HEALTH & CARE

Essential Oils Safe for Cats: Can Fur Babies Also Benefit?

cat and essential oil
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

The use of essential oils is on the rise. From dietary and cosmetics use to spiritual and physical wellness, these oils are part of many people’s lifestyles. Their usage in these modern times is a tradition carried down from ancient societies. Cats, being our companions for ages, have also interacted with the oils in one way or another. This begs the question, are essential oils safe for cats?

Some essential oils may be used for and around cats. This, however, requires knowledge of proper use to avoid putting your feline companion in harm’s way. Some essential oils are safe for cats, but many aren’t. It’s important to know which is which—that way you can reap all the benefits without encountering any side-effects.

Besides acquainting you with safe and unsafe essential oils, in this article, we will also explain how toxicity comes about, what hydrosols are, and answer the question: are essential oil diffusers safe for cats? This would not be complete without bringing you up to speed with the danger signs that you need to be on the lookout for and safety tips for the use of essential oils on cats.

Are Essential Oils Safe for Cats?

cat's nose

Elderly cats, as well as kittens, can be affected by essential oils. The oils may be pleasant to you, but some can be very toxic to your pet—essential oils not safe for cats.

#1: Cons

Essential oils are distilled organically from various plants. Cats are carnivores, and their digestive system differs from ours. This means they may be unable to handle most of the compounds in these oils.

Phenols are examples of such compounds. Even to humans, they can cause skin sensitivity if there is overexposure.

Monoterpene hydrocarbons which are also known as terpenes are also toxic. They pose health risks to cats when ingested or when topically applied to them. They exist in essential oils such as cajeput or pine and in high concentrations.

Feline physiology and metabolism have been studied and documented in great depth. Cats lack certain enzymes in their liver which are used for easing metabolism and eliminating toxins. Glucuronosyl transferase, for example, an enzyme used to break down phenol, is deficient in cats.

Also, cats, unlike other mammals, have very thin skin. This makes absorption of the compounds into the bloodstream easier and fast. In fact, when these oils affect your furry friend, you are likely to start seeing the effects immediately.

Observing your cat is one of the most accurate ways to tell if anything is amiss. Below are some signs to look out for if you suspect essential oil toxicity in your cat.

  • Drooling – this is abnormal and a major warning that your cat has some underlying medical conditions such as plant poisoning.

  • Muscle tremors – these are involuntary muscle movements. They can be slow or fast and repetitive.

  • Walking difficulty – this happens when toxins cause a disease which disrupts the vestibular apparatus that controls the balance and coordination in felines.

  • The scent on the skin, coat, and breath – This is a clear indication of ingestion.

  • Difficulty breathing – this makes your cat look like a panting dog. It is a form of respiratory distress called dyspnea.

  • Lethargy or weakness

  • Pawing at the mouth or face – it is also called feline orofacial pain and signifies some pain in the mouth or while breathing.

  • Redness or burns on the lips – this could be a result of licking harmful oils or a small amount getting on the sensitive skin.

  • Vomiting – this begins with nausea; your cat appears restless and disturbed.

  • Further signs of essential oil poisoning are dizziness and lack of appetite.

See Also: How to Treat a Poisoned Cat

#2: Pros

On the other hand, not all essential oils are harmful to your pet. Some like rosemary and cedarwood oil are deemed safe. Some of the plants that they come from are harmless towards the cats even in their natural form in the wild. It is good to note that the toxicity comes from some chemical compounds found in some essential oils and not necessarily everything in these oils.

You should therefore not be discouraged to use some of them since they have beneficial purposes like keeping away fleas. This is especially so if they are used in the right way, in the right concentrations, and with advice from the vet.

Essential Oils That are Safe for Cats

As long as essential oils are not misused, your cat can tolerate some of them. Regardless of this, it is important to note that each cat is quite different and you should, therefore, consult the vet before using the feline-safe essential oils below.

#1: Rosemary

rosemary essential oil

While it is popularly used as a flea repellent, is rosemary essential oil safe for cats? Your cat could definitely do with some relief from fleas, thanks to this oil.

Preparation requires boiling the twigs with a pot of water. Afterwards, you need to dilute the resulting brew with some more water to make it safer for your feline friend. Let your cats sit near this mixture for some time to get used to it. Five minutes should be enough to repel fleas safely.

#2: Lemongrass Oil

This oil is safe to use around cats, but it needs to be used in very low concentrations. Caution should also be taken to ensure your feline doesn’t contact it directly on their skin or ingest it.

This oil is mostly found in the form of an aroma called hydrosol. Hydrosol is a pure nonalcoholic aroma often acquired from plant matter through hydro distilling or steam distilling.

Hydrosols are considered by some as less risky and less toxic to cats. This is because their chemical concentration and saturation are much lower.

However, most cats are unable to completely tolerate hydrosols. In fact, toxicology studies found components like metabolites from monoterpene alcohols in a cat’s urine. This means they can digest them, but detoxification is still a problem.

This is not all bad because, by showing tolerance, hydrosols can then be used to heal felines. For example, some vets use hydrosols both topically and internally to treat felines diseases such as dental problems.

Another way hydrosols serve cats is that they act as flea repellants. However, their use should not be regular. As a good practice, avoid your cat getting in contact with hydrosols. The sensitivity to hydrosols in cats is also influenced by the concentration of residual matter of plants in the hydrosols.

#3: Cedarwood Oil

Cedarwood essential oil

Since cedarwood oil doesn’t contain the cat-toxic element, phenol, it can be used around cats. You should, however, make sure the concentration is low. Cedarwood oil can also be used to kill adult fleas which can greatly benefit your fur baby.

#4: Lavender

Is lavender essential oil safe for cats? This is a popular question and one that draws mixed views among cat parents. Some claim it is safe while others seem to disagree.

As stated above, every cat is unique and may react differently. If you plan to use it, observe your cat to see if he has unexpected reactions. Contrary to what many believe, most people who have tested it with moderation claim it arouses curiosity in cats.

#5: Frankincense

Frankincense essential oil

Frankincense is often diffused as an essential oil to eliminate insomnia and stress. Diffusion is recommended for it not to have adverse effects on your cat. However, your feline friend should not directly ingest it as he can have severe health problems.

#6: Clary Sage

ASPCA claims that clary sage is nontoxic. This oil is used by humans to help us avoid extreme moods swings and help us in relaxation. The same benefits apply to cats. The recommended way of using the oils around cats is by diffusion.

Other safe plants include myrrh, spikenard, sandalwood, cardamom, and helichrysum.

Essential Oils That are Not Safe for Cats

If you are serious about pet care, you need to know the most toxic oils and keep them away from your cat, at all costs. Below is a list of some of the most dangerous essential oils for felines.

#1: Tea Tree

sick orange cat

Tea tree oil is used in shampoos and as an antibacterial spray. It’s also a strong antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory agent. This makes it ideal for use in treating skin conditions such as acne, insect bites, and burns.

Unfortunately, its strong properties make it very toxic to cats even at low concentrations.

#2: Peppermint

Dogs are very sensitive to peppermint, and so are cats. It is well known to greatly affect their nervous system. One of the worst effects on a cat if inhaled is aspiration pneumonia. Symptoms likely to be shown include labored breathing, fever, and also a rapid heart rate.

#3: Citrus

depressed cat

An encounter with citrus products feels like an assault to your cat’s sensitive and tiny nose. If his skin comes into contact with citrus, he may develop allergic dermatitis.

That said; is lemon essential oil safe for cats? And, is orange essential oil safe for cats? Definitely not! Lemon, orange, bergamot, lime, and other essential oils from citrus products are part of citric essential oils.

They are therefore better kept away from your kitty. While the effects are not fatal, some signs that your cat can exhibit include vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, and depression.

Other unsafe oils for your cat include:

  • Clove oil

  • Thyme oil

  • Cinnamon oil

  • Pennyroyal oil

  • Eucalyptus oil

  • Oregano oil

  • Wintergreen oil

  • Sweet birch oil

  • Basil oil

  • Birch oil

  • Hyssop oil

  • Savory oil

  • Tansy oil

  • Tarragon oil

  • Thuja oil

Are Essential Oil Diffusers Safe for Cats?

Essential Oil Diffuser

These are devices that are used to disperse oils so as to spread the aroma and scent around. They can then help in easy inhalation and absorption. When essential oils are dispersed through this method, they also purify the air by killing fungus and bacteria. There are various types of diffusers:

  • Reed Diffusers use special sticks which have small channels for allowing scent into the room when it travels up the stick.

  • Electric Diffusers use an electric fan to disperse air into their pad, hence spreading the essential oils into the air.

  • Nebulizer Diffusers first break out the oils into tiny molecules then disperse them. They are very effective because the rate of absorption of the molecules is very high.

  • Ultrasonic Diffusers create vibrations through the use of electrical frequencies to release a mixture of fine water mist and oils into the air.

  • Ceramic Diffusers are great for use over small areas due to their simplicity in the method of working.

  • Candle Diffusers spread essential oils into a room by using a candle’s heat. They offer a cheap and easily accessible way of spreading oils.

It is one of the safer methods to administer essential oils on your cat, though essential oil diffusers can still pose threats to a cat either directly or indirectly. Diffusers can come in handy when you need to disperse essential oils in your home while avoiding direct contact with your cat, but watch out, so these accidents don’t happen:

  • Oil can get on to your cat’s skin if he plays with a diffuser and it topples over.

  • Another way is if a cat tries to ingest or lick a diffuser. This leads to direct ingestion of these essential oils into your cat’s body.

  • Lastly, if your feline friend is in a room with highly concentrated essentials oils, they may absorb it through inhalations. This is very risky to a cat as it causes respiratory irritations. These irritations, if not taken care of, can lead to serious illnesses with some being very fatal.

Even modern active diffusers like nebulizers still pose a risk to cats despite releasing oils only in small particles. The droplets may collect and settle on the cat. This can then be absorbed when the cat licks himself or simply through his thin skin.

Expert Tips on the Use of Essential Oils For and Around Your Cat

cat and a vet

Having established that some essential oils could be toxic to your cat, the idea is not to entirely give up on the benefits that you can draw from them. If proper measures are taken, you can still enjoy your essential oils while keeping your cat safe. Experts recommend the following tips:

  • Seek professional advice from a veterinary before use.

  • Use products that have only 1% percent of essential oils. This is to keep the concentration low and safe for your pet.

  • If these essential oils need to be offered to cats, it should not be done directly. You should explore methods like diffusion with your door and windows open. This is to enable the cat to move out if the levels become uncomfortable.

  • Diffusion of essential oils for cats should also be done for specific reasons. Additionally, always watch your kitty’s behavior while using these oils to ensure he doesn’t get overwhelmed,

  • When using these oils in your home, it is good to consider the sensitivity of each cat individually. If he is very sensitive, don’t use it when he is around.

  • Veterinaries also recommend that you should only use only high-quality, therapeutic grade oils. It is very wise to investigate and buy from the best companies and from authorized veterinarians.

Now, if you decide you don’t want your cat to come into contact with essential oils, it would be beneficial if you are aware of some of the ways in which he can get exposed:

  • Orally – If your oils get spilled in the house, your cat may lick the liquid.

  • Licking them off your skin – Cats love licking people. When massaging or petting your cat, he may lick the oils from your skin.

  • Inhalation – Your cat may inhale the oils that are diffused into the air. Additionally, personal diffusers such as necklaces and pendants can make the dangerous compounds readily available in the air.

  • Licking of fur – When the cat is in a room where essential oils have been diffused, the particles can settle on his fur. He may lick these oils when grooming himself.

Wrap Up

orange cat and essential oil

The use of essential oils is a common practice among many people, and cat parents are not left behind. Some practical home uses of essential oils revolve around providing taste and fragrance. Their utilization in your home may be in the form of aromatherapies, insecticides, antibacterial, liquid potpourri, flavorings, and also as herbal medicines.

This has led to the exploration of their use for and around cats. While certain essential oils have proven to be harmful to cats, others are known to be safe and even beneficial to some extent.

Their use should, however, be accompanied with caution to avoid causing harm to your cat. Armed with this list or safe and unsafe essential oils for cats plus everything else you need to know, you should be able to make an informed decision on whether essential oils are worth the effort.

Of utmost importance is to ensure that whatever you do, your fur baby’s best interests are your guiding factors.

Have you ever used essential oils for or around your cat? How was the experience? Did you particularly like or hate the experience? We would like to hear all about it in the comment section below. If your aim in using essential oils is to get rid of fleas, there are other safer methods such as flea bath for cats.

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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