of the studies and many scientific sources she lists is quite eye-opening and worth reading for anyone interested.
Claim #1 – Liver Enzyme Deficiency
Cats are able to metabolize essential oils but have a different elimination time than other animals.
A study mentioned by Dr. Shelton was about plasma half-lives for sodium salicylate.
“…it was discovered that ponies, swine, goats, dogs, and cats had drastically different elimination times… a cat actually took almost 38 hours to eliminate the drug, while a dog took just under 9.”7“The Science Behind Cats and Essential Oils” – written by Melissa Shelton DVM – Veterinarians Westminster, Maryland | Carroll County Veterinary Clinic (carrollcovet.com), posted January 31, 2018(emphasis added)
In plain English, your kitty’s body, especially the liver, processes chemicals in its own unique way.
It takes longer for it to get rid of the bad stuff than other animals.
The longer toxic things stay in the body, the more dangerous they are.
So don’t assume that what is safe for you or your dog will be fine for your cat!
Claim #2 – Phenols
What are Phenols?
“In organic chemistry, phenols are a class of chemical compounds consisting of a hydroxyl group (—OH) bonded directly to an aromatic hydrocarbon group.”8Thomas F. DeRosa, in Advances in Synthetic Organic Chemistry and Methods Reported in US Patents, 2006
Grapes, garlic and onions are a few of the fruits and vegetables that contain phenols.
The claim that phenols are toxic is based on a very old study and has NOTHING TO DO WITH ESSENTIAL OILS.
The study is about “benzyl alcohol being injected, added to meat products as a preservative, or used as a bacteriostatic in drug or biological products…9
"The Science Behind Cats and Essential Oils" – written by Melissa Shelton DVM – Veterinarians Westminster, Maryland | Carroll County Veterinary Clinic (carrollcovet.com), posted January 31, 2018
Even though cats have problems metabolizing phenols, they are able to do so.
They don’t build up over time, just take longer to eliminate from the body.
Phenols are a good example of compounds that are helpful in very diluted forms and deadly in higher doses.
Many Uses of Phenols
Check out Wikipedia for lots of information about the many uses of phenols, in medicine, insecticides, plastics, etc.10https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenol
“…if you only read the headline of ‘Toxicosis in cats from the use of benzyl alcohol in lactated Ringer’s solution’ in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association in 1983, you may worry also about the use of any phenol…
If you knew nothing of veterinary medicine, feline physiology, or the vast difference between a chemical benzene ring and a natural substance containing a benzene ring, you would err on the side of caution.”11“The Science Behind Cats and Essential Oils” – written by Melissa Shelton DVM – Veterinarians Westminster, Maryland | Carroll County Veterinary Clinic (carrollcovet.com), posted January 31, 2018
Dr. Shelton mentions a 2011 article about feline kidney disease that she says indicates…
“…there are alternative methods for phenol metabolism, than simply the liver enzyme pathways that cats possess.
With logical and appropriate use of essential oils containing natural phenol compounds, cats clearly compensate for any reduction in metabolism speed.
It again, is all dependent on the dose and frequency of administration.”12“The Science Behind Cats and Essential Oils” – written by Melissa Shelton DVM – Veterinarians Westminster, Maryland | Carroll County Veterinary Clinic (carrollcovet.com), posted January 31, 2018[emphasis added]
The conclusion to all this fancy talk is that cats are able to handle phenols in lower doses and in regulated frequency.
They should be used under the guidance of a knowledgeable veterinarian.
Claim #3a – Citrus Oils: d-Limonene
What is d-Limonene?
d-Limonene is a colorless liquid aliphatic hydrocarbon… a major component in oils of citrus fruit peels13 Limonene – Wikipedia
Lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges, and other citrus fruits contain d-Limonene.
It’s used as a flavoring agent in manufacturing foods.
There’s not much information available about possible d-limonene poisoning of cats.
Dosage Amount is Key
While following the trail on this subject, I found info that shows the same conclusion as phenols.
There’s no problem at low dose levels, but once you make the concentrations higher, you’re in trouble… and you won’t be doing that with your precious kitty, will you?
Evidence of the Dosage Problem
Dr Shelton quotes an article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association14 “Effects of An Insecticidal Dip Containing d-Limonene in the Cat, by S.B. Hooser, V.R. Beasley, and J.I. Everitt” that describes the effects on cats of a commercial insecticidal dip containing d-limonene.
Using the manufacturer’s recommended concentration (1.5 oz per gallon of water), they found no sign of any problem. [emphasis added]
As they increased the concentration, reactions such as drooling and shaking muscle tremors happened.
These and other problems began at 5 times the recommended concentration and worsened as the concentration got stronger.15“Effects of an insecticidal dip containing d-limonene in the cat”, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1986, “The Science Behind Cats and Essential Oils” – written by Melissa Shelton DVM – Veterinarians Westminster, Maryland | Carroll County Veterinary Clinic (carrollcovet.com), posted January 31, 2018[emphasis added]
“Symptoms of limonene toxicity may include hypothermia, tremors [shaking], ataxia [uncoordinated muscles] and excess salivation.
Agitation and vocalization may also occur.
Irritation of the skin, particularly around the scrotum, has been reported and ocular irritation may occur if eyes are accidentally exposed.”16“EPA Reregistration Eligibility Decision-Limonene”, 2001, pp. 10-11, 196-200
Always read the label’s “Precautionary Statements” to read about the potential for skin irritation and sensitivity of some animals to treatment (e.g., kittens, seniors, and cats with liver or kidney diseases).
You’ll probably also notice they caution you against using their product undiluted if it’s in concentrated form.
Claim # 3b – Citrus Oils: Linalool
What is Linalool?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “linalool” as “a fragrant liquid alcohol C10H18O that occurs both free and in the form of esters in many essential oils and is used in perfumes, soaps, and flavoring materials”.17 Linalool | Definition of Linalool by Merriam-Webster (merriam-webster.com)
In a 2002 article “Caveat Emptor: Safety Considerations for Natural Products Used in Arthropod Control“, John T. Trumble talks about linalool primarily in dips and sprays.
His research found nothing indicating linalool causing reactions in cats or other animals.18“Caveat Emptor: Safety Considerations for Natural Products Used in Arthropod Control”, American Entomologist, Vol. 48, No. 1, Spring 2002, pp. 9-10
Testing was done on the effectiveness of linalool against fleas on live cats and the following was reported in an article called “Controlling Ticks and Fleas with Linalool“…
“Infested cats were ‘dipped’ in one of the following linalool compositions: 1.0%, 0.5%, and 0.5% +MGK-264 synergist.
This synergist was used because both it and piperonyl butoxide prevented recovery of immobilized fleas and increased the toxicity of linalool.
Cats dipped in linalool exhibited no ill effects. [emphasis added]
The 1.0% dip and the 0.5% dip with synergist were both 100% effective as all fleas were eliminated from 3 treated animals.
The residual activity of linalool was evaluated by re-infesting a flea-free cat 8 days after treating it with 1.0% linalool. No residual activity was observed.”19“Controlling Ticks and Fleas with Linalool”, 2013
Claims #4 – Benzene Rings and #5 – Benzyl Alcohol
What are Benzene Rings?
According to Wikipedia, benzene “is an organic chemical compound with the molecular formula C6H6.
The benzene molecule is composed of six carbon atoms joined in a planar ring with one hydrogen atom attached to each.
It’s classed as an aromatic hydrocarbon.
Benzene is a colorless and highly flammable liquid with a sweet smell, and is partially responsible for the aroma around petrol (gasoline) stations.”20 Benzene – Wikipedia
What is Benzyl Alcohol?
Benzyl alcohol is a mildly aromatic colorless liquid. It’s often used as a treatment to kill lice on people.
Dr. Shelton has this to say about benzene rings and benzyl alcohol…
“These are also often listed as toxic to cats, and often are linked with phenol toxicity explanations.
The main research that supports this claim is from 1982, when the FDA issued a statement finally claiming Benzyl alcohol hazardous as a parenteral preservative.
While this substance is related to other chemicals found within essential oils, it is noteworthy that this is a synthetic compound, which was being used as a preservative in intravenous fluids.
A much different situation than the proper use within aromatherapy applications. (emphasis added)
Benzyl alcohol is mainly found in ‘essential oils’ that are not recommended for use with animals – these include Benzoin and other absolutes such as hyacinth, narcissus, violet leaf, champaca, bakul, and jasmine.”
Claim #6 – Pinene & Terpineol
Pine, fir, cypress, cedar, juniper, and spruce are in the “pine-type” family of oils. They contain pinene and terpineol.
What is Pinene?
Pinene is an alkene hydrocarbon that’s in over 400 essential oils.
Dr. Shelton notes there is a report on Pine-sol® toxicity from 1986 about oils containing a-pinene oxidizing and causing “…increased rates of sensitization and reaction”. The oxidation is the problem not pinene itself. (emphasis added)
Her conclusion: “…we should be careful to use fresh, non-damaged essential oils, and use them with proper dilutions and protocols, [emphasis added] [but] there did not appear to be an overt reason to avoid the chemical pinene in cast specifically.” 21“The Science Behind Cats and Essential Oils” – written by Melissa Shelton DVM – Veterinarians Westminster, Maryland | Carroll County Veterinary Clinic (carrollcovet.com), posted January 31, 2018
What is Terpineol?
Terpineol is “a group of four monoterpene alcohol isomers. The most common form of terpineol is alpha-terpineol (a-terpineol).
Terpineol occurs naturally in more than 150 plants, including cannabis, lilacs, lime blossoms, eucalyptus sap and pine trees.”22 “What is Terpineol | Terpineol Definition by Weedmaps
Terpineol is an ingredient in many essential oils and is claimed to be harmful.
I could not find any sources showing evidence of problems being caused exclusively by terpineol.
Cajupet is an oil that contains terpineol and is high in 1,8-cineole.
Most likely, it’s like many others… safe for your buddy when properly diluted, but potentially harmful in higher dosages.
Use it only as directed by a knowledgeable vet.
Claim #7 – Eucalyptus Oil and eucalyptol (1,8-cineole)
Eucalyptus oil is often on lists of toxins for cats. So far, my sleuthing has found no sources to back this up.
The lists also don’t give any information on what varieties of eucalyptus they consider to be dangerous.
Eucalyptol (1,8-cineole) is in eucalyptus, “…camphor, laurel, bay leaves, tea tree, wormwood, rosemary, common sage, Cannabis sativa,”23https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucalyptol, and cajuput, among other plants.
The information available shows that low doses are okay, but anything higher than the recommended dosage can cause problems.
That’s when the problems start, so just be careful when using these oils.
In a clinical microbiology review by C.F. Carson, K.A. Hammer, and T.V. Riley, “Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties“, Jan. 2006, they state…
“For many years cineole [eucalyptol] was erroneously considered to be a skin and mucous membrane irritant, fuelling [sic] efforts to minimize its level in TTO
This reputation was based on historical anecdotal evidence and uncorroborated statements… and repetition of this suggestion appears to have consolidated the myth. Recent data, as discussed later in this review, do not indicate that 1,8-cineole [eucalyptol] is an irritant.”24https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1360273/
According to Dr. Shelton, “Research even indicates it being protective against hepatotoxicity [liver damage caused by drugs] (2014, Eucalyptus globulus extract protects upon acetaminophen-induced kidney damages in male rats.)
Research would appear to support that while topical and oral administrations of this oil should be done with care, diffusion is likely to hold no harm.”25“The Science Behind Cats and Essential Oils” – written by Melissa Shelton DVM – Veterinarians Westminster, Maryland | Carroll County Veterinary Clinic (carrollcovet.com), posted January 31, 2018[emphasis added]
Claim #8 – Peppermint (Mint Family)
Mints, especially peppermint, show up frequently on various toxic lists, but there are no sources or evidence on these lists to justify this.
According to Dr. Shelton, any problems with oils containing mint are from misuse and overdosing by full undiluted oil being swallowed or put on the cat’s skin.26“The Science Behind Cats and Essential Oils” – written by Melissa Shelton DVM – Veterinarians Westminster, Maryland | Carroll County Veterinary Clinic (carrollcovet.com), posted January 31, 2018[emphasis added]
Claim #9 – Tea Tree (Ti Tree) (Melaleuca alternifolia)
What is Tea Tree?
Melaleuca Alternifolia is a small tree in the Myrtle family (Myrtaceae) that’s native to Australia.
Tea Tree is on many lists as one of the main oils to avoid with cats, sometimes listed with exclamation marks!
Is this alarm justified? Do you need to fear for your little buddy’s life?
According to a 1998 study of three cats poisoned with tea tree oil,27“Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil poisoning in three purebred cats“, by K. Bischoff and Fessesswork Guale, J. Vet. Diagn. Invest. 10:208-210 (1998), the cats were given a HIGH DOSE as a flea dip directly on the skin.
“The cats were severely infested with fleas, so they were shaved.
The shaving produced no nicks on the skin; however, numerous flea bites were visible.
The product used to eliminate fleas was labeled for use as a spot treatment for skin lesions, but a catalog advertised that it would repel fleas when diluted and used as a dip.
The product contained 100% oil of Melaleuca alternifolia.
The oil was applied directly to the cats’ skin, and 2 1-oz (approximately 60 ml) bottles were used on the 3 cats.”
Tea tree oil toxicosis reported in dogs and cats is associated with misuse of the product, as was the case in this report.
The cat that died in this case, cat 2, had central nervous system depression typical of tea tree oil poisoning.
However, the elevated BUN and persistent dehydration suggests that this cat may have had renal damage unrelated to tea tree oil intoxication.” [emphasis added]28“Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil poisoning in three purebred cats“, by K. Bischoff and Fessesswork Guale, J. Vet. Diagn. Invest. 10:208-210 (1998)
So, all indications point to this being another instance where the issue is overdosing with full-strength product, rather than the oil itself being toxic.
Claim #10 – Camphor
What is Camphor?
Camphor is a white, waxy solid traditionally made from the bark of the camphor tree that has a very strong odor (similar to menthol).
People use it as a medicine, antifungal, and insect repellent.
Dr. Shelton writes: “Listings cautioning against the use of camphor, never qualify if it is the constituent or the essential oil they are referring to.
In high concentrations, it can pose health risks, and is listed as toxic in regards to humans.
Camphor (many species) essential oil is not recommended for use within Veterinary Aromatic Medicine.
Camphor as a chemical constituent [ingredient] can be found in small percentages within many essential oils known to be safe for use with animals, however oils high in camphor content, are often not used (Spike Lavender).”29“The Science Behind Cats and Essential Oils” – written by Melissa Shelton DVM – Veterinarians Westminster, Maryland | Carroll County Veterinary Clinic (carrollcovet.com), posted January 31, 2018
Check out Tisserand and Young’s textbook , “Essential Oil Safety“, since it has a lot of data about camphor that’s worth further investigation.
Claim #11 – Methyl Salicylate (Birch, Wintergreen)
What is Methyl Salicylate?
Methyl salicylate is a colorless, thick, sticky liquid produced by many species of plants, mostly wintergreens. You can also get it in synthetic form.
Methyl salicylate has a sweet, fruity odor similar to root beer, and is in fragrances.
It’s also a flavoring agent and is familiar to most people as the minty flavor in mint candies.
Methyl Salicylate is Like Aspirin
Methyl salicylate is similar to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid).
It has therapeutic value (used a lot in deep heating creams for sore muscles in humans) but has the same toxicity as aspirin.
According to Timothy Miller, N.D., R.A., “Effectively, 1 drop of wintergreen essential oil = ~81 mg of aspirin [a baby aspirin].”30“Wintergreen the Good the Bad the Ugly”, by Timothy Miller, N.D., R.A., June 30, 2015, Naturopathic Doctor News & Review, [emphasis added]
In a report by Sharon M. Gwaltney-Brant, DVM, PhD, DABVT, DABT, she makes clear there’s a “narrow margin of safety in these animals” when it comes to methyl salicyclate.
“The reported therapeutic dosage of aspirin in dogs is 10–20 mg/kg bid. Single doses of 25 mg/kg have been shown to initiate gastric bleeding in dogs, suggesting that aspirin has a narrow margin of safety in these animals…
…The therapeutic dosage in cats is 10–20 mg/kg every 48 hours. Cats are deficient in glucuronyl transferase, which prolongs excretion and results in a half-life that is dose dependent.
Although the half-life of doses of 5–12 mg/kg can range from 22–27 hours, a dose of 25 mg/kg has a half-life of 44.6 hours in cats. This compares to a half-life of 8 hours in dogs [emphasis added]. 31“Salicylate Toxicosis in Dogs and Cats”, by Sharon M. Gwaltney-Brant, DVM, PhD, DABVT, DABT, Standards of Care Emergency and Critical Care Medicine, Vol. 4.7, August 2002
Conclusion From This Report
The conclusion of this report is that it takes a lot longer for a cat’s body to process anything with methyl salicylate than other animals.
This makes it dangerous since the margin for error is too risky to use on cats.
The small margin of error in dosages makes oils containing methyl salicylate, like birch and wintergreen, unfit for home use with any animals, especially cats.
Claim #12 – Oils That Nobody Should Use!
Dr. Shelton lists some oils notable for being too dangerous for humans or animals in their pure, highly concentrated forms.
Some are great for people, but not good at all for cats. Garlic, for example, in concentrated oil form can cause blisters on the skin.
Using its bulb and leaves, either raw or cooked, has health benefits for people but cats don’t digest it well.
So, don’t put these on a cat’s fur or skin or give them any to eat.
There are people who claim they use some of these for their cats with no problem, but veterinarians who know these oils do not recommend it.
Don’t Use the Oils on This List!
This list is from Dr. Sheldon’s article, “The Science Behind Cats and Essential Oils”.
These contain substances that make it dangerous for the average person to use.
It’s best to avoid them and use other products that are safer for killing fleas.
- Bitter Almond
- Wormseed (Chemopodium)
The Wrong Way to Use Essential Oils
All the evidence I’ve found so far shows that the main problem with essential oils is the people…
- using poor quality products
- using them in ways other than their intended use
- using them directly on a cat’s skin
- putting concentrated oils on fur, which the cat licked off and swallowed
- using any oils or flea control products on a sick or pregnant cat
- using any oils or flea control products on a kitten under six weeks old
A sick or pregnant cat, or kitten under six weeks of age, can’t handle what a healthy adult cat’s body can.
If your cat has an underlying kidney problem, he may not be able to eliminate even a small amount of an oil’s components.
By contrast, a healthy cat can handle the diluted amounts in commercial flea and tick products.
The point here is that you’re responsible for how you use any product on or around your cat, including essential oils.
Treat essential oils the same way you should drugs… carefully and with the guidance of a knowledgeable veterinarian.
Drugs can be very beneficial or very deadly… so can essential oils.
Diffusion vs. Direct Application
Diffusing oils into the air is quite different from applying them directly to your cat’s skin or fur.
When using a diffuser, use common sense and leave a door open so your cat can get out of the room.
If he doesn’t like it, he’ll leave (we felines are pretty smart that way!)
For your own safety, don’t allow the fumes from a diffuser to build up over hours (the same is true for candles).
Limit how long you use it at any one time and make sure you have good air circulation.
Again, if your cat, dog or any other pet has health problems, is pregnant or very young (under 3 months old), don’t expose them to strong oils in any form, including diffusers.
The Trouble with Stories About Essential Oils Being Toxic
The only evidence we currently have of these various oils being dangerous is anecdotal… people telling experiences they’ve had using essential oils on or around their cats.
Unfortunately, we don’t know in these specific cases if there were other underlying problems or influences that affected the reaction of the cat.
This leads to some questions that have no clear answers, like…
- Were any of the affected cats sickly or did they have compromised immune systems?
- Did the person use fresh, good quality oil on their kitty?
- How much did they use?
- Did they carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions?
- Did the cat swallow it? If so, how much?
- How did the person apply the oil… on the skin or by mouth?
- Did the cat inhale it?
Nobody can draw accurate conclusions about what made these cats sick until there are answers to these and other questions.
Ultimately, using any product on a cat is something you have to do carefully.
If your cat is healthy and you’re working with a vet who can advise you on proper quality (authentic pure therapeutic grade), dilution (never strong), quantity, and proper application method, most essential oils can be effective and safe for cats.
Related Pages of Interest
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.
Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.
Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.
Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own, however, sometimes they refer to primary sources.
When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
List of Sources
“Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil poisoning in three purebred cats“, by K. Bischoff and Fessesswork Guale, J. Vet. Diagn. Invest. 10:208-210 (1998)
“Can You Use Essential Oils With Cats? The Experts Weight In“, by Amanda Lattin (BA, MAT, DIP. AROMA., MH, RA), ACHS Aromatherapy Program Chair, Catrina Mianecki (BS, MED, MS, CERT. AROMA. L.AC), Marilyn Addison (BA, RA), American College of Healthcare Sciences, 29 March 2018
“Caveat Emptor: Safety Considerations for Natural Products Used in Arthropod Control“, American Entomologist, Vol. 48, No. 1, Spring 2002, pp. 9-10
“Common Feline Toxicities“, by Chelsea Sonius, Fall 2001, Zimmer Feline Foundation
“Controlling Ticks and Fleas with Linalool“, 2013
“EPA Reregistration Eligibility Decision-Limonene“, 2001, pp. 10-11, 196-200
“Essential Oil“, Merriam-Webster Dictionary
“Essential Oil Safety Pages“, The Tisserand Institute
“Idiosyncracies of Drug Metabolism in Cats: Effects on Pharmacotherapeutics in Feline Practice”, by Jeff R. Wilcke, DVM, MS, Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice-Nov. 1984, Vol. 14, No. 6, Science Direct
“Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties“ by C.F. Carson, K.A. Hammer, and T.V. Riley, Jan. 2006
“Phenols“, DeRosa, Thomas F., Advances in Synthetic Organic Chemistry and Methods Reported in US Patents, 2006
“Salicylate Toxicosis in Dogs and Cats”, Standards of Care Emergency and Critical Care Medicine, by Sharon M. Gwaltney-Brant, DVM, Vol. 4.7, August 2002, VetNetInfo.com
“The Science Behind Cats and Essential Oils”, by Melissa Shelton DVM, Veterinarians Westminster, Maryland, Carroll County Veterinary Clinic (carrollcovet.com), posted January 31, 2018
“Tea Tree Oil“, Drugs.com, 17 June 2019
“Wintergreen the Good the Bad the Ugly”, by Timothy Miller, N.D., R.A., Naturopathic Doctor News & Review, 30 June 2015
Updated February 10, 2023