Are essential oils dangerous to our pets? You’ve probably asked yourself this question before if you’ve ever used a diffuser and if you typically like it when your home smells nice. Most people have at least a seemingly harmless lavender oil in their home, right? But the truth is that essential oils that are safe for human use might not necessarily be safe for dogs and cats, and even other household pets.
Pet metabolisms differ from ours and while there is a belief according to which ‘natural’ products can’t do them harm, in some cases this is not true. Undiluted tea tree oil can cause real harm to a pet.
Let’s look at which essential oils are toxic to dogs and cats and let’s also find out which of them can pose a health threat to birds, too.
For all types of animals
If you need an answer really quickly, we’ll tell you that some of the most toxic essential oils for pets of any kind are citrus oil, melaleuca oil (tea tree oil), pennyroyal oil, eucalyptus, and pine oil. Liquid potpourri could contain detergents that might be quite caustic and could cause severe gastrointestinal upset or skin damage. Other concentrated essential oils, such as cinnamon or peppermint, can also cause skin irritation, especially if they are undiluted.
Which essential oils are toxic to dogs?
Tea tree oil toxicosis is one of the most commonly encountered ones in dogs. This product is manufactured from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia plant. It is a mixture of over one hundred unique components, and terpenes make up around 60% of that — and they are known for being metabolized by the liver.
If your dog has come in contact with tea tree oil or you’ve made the horrible mistake of applying some to his coat or worse, directly to his skin, there are a variety of symptoms that you could notice within 1 to 8 hours following the application. If the dog has licked the spot, it has basically gone into his system, so some of the first clinical signs that are noticeable range from coma and unresponsiveness to depression, inability to walk, shaking, or tremoring. If you notice such symptoms, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
Due to its concentration, tea tree oil can also cause skin burns or irritations but they are without a doubt less severe compared to the central nervous clinical signs that we’ve detailed above. However, the oil produces an uncomfortable feeling on the pet’s skin, which is why most dogs will want to alleviate it by licking the area. And that’s how the tea tree oil ends up in their systems.
If you have the suspicion that your dog ended up ingesting TTO and you take him or her to the vet, what you should expect is some blood work, the beginning of a treatment where the liver is protected and supported, and even some activated charcoal as it could remove the toxins from your dog’s body. Supportive treatments like administering intravenous fluids to maintain blood pressure and hydration are usually necessary, as well.
But where does tea tree oil come from? A wide variety of products for humans contain it and they range from antiseptics and fungicides to skin care agents, and even products for respiratory disorders and aromatherapy. In animals, it can be found in pet shampoo, anti-allergy, and anti-parasitic products, and also in antiseptics.
Tea tree oil is a natural product for getting rid of fleas. Unfortunately, some dog parents apply it directly to their pet’s skin. Given the complications that could arise in such a situation, we advise refraining from using any homemade formulations and sticking to shampoos and repellents made by reputable brands.
Which essential oils are toxic to cats?
Cats are more sensitive compared to dogs, both because they are smaller and as such, any toxic substance will be ten times more powerful than it would be on a 90-pound dog, but also because they have sensitive metabolisms. Some of the essential oils that can be toxic to them include oil of wintergreen, pine oil, tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, sweet birch oil, as well as citrus oil. Ylang Ylang and cinnamon oil, along with peppermint, pennyroyal, and clove oil are also dangerous to cats.
As you can expect, since there are more oils that could harm cats than dogs, the symptoms you might notice also differ from one to the other. For example, while oil of wintergreen can cause gastrointestinal problems, citrus oil causes muscle tremors, salivation, coma, and even death. Tea tree oil could cause hypothermia, agitation, trembling, dehydration, and coma, while pennyroyal oil can cause liver death in a record amount of time.
If your cat ingests liquid potpourri, you should be worried as it can cause injuries to most mucous membranes (including the oral one) and it also damages the gastrointestinal tract to the point that it creates ulcers. Fortunately, cats are very wary when it comes to heavily scented things, so they’ll usually do their best at avoiding potpourri containers.
Cats are sensitive to changes in air quality, especially if they suffer from asthma, for example. It is, therefore, quite possible that essential oil diffusers lead to respiratory distress or an increase in coughing. Both cats and dogs are equipped with highly sensitive noses, so essential oil fragrances, whether they are safe or not, aren’t really good for them.
If your cat ends up at the vet clinic and receives treatment for essential oil toxicity, she will have to go through blood work monitoring and have intravenous fluids, pain medications, and liver protectors administered.
What about birds?
Birds are also sensitive to aerosolized particles, but unlike cats and dogs, they won’t try to ingest any. If you have a pet bird, you should know that you are advised to avoid using fragrance sprays, oil diffusers, or scented candles.
Even though essential oils can be found everywhere nowadays, both in physical stores and online, they aren’t necessarily safe. Using low-concentration products around the house (less than 1%) is generally acknowledged as being safe, but you should never apply them directly to your pet’s skin or leave them around for them to be ingested or spilled. Even essential oil diffusers could spill, and could potentially cause skin irritation, at best.
If your pet has come in contact with an essential oil, bathe your friend with dish soap to remove the oil from the coat. Take your pet to a vet clinic or at least call the pet poison control center.