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Are Essential Oils Safe For Cats? What You Need to Know!

Essential oils are oils that are made by extracting oils from plants and flowers. They are commonly used to add fragrance or taste, and they have been used by humans for thousands of years. Today, they are commonly used in diffusers, on potpourri, and are included in perfumes and natural fragrances.

Although essential oils are generally considered safe for humans, they can be toxic and potentially damaging to cats, especially if they drink the oil or get it on their fur. The diffused oils are generally safe, although your cat should be discouraged from getting too close and inhaling a noseful of the vapor, and some essential oils may prove beneficial to your cat. However, if you are in any doubt whether a particular oil or method of application is safe, it should be avoided.

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What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are extracts taken from plants and trees. They are used in aromatherapy and inhaled or applied topically to the skin. When inhaled, the scent of essential oils travels through the nose and into the amygdala, which triggers an emotional response to certain smells. Peppermint can make you feel energetic and lively, lavender makes you feel relaxed.

Essential oils have been added to a range of household items. Cleaning products and air fresheners commonly include lavender or citrus essential oils. Moisturizers, perfumes, and soaps may also include these oils.

essential oil in beautiful bottles
Image Credit: Nikolaeva Galina, Shutterstock

Are They Safe For Cats?

Owning a cat means providing them with a safe environment, but many of us want to ensure that our cats have the happiest lives possible. If vanilla essential oil makes you feel good, why not let your cat enjoy the same benefits? It’s an understandable reaction, but we must determine whether items like essential oils are safe for cats before letting them sniff the vapor or try applying to their skin.

Essential oils are usually too concentrated and too strong to be applied topically to a cat. They are highly concentrated, which means that they can prove toxic when applied directly to a cat. This concentration level also means that we need to take precautions when spraying or misting essential oils, and you will need to prevent your cat from licking essential oils from your skin or even rubbing up against them, which is how cats tend to investigate any new smell.

Cats metabolize differently from humans. Their livers lack the P450 cytochrome metabolic pathway that breaks down certain enzymes. Cats cannot break down salicylates or phenols. Tea tree oil, which is a very popular essential oil for humans, is one that is particularly dangerous for cats and should be avoided.

Other potentially harmful essential oils include:
  • Basil
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Oregano
  • Thyme

Some essential oils may be considered relatively safe for cats, but they must be diluted and should not be eaten or drunk. The concentration of these oils is too high and may prove toxic, even in small doses. Honestly, the best approach is to try and prevent your cat from getting too close to any application of these oils.

What If Your Cat Has Eaten Essential Oils?

A common way for us to use essential oils is to rub them into the skin. They are sometimes used this way during massages. We might also apply them to our skin so that we can smell the oil throughout the day. Whether you apply eucalyptus to your feet or rosemary to rejuvenate your hands, your cat may like the smell of these oils and try to lick them off you. If this does happen, you should keep an eye on your cat and look for signs of poison and toxicity.

Essential oil dripping from basil leaf into glass bottle
Image Credit: Sinfebeth, Shutterstock

Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea, as well as listlessness and a loss of energy. Your cat may also suffer from respiratory problems, and if you see any of these signs, you must seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible. Let them know what your cat has consumed and roughly how much: this will help them decide on the best course of action.

Licking essential oils from your skin or hair may not lead to toxicity, because they will only get a small amount, especially if you diluted the oil before use. However, if your cat has knocked over a bottle of essential oils and drank it directly, you should immediately. They will inform you of the best course of action.

You should not try to induce vomiting in your cat yourself. Many people use ingredients and products that are not suitable, and they could cause just as much damage to your cat as the essential oils you are trying to expel. On the other hand, your vet can give your cat an injection that will safely cause vomiting.

Can You Put Essential Oils On Your Cat?

Drinking essential oils isn’t the only way that cats can ingest essential oils. These highly concentrated oils are absorbed quickly through the skin. You should not apply these oils to your cat or they could suffer the same toxicity as they would from drinking them because their liver is unable to effectively break down the ingredients.

What About Diffusers?

There are several types of diffusers available on the market, but most can be broken into two categories: passive and active diffusers.

Electric Essential oils Aroma diffuser
Image Credit: Denise E, Shutterstock

Passive diffusers include reed diffusers, plug-in diffusers, and candle burners. These use warmth to push the scent of the oil around the room. These are considered the safer form of diffuser unless your cat directly ingests the oil or they suffer respiratory irritation usually as a result of getting too close to the diffuser.

Active diffusers work differently. They diffuse droplets of oil into the air, rather than just the scent. These droplets are tiny, but they can pose a threat to your cat, albeit a minimal one. The microdroplets can collect on your cat’s fur. These are then ingested through the skin or licked off the fur by the cat, potentially causing symptoms of toxicity.

Are Essential Oils Safe for Cats?

Essential oils are highly concentrated liquids and are not safe for cats. They should not be applied topically, added to food, or otherwise given to your cats, and care should be taken when using them yourself. If your cat licks the essential oils from your skin, clothes, or hair, watch carefully for signs of toxicity. If they drink it directly from the bottle, contact a vet straight away.

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Featured Image: Madeleine Steinbach, Shutterstock