Cats and Essential Oils – Are They Safe or Toxic?

Essential oils have recently become very popular and virtually everyone’s using them in one form or another. There are many available options, each having its own chemical and physical characteristics.

As popular as they are, there is a growing body of evidence that they can be harmful to pets, especially cats. Pet owners have a poor understanding of essential oils, including what they are and how they can protect their pets from their harmful effects.

However, the question as to whether essential oils are toxic to cats can’t be answered with a mere “yes” or “no.” Let’s take a deeper look into the matter.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are plant extracts, particularly of plants that contain a good amount of oil. They can be extracted in a cold-pressed or distillation process. Once extracted, you can buy them individually, blended, or added to other products.

Essential oils are commonly added to cosmetics, diffusers, insecticides, and other products. Flavoring agents and thinners also contain them.

Cats and Toxic Effects

Cats and dogs are both susceptible to the harmful effects of some essential oils. However, due to their smaller size and inability to properly metabolize certain chemicals, felines are at a far greater danger than canines.

The biggest problem with cats is that their liver actually can’t perform glucuronidation, which is needed to metabolize a huge range of chemicals. These include chemicals commonly found in essential oils, such as phenols.

The cat liver can’t metabolize phenols, which can allow them to stack up in their bodies to a threshold that causes poisoning. Only a small quantity is enough to cause harm, which can be lethal at higher doses. The most extreme effects include seizures and kidney, liver, and heart failures.

Milder effects include allergic reactions, asthma attacks, and a general worsening of chronic illnesses through contact with the toxic substances in essential oils. Some cats can develop irritated noses and eyes if they inhale toxic substances. They can get dermatitis if the toxic substances come in contact with their skin.

Since cats groom themselves often, they’re likely to orally ingest oil that gets on their skin. Also, cats are very sensitive to inhaled irritants as they have a fragile respiratory tract.

Studies Conducted on Cats

Unfortunately, there isn’t a large body of research regarding cats and the toxic effects of essential oils. This is perhaps due to the ethical reasons since animal testing is going out of style. Not to mention that there’s not much funding for projects of this type as they don’t have any commercial purposes.

Therefore, any evidence is mostly circumstantial and limited to isolated cases and assumptions based on the chemical characteristics of essential oils.

Potentially Toxic Oils

It’s hard to say which oils are toxic to cats and which aren’t for the fact that toxicity depends on many factors. The most significant include the route (inhalation, skin contact, oral ingestion), rate, exposure amount, as well as the presence and amount of harmful chemicals in the oil.

Keep in mind that most claims of toxic essential oils are based on individual testimonials and case reports. Many also include oils that are “expected” to be harmful based on their chemical makeup.

Moreover, there are no official lists issued by the Department of Health or other health authorities. The following list of potentially harmful oils is not exhaustive or complete: eucalyptus, cinnamon, bitter almond, lemon grass, Japanese yew, lemon oil, clove, rose, sassafras, sandalwood, tea tree, and mustard.

Overexposure Symptoms

Symptoms vary on the type and severity of exposure and the amounts of toxic materials in the oil. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Digestive – vomiting or excessive drooling
  • Physical – red skin patches or is pawing at the face
  • Neurologic – tremors, troubles walking, wobbliness, seizures
  • Mental – lethargic or dull
  • Respiratory – coughs or wheezes

What to Do in Case of Exposure?

If you notice your cat is vomiting or having seizures, or having any other alarming symptoms, call your veterinarian immediately.

If you suspect oral ingestion or inhalation, you should take the cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Take the oil packaging with you. It is not recommended to attempt giving your cat first aid on your own.

In the event that the essential oil gets on your cat’s skin, you should wash it off and call the vet for further instruction.

It is very important to obtain veterinarian care as fast as possible to determine the level of exposure and get proper treatment. Depending on the severity, blood tests, painkillers, breathing support, and other treatments might be in order.

How to Use Essential Oils if You Have a Cat?

Here are some useful tips on using essential oils for cat owners.

  • Don’t rub oils onto the skin or feed to the cat.
  • Keep your cat away from the room if the essential oil concentration is high.
  • If your cat has asthma, avoid using essential oils altogether. The same goes for allergies and similar conditions.
  • Store the oil somewhere out of the cat’s reach.
  • Avoid oils that repel pests and insects; they can be very harmful to cats.
  • Steer clear of the oils listed above.

Final Word
Essential oils and cats have a complicated relationship, to say the least. If you’re not careful, essential oils can do serious harm to your feline friend.

However, if you make sure your cat doesn’t come in direct contact with or ingest essential oils, you should be fine. Also, make sure to keep your cat away from any rooms where there’s a high concentration of oil in the air. Get rid of the essential oil diffuser if the cat’s health is compromised.