essential oils toxic to cats

Essential Oils Toxic To Cats

Reviewed by Alan Brus, DVM

If you enjoy using essential oils at home, it’s important to know what essential oils are toxic to cats.

We all have essential oils at our homes, either for aromatherapy, or those found in cleaning or medical products, or liquid potpourris used as home essential oil diffusers and fragrances.

These oils can be beneficial and lovely for you, but can be toxic for your feline friend. Oils such as oil of cinnamon, citrus, peppermint, and ylang ylang are toxic to cats.

Ingestion of essential oils and skin exposure can be toxic. That’s why if you have a cat, you need to be careful with these oils around them.

Are Essential Oils Toxic To Cats?

essential oils toxic to cats

Certain essential oils were once recommended for cats for treating ear mite infestations, respiratory issues, or stress relief.

However, essential oils contain chemicals that aren’t metabolized through the liver. Cat’s liver is the organ responsible for metabolizing various compounds.

In addition, cats are sensitive to essential oils, since they lack certain enzymes that metabolize specific compounds such as phenols.

These oils can also irritate or burn the cat’s skin and mouth. Kittens and very young cats are more sensitive.

Cats exposed to essential oils can cause serious liver damage, liver failure, seizures, or even death for cats.

Which Essential Oils Are Toxic To Cats?

essential oils toxic to cats

These essential oils are known to contain phenols and are toxic to cats, even in small amounts:

  • Tea tree oil (melaleuca oil)
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Bergamot oil
  • Lavender oil
  • Citrus oil (including lemon oil)
  • Sandalwood oil
  • Rose and Rosemary oils
  • Peppermint, spearmint and mint oils
  • Sweet birch oil
  • Clove oil
  • Pine & Eucalyptus oil
  • Pennyroyal oil
  • Wintergreen and ylang ylang

In addition to these oils, some household products you buy contain toxic compounds to cats such as paint thinner (turpentine is an essential oil) and insect repellent, which has fatal reactions for cats.

If your cat ingests any of these toxic oils accidentally, call your vet immediately.

Signs of Essential Oils Poisoning

essential oils toxic to cats

Cats can absorb toxic oils directly through the skin, or inhale oils diffused in the air, or through licking their fur if any oils were caught on it. Toxicity can happen very quickly, or through a longer period.

Most common signs of essential oils poisoning include:

  • Respiratory irritation, difficulty breathing, panting, and coughing
  • Unsteadiness and difficulty walking
  • Vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Muscle tremors
  • Redness or burns on the skin, tongue, lips or gums.
  • Pawing at the mouth or face
  • Lethargy

If you notice any of these signs, move your cat to an open fresh air space or outdoors immediately. If the signs don’t go away quickly, take your cat to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic.

How to Prevent

essential oils toxic to cats

Always keep essential oils out of reach and liquid potpourri products. You can keep them in a cat proof cabinet.

Don’t leave opened bottles of essential oils, since cats are curious and would want to smell them.

Moreover, if you have applied any products that contain essential oils, don’t allow your cat to lick your skin.

If you suspect that your cat has essential oil poisoning, call the  pet poison helpline, which is an animal poison control service available 24 hours, 7 days a week for pet owners and veterinary professionals who need help treating a potentially poisoned pet.

Pet poison helpline is available in North America by calling (855) 764-7661

Finally, if you like to use diffusers, use a diffuser in an open space and keep your cat away from it and its cords. Diffused oil droplets can drop on your kitty’s fur, which they will ingest when grooming and licking.

Cats like to get to high surfaces and go into small spaces, so you need to be extra careful when storing essential oils.

When to See a Veterinarian

essential oils toxic to cats

If you notice any of the signs of essential oil poisoning on your cat such as respiratory distress, coughing, vomiting, muscle tremors, and low heart rate.

Contact your emergency veterinary clinic as soon as possible. If you suspect that your cat ingested an essential oil, discontinue the use of that oil that causes irritation for your cat.

Finally, before using essential oils in your home, consult your vet to make sure it’s safe for your cat and won’t cause any poisoning or health issues.

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