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Will Essential Oils Have an Effect on Cats? What You Need to Know!

essential oils with various herbs and flowers

If you prefer to seek out natural remedies for what ails you, you’re probably familiar with essential oils. As a pet owner, you may wonder if essential oils also have an effect on cats, and they do, but it’s not necessarily a good one. There’s currently no scientific basis for any claim that essential oils are beneficial for cats, and using them around your kitty could be dangerous.

In this article, we’ll discuss the dangerous effects that essential oils can have on your cat. We’ll also cover the symptoms of essential oil poisoning and how to keep your cat safe.

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What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are organic substances taken from plants and used as scents and flavoring for various products. Candles, cleaning products, beauty products, and flavor extracts for cooking all commonly include essential oils.

These substances are also used for herbal remedies. For humans, essential oils are utilized in aromatherapy to help conditions such as nausea, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and colds. Despite broad claims about their effectiveness, research studies have demonstrated mixed results.

essential oils
Image Credit: asyouwish6, Pixabay

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What Are the Effects of Essential Oils on Cats?

Once they enter the body, essential oils are processed through the liver. Essential oils are especially dangerous to cats, compared to humans and dogs, because our feline friends are missing an enzyme in their liver that helps them break down and remove certain elements and toxins.

Without this enzyme, even a tiny amount of essential oil can quickly build up to an unacceptable level. Essential oils also contain substances called phenols. Cats are more sensitive to these compounds than dogs or humans, placing them at risk of poisoning.

sick white cat lying on the floor
Image Credit: Iryna Mylinska, Shutterstock

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Which Forms of Essential Oils Are Toxic to Cats?

Essential oils used for aromatherapy and herbal remedies are often taken by mouth, absorbed through the skin, or used in a diffuser. All of these are potentially dangerous to cats.

The concentration of essential oil products varies considerably and is not always well regulated. The more concentrated a product, the more dangerous it is for the cat. Many cat owners may not know how quickly essential oils can be absorbed through the skin, causing the same effects as if the kitty swallows the product.

Oil diffusers, either active or passive, pose an additional hazard to cats. Breathing the strong fumes can cause respiratory symptoms and irritation in cats. Kitties with existing breathing issues are most at risk.

Because an active diffuser spreads particles of essential oil into the air, your cat can also become poisoned by grooming themselves after the droplets settle on their fur.

Here are some specific essential oils that are known to be toxic to cats:

  • Tea tree
  • Eucalyptus
  • Peppermint
  • Wintergreen
  • Citrus oils
  • Pine oils
  • Pennyroyal

Don’t use any essential oil on your cat without talking to your vet, even if it’s not on this list.

vet checking bengal cat
Image Credit: Pressmaster, Shutterstock

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Signs of Essential Oil Poisoning

Depending on the type of essential oil your cat is exposed to, you may notice the following signs and symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Wobbly gait
  • Tremors or seizures
  • Low heart rate
  • Skin irritation

Oil diffusers may cause additional symptoms such as:

  • Watery or irritated eyes
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Fast breathing
  • Difficulty breathing

If your cat develops symptoms in the presence of an essential oil diffuser, get them to fresh air as soon as possible. Call your veterinarian or take your kitty in immediately if you notice breathing problems.

Calico cat sniffing smelling wooden bamboo essential oil diffuser health object wellness
Image Credit: Kristi Blokhin, Shutterstock

Your cat will likely need medical attention if they absorb or swallow essential oils. Because the toxins build up in your cat’s liver, they are at risk of liver failure. Your vet will provide supportive care and symptomatic treatment, possibly including hospitalization.

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Keeping Your Cat Safe from Essential Oils

To keep your cat safe, avoid actively dosing them with any essential oil unless you’re doing so on the advice of your veterinarian. If you use essential oils for yourself, keep the products safely locked away from your cat. Don’t let your kitty lick or rub on your hand or wrist if you’ve placed essential oils there.

If you use oil diffusers or liquid potpourri, the safest thing to do is keep your cat out of the room. Keep passive diffusers out of reach of your cat to avoid them being knocked over and spilled onto your pet. Never close your cat into a room where a diffuser is present. They always need to have the option of leaving for fresh air if necessary.

maine coon cat lying on the floor
Image Credit: Remark_Anna, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

While it’s understandable that pet owners who prefer natural remedies may want to use them on their cats, it’s vital to understand that our bodies don’t work the same way. What’s safe for a human isn’t necessarily okay for a cat. Essential oil manufacturers may promise to treat certain conditions, but the science isn’t there to prove it. If you want to explore herbal medicine and other alternative treatments, look for a holistic veterinarian in your area.


Featured Image Credit: Madeleine Steinbach, Shutterstock

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