June 10, 2018

Once you have discovered essential oils and their benefits, there’s no turning back. You probably discovered a few of your favorites to use as remedies, for cleaning or any number of other purposes around the house. But for cat owners, oils can often cause some problems.It's important to know how to use essential oils safely around cats. There are a few oils that are toxic to your feline pet, and others that are not best to use around them. The good thing is that there are a few that can be used to help make your cat’s life easier too. How do you know which oils are toxic to your beloved pet and which ones are not? Here is some valuable information about which oils are good and bad to use around cats and how you can determine if your cat has a sensitivity to a particular oil or not.

What makes some oils toxic to our feline friends?

There are two basic components in some  essential oils that make them dangerous for cats. These components are categorized in two ways: phenol and monoterpene hydrocarbons.  Oils which contain these components are dangerous because of the inability of their liver to break down the components. A cat’s liver doesn’t contain glucuronosyl transferase, an enzyme which other animals have which helps process and break down the components found in oils. Since oils are naturally concentrated, a cat is in danger of suffering from a toxic buildup of the components. This can prove fatal. If you have already been using oils around your cat and they haven’t shown any signs of a toxic buildup, they are probably okay. If you’ve been using oils that are toxic for cats discontinue its use immediately. Toxic buildup takes time, and the cat is probably okay if they haven’t had any symptoms yet.

Phenol-Carbolic Acid

Phenol is also called carbolic acid. It is not only toxic to cats but can also be harmful to humans. Phenols are corrosive to the skin and eyes and can irritate the respiratory tract. These oils include cinnamon, thyme, oregano, clove and savory. Most of these include a safety warning and recommendation to use it at the lowest dilution rate. When they are used in a higher dilution it poses a risk of irritating the respiratory tract or burning the skin. Most of the time, you’ll see recommendations for using a higher dilution for a shorter period. Humans, whose liver filters out the phenols, are able to tolerate small amounts of these oils, but cats have a lower tolerance, so their exposure should be very limited.

Monoterpene Hydrocarbons

Oils which contain monoterpene hydrocarbons, an organic compound commonly found in plants, can be toxic to our feline friends. There are numerous oils which contain this compound. Listed below are three monoterpene hydrocarbons in essential oils and the ones which contain them:

  • Terpineol – cajuput oil, petitgrain oil, and pine oil
  • Limonene – commonly found in citrus oils
  • Pinene – oils from many coniferous plants like fir and pine

Oils to Avoid Using Around Cats

In short, oils that are rich in phenols, alpha-pinene, d-limonene, and ketones should be kept away from cats. The cat’s liver isn’t able to metabolize these compounds, especially if they are concentrated. It’s important to keep cats from ingesting oils and from topical applications as well. Here are oils that cats should not be exposed to.

  • Oils rich in phenols include anise, basil, birch, cinnamon, citronella, clove, eucalyptus, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, peppermint, tea tree, thyme, wintergreen and ylang-ylang.
  • Oils containing ketones include Dayana, dill, hyssop, marigold, peppermint, red cedar, sage, spearmint, thuja, and yarrow.
  • Oils which contain alpha-pinene include cypress, dill, eucalyptus, juniper, myrtle, nutmeg, pine, rosemary, silver fir, spruce, and verbenone.
  • Oils that contain D-limonene are citrus oils including celery seed, grapefruit, lemon, lime, mandarin, orange, and tangerine.

These oils can still be used around cats, but only after dilution. It’s usually the highly concentrated form that causes problems for our feline friends. Once they are diluted, being exposed to small amounts won’t harm your cat. You do need to dilute them, so they have less than 8% of phenol, less than 15% of d-limonene and less than 20% ketones.

Signs of Toxic Buildup in Cats

There are a few common signs your cat may be suffering from toxicity. Here are just a few of the possible symptoms your kitty may experience if they have been exposed to oils that are toxic to them.

  • Changes in behaviors or energy levels.
  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits.
  • Do they seem to be confused or light headed?
  • Do they have newly developed digestive problems like vomiting, diarrhea or constipation?
  • Producing any excessive amounts of saliva, tears, or mucus.
  • Convulsions can be a sign your cat has been exposed to something hazardous including oils.
  • If your cat seems to experience muscle weakness, it could lead to lethargy. Consult your veterinarian.

Although rare, these are just some of the possible symptoms indicative of a toxicity problem. You may observe changes in your cat when you use certain essential oils. If you do, it’s important to have the pet evaluated by a veterinarian. Obviously, the safest option is to only use oils that are safe for cats.

Five Safety Tips for Cat Owners who Use Essential Oils

Taking precautions to protect your kitty is important. You can still use essential oils in your home, but you should be aware of the oils which are toxic to cats and which ones are safe to use around them. Here are some safety tips for those who love their cats and their oils.

  1. Don’t ever diffuse oils that are toxic to cats.The point of diffusing is, of course, to get the oil into the air, so you can inhale it. Oils that are toxic to cats shouldn’t be diffused since they inhale it too. If you want to inhale oils that are specifically toxic to cats, you can use a bowl of steaming water. Add a few drops, cover your head with a towel and breathe the vapor in. However, you will want to do this in a room that your cat isn’t in.
  2. Don’t pet your cat after you’ve applied oils to your skin.When you apply oils to your skin, there can be some residue on your hands. If you pet your kitty, the oils can transfer to their fur. Since they give themselves a bath, they could lick it and ingest the dangerous oils. To avoid this, wash your hands after you’ve applied oils and make sure any skin that oils have been applied to are covered so the oils don’t accidently get on the cat.
  3. Store your essential oils in an area your cat cannot access.Cats are known for being curious and a bit mischievous as well as for being able to get into nearly anything. Even though you seal your oil bottles tightly, there’s a chance residual oil remains on the bottle where it could come in contact with the cat’s fur or they might lick the bottle. Keep all your oils closed inside a drawer or cabinet that you are sure they cannot access. Of course, you will want to keep oils away from children too since they could inadvertently expose the cat to oils if they were to have it on their hands.
  4. Avoid using oils toxic to cats on anything your cat might rub or lick. Using essential oils to clean can mean there is a residue remaining on the cleaned surface. If your cat was to rub up against it or lick it, they could ingest the toxic oil.
  5. Use higher dilutions for oils when it’s possible. Even with all the effort to keep cats from being exposed to oils, it is still possible. Dilute oils as much as possible, without making them ineffective.

How Cats are Often Inadvertently Exposed to Oils that are Harmful

Even though it has been widely discouraged, people have continued to treat their cats with oils that are classified as harmful to them. Perhaps this is because they really are unaware of the dangers. It is usually a good idea to check with your cat’s veterinarian before adding oils to their environment. Even when using oils deemed safe for use around cats, it’s best to take precautions and properly dilute them using only the recommended concentrations.

Sometimes, you are using oils for your own benefit and purpose and forget they can affect your kitty too. Always store essential oils in a cabinet your cat will not have access to. Sometimes potpourri pots or reed diffusers can be easily turned over and the cat is then exposed to the oils. Exposure may also occur if you apply an essential oil product to your skin and then allow your cat to lick the area.

Oils become airborne through diffusers, candles, sprays and potpourri products. Cats can then inhale them, or they may lick them off their fur. If you can smell the oil, which is of course the point of aromatherapy, there are small particles of the oil in the air and they can affect your cat. You should be especially protective of kittens, older cats and cats who are known to have respiratory or liver problems. Keep them out of rooms where you are using diffusers or follow some of the general safety guidelines presented here. Also, don’t use oils that are toxic to cats on aroma therapy jewelry when you are around them.

Ways to Safely Diffuse Oils Around Cats

Humans can safely diffuse oils for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours as long as the room has adequate ventilation. It is possible to saturate the air enough to cause side effects like headaches and nausea. For the most part, this is very unlikely, but cats are smaller and more sensitive to smells. Cats can develop some serious problems if they are exposed to diffusions for long periods of time, especially if it is oils that are toxic for them. Here are just a few tips for diffusion oils around cats.

  • Diffuse for shorter sessions by diffusing or 10 to 15 minutes max at one time.
  • Break up their exposure by waiting two hours or longer between diffusion.
  • Keep the room well ventilated such as keeping a window ajar during diffusing.
  • Leave the door open so the cat can leave if they feel like it. They tend to avoid things that make them uncomfortable and this allows them to keep a safe distance if they desire.
  • Don’t overdo it with the oils, keep it to a moderate amount.

Of course, you will want to avoid oils that are clearly toxic to cats, but remember they are individuals like humans and can have different sensitivities. There are ways to test the safe oils to see if it will bother your feline friend or not. Place a drop or two of the oil you want to test on a cotton ball or a tissue and place it near their litter box. The cat is a curious animal and will investigate. They are also expressive and will let you know exactly how they feel about it. If they leave or avoid getting in the litter box, you will know it is an oil they do not want to be around and shouldn’t be diffused while the kitty is in the room.

There may not be a specific dosage to use in a diffuser that is used around cats. There are a few things to consider when deciding how much to use or not use including:

  • How much the cat weighs.
  • Sensitivities or allergies that are specific to your pet.
  • How the immune system of a cat works.

Just like humans, some cats have stronger, more resistant immune systems than others. Cats with weaker immunity, are disease prone or sickly may not be able to handle as much exposure to some oils as healthy, more resistant cats. In some instances, you may want to only diffuse a drop or two of oil around a cat. This is one reason it’s important to use high grade EOs around your cats.

Other Ways to use Essential Oils with Cats

There are many different ways to use oils with your cat. Diffusing oils that are not toxic to kitties is often the best way. Be sure to diffuse away from areas close to their food and litter box, and make sure they are not locked in the room. They will leave if they do not like the oil being diffused. Sometimes you may find your feline friend likes some oils as much as you do. Here are a few ways to use some of the oils that are safe for cats.

  • Use a safe oil to make a litter box powder. Mix one cup of baking soda with three to four drops of the essential oil. Stir the mixture and let it set a few hours so the oil saturates the baking soda. Sprinkle the mixture in the cat’s litter box.
  • Very diluted oils can be applied topically by mixing one drop of the essential oil in a tablespoon of a carrier oil to dilute it. Use only one drop of this mixture and apply it along the cat’s spine or rub it on the tips of their ears.
  • Make a natural insect repellent for your kitty using safe essential oils. If you want to repel fleas, use one drop of each: lavender, cedarwood and rosemary. Mix these three oils in with a tablespoon of distilled water and spritz it on the cat once each day.
  • Make a natural tick repellant using one to two drops of each lavender and geranium mixed with a tablespoon of distilled water.
  • For cats that have ear mites, try diluting one drop of Rosemary with a teaspoon of any carrier oil. Using a cotton swab with a tiny amount of the solution on it to clean your pet’s ear. Rosemary reduces inflammation and inhibits ear mites.

Are any oils safe to use around cats?

Even using oils deemed as safe to expose to cats, remember that it takes longer for them to metabolize them than most other animals, and especially humans. It’s always best to use much caution when using oils near cats and they should be used infrequently. There are several oils that are considered safe to use with cats including:

Here are a few oils that can be used around cats in general. However, use these cautiously until you are certain your cat isn’t sensitive to them:

  • Basil
  • Birch
  • Cypress
  • Petitgrain
  • Roman Chamomile
  • Spearmint
  • Vetiver


Essential Oil Quality Does Matter

Today there are many oils on the market and those who produce them often dilute them with additives to increase their margin of profitability. In many cases, the additives are more dangerous to the cat than the oil. Even humans can have side effects to additives used in essential oils. In some instances, you may see your cat reacting to an oil that is not considered toxic to them. If this occurs, it may be because the oil is not pure.

The next question then, is how do you know you are purchasing pure oils? There isn’t a lot of regulation presently to ensure oils are of high quality. Since there are no standards in place terms like “therapeutic grade” really doesn’t mean a lot. However, there are some things to investigate about companies that produce essential oils. Here are a few points to consider when choosing where to buy your oils.

  1. Does the company bottle their own oils? Some dishonest companies purchase oils but dilute them before they re-bottle them to sell at much lower prices.
  2. Does the company provide adequate information about their processes? Some companies do not, others will disclose very detailed information about the methods they use including where the source plants are located.
  3. How much does the company charge? If the oils are priced way below market prices and are just too cheap to believe, it’s better to move on to a more reputable company. Oils priced way too low may indicate widespread dilutions as an attempt to make more money.

Many times, when cats have problems with essential oils, it can be associated with a lower quality oil. Using synthetic or perfume grade oils your cat is very likely to display a dislike for it. If you are using high quality oils they still need to be diluted properly before using on or near your kitty. To ensure the oils deemed safe for cats is still safe for them, use only the highest quality oils.

The Good News About Cats and Essential Oils

In general, cats do not often have reactions to EOs, but if they do, veterinarians report that it is survivable. Following just a few guidelines can help keep your feline family member safe from over exposure. However, if you feel like your cat has been in contact with large amounts of essential oils, take them to a trusted veterinarian to have them examined by a professional. In many cases, it’s as simple as providing extra fluids to let their system get rid of the extra oils. If it’s possible, find a holistic veterinarian. Not only can they provide natural care for your cat, they can recommend specific essential oils that can be used safely to ensure the continued health of your cat.

As a general rule, oils are safe to use around cats as long as precautions are taken, and complications from exposure are very rare. There’s no need to panic and throw out all your oils, just use a little common sense and care and your cat and your oils will get along fine.




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