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An orange cat lays on a table and looks up at something for The Dig article are essential oils safe for cats

Health & Wellness

Are essential oils safe for cats?

It's best to keep them away from your pet

Cats do a great job of keeping themselves clean, but if your best friend has developed an odor, you may wonder if essential oils could freshen their scent. The answer is usually no (the same goes for dogs, too). Dr. Aliya McCullough, veterinarian and pet health advocate, explains how essential oils affect cats. 

‍Are essential oils good for cats?‍

Cats are super sensitive to the compounds found in essential oils, which make them unsafe for pets to be around. Felines lack an enzyme in the liver that allows them to metabolize and eliminate the toxins from essential oils. 

To be safe, stay away from having essential oil products, like reed diffusers or diffusing humidifiers, in your house. If your cat accidentally knocks one of these items over or walks through a scented mist, microdroplets could collect on their fur. Those tiny droplets could then be absorbed through their skin or ingested while they’re grooming themselves. 

Droplets from essential oils can irritate a cat’s respiratory tract. Therefore, cats that have asthma, react to airborne allergies or are often exposed to secondhand smoke have a greater chance of having a negative reaction. When cats are exposed to essential oils, they could show alarming symptoms, including: 

  • Watery nose and eyes
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tremors
  • Incoordination
  • Liver failure
Essential oils that are toxic to cats

Essentials oils that are toxic to cats

You should never introduce your cat to an essential oil without talking to your vet first. However, the following essential oils are toxic for cats and should be avoided completely, according to Pet Poison Helpline

  • Oil of wintergreen
  • Oil of sweet birch
  • Citrus oil
  • Pine oils
  • Ylang-ylang oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Pennyroyal oil
  • Clove oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Tea tree oil

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Signs of toxicity in pets

If your cat gets into essential oils, toxicity is the worst-case scenario, but you should be aware of what the side effects look like. Keep in mind that smaller and younger pets often experience more severe side effects. While it often depends on the oil your cat is exposed to, here is a list of common symptoms:

  • Drooling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Difficulty walking or stumbling
  • Muscle tremors
  • Pawing at the mouth or face
  • Redness or burns on skin or gums
  • Vomiting

Suppose your cat has come in contact with essential oils, this is an emergency — call your vet immediately or take your pet to an emergency hospital. It will help if you bring the essential oil bottle with you so your vet has a better idea of what issues your pet may face. Your veterinarian may also advise you to call the Pet Poison Helpline at 855.764.7661.

How to keep pets safe around essential oils

Always talk to your vet before introducing your pet to essential oils. Your veterinarian is your best resource for understanding how these oils work and if they’re safe for your cat.

If your vet gives you the OK to give your cat essential oils, ask how you should do so. You should never give your cat essential oils orally, incorporate them into their food or rub essential oil directly onto their skin. It’s also a good idea to avoid snuggling with your cat if you’ve just rubbed essential oils on your skin.

It’s not usually recommended, but if you’ve gotten your vet’s OK to diffuse an essential oil around your cat, make sure they have an escape from the strong scent. The less your cat has exposure to essential oils in their environment, the better. Finally, make sure that any essential oils in the house are stored out of reach from inquisitive paws and closed tight so they won’t spill. 

Most essential oils aren’t safe for your cat — if they’re ever exposed, you now know how to act fast.

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Photo by Amber Kipp on Unsplash

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