Essential oils and pets don’t mix; here’s why

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Essential oils are popular among people for many reasons, but there is definitely need to be concerned about attempting to use these oils on pets.

Although it’s likely easy for many to assume that, because they are natural, essential oils are safe for use on pets, the truth is that they can actually be very harmful for animals.

Tea tree oil, for example, which is touted as having many positive benefits for humans, and is used externally for skin care, hair care, ear infections, and much more, can be toxic to dogs and cats. While most people can tolerate tea tree oil undiluted, the same can’t be said for our pets, according to

“A report in the January 2014 issue of Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association documents multiple cases of tea tree oil toxicity in dogs and cats.”

We have used tea tree oil and other essential oils and like them a lot, but we generally avoid using any kind of essential oil, especially at full strength, for our pets for any purpose without doing a lot of research first to weigh the pros and cons. But, not everyone follows that guideline or is even aware of the need for caution.

We recently came across a post on by a reader pleading for pet owners to beware of tea tree oil when it comes to dogs. The reader noted that her 14-year-old dog suddenly started showing signs of serious illness, which she believes were caused by her mother’s use of tea tree oil to clean the dog’s feet and help prevent fleas and ticks.

“The vet couldn’t tell us exactly why he was showing signs of confusion and almost depression-like symptoms where he didn’t want to be touched and left alone. I strongly believe he was behaving this way because of the tea tree oil. PLEASE PLEASE DO NOT USE IT ON YOUR PETS! Please share and help me get the word out.”

The “depression-like” symptoms noted by the owner of the dog were definitely consistent by what relates about tea tree oil and toxicity. According to, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Animal Poison Control Center center data used in the 2014 report noted above include 337 dogs and 106 cats exposed to 100 percent tea tree oil either via skin or orally or both. Out of the 443 animals exposed, 343 (77 percent) “developed an adverse reaction consistent with toxicity.”

“Their symptoms developed within two to 12 hours following exposure and lasted up to three days. The abnormalities most commonly reported were depression, lethargy, weakness, incoordination, muscle tremors and increased salivation or drooling.”

Other symptoms weren’t as common but included vomiting, skin rashes, collapse, coma, and elevated liver enzymes.

As the study notes, some of the owners applied the oil externally to their cats or dogs, but, another problem with essential oils for pets is that, even when people intend to use oils externally on the dog, cat or other animal, it is highly likely the animal will end up licking and ingesting some of the oil. It’s also very possible that, like with tea tree oil, the type of essential oil being used is toxic to the animal.

As one person commented on the post about the sick dog, “Not only Tea Trea but other oils as well like peppermint, eucalyptus, etc. They’re toxic even when used in small amount and in a diffuser.”

Another person commented that they used essential oils, but were very careful to make sure it was kept closed and away from pets.

“When you put it on (feet/chest/bod) put clothes on over it. You don’t want it in your couch, bed, or carpet. 1-It leaves stains 2-your pet may have a severe reaction to it.”

The same person also added the pet owners who use diffusers should put their pet in another room and If you simply must use your diffuser, please put your pet in another room.

“I only use aroma therapy in my bathroom, and the dogs are NOT allowed in there ever.”

Both keeping essential oils out of reach of pets and taking precautions to prevent exposure to them are good ideas. But, some might be wondering if all this is necessary given that there are so many manufacturers out there actually creating products for pets WITH essential oils in them. For example, we got 87 results when we searched for Tea Tree Oil shampoo for dogs on Amazon.

Well, for one, the essential oil(s) used in these products are diluted. But, also, although we did read a number of positive reviews for some of these shampoos, we also noticed some negative reviews too, often with mention of a rash after use. For example:

“Sadly , I bought this for my dog who had hot spots,and she broke out into a horrible rash. The hives got so bad , she blistered up ,and had a fever.”

The bottom line?

As relates, “If you treat one of your pets with tea tree oil and suspect you are observing an adverse reaction, contact your veterinarian or a pet emergency care facility right away. As with any toxicity, the sooner your pet is treated, the better the outcome is likely to be.”

And, like the concerned owner of the sick dog notes, help spread awareness about the dangers of essential oils and pets to others. You may just save a pet’s life.


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