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

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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

Although many people assume that, because they are natural, essential oils are safe for use on pets, the truth is that they can actually be very harmful.

There is actually a longer list of essential oils that can be harmful to cats, for instance, versus essential oils that are actually cat safe. You can view more information about these lists here: https://www.embracepetinsurance.com/waterbowl/article/the-truth-about-essential-oils-for-cats

And, here is a link to lists of essential oils that are safe and ones that unsafe for dogs (as with cats, the unsafe list is longer than the safe list): https://www.edensgarden.com/blogs/news/aaa-which-essential-oils-are-safe-for-dogs

One example of an essential oil to keep your pets away from is tea tree oil. While touted as having many external uses for humans (from skin care to ear infections),  this essential oil 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 http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/what-you-should-know-about-tea-tree-oil-toxicity-in-dogs-and-cats: “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.”

But, not everyone follows that guideline or is even aware of the need for caution. A post on Reddit.com pleads 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 with what vetstreet.com relates about tea tree oil and toxicity. According to vetstreet.com, 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.”

Symptoms developed within two to 12 hours after exposure and lasted up to three days. Most commonly reported reactions were depression, lethargy, weakness, loss of coordination, muscle tremors and drooling.

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

The study notes that 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.

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. This person wrote, “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 that pet owners who use diffusers should put their pet in another room, writing, “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 of pets to essential oils are good ideas.

But, what about the large number of pet products out there that actually include one or more essential oils, including ones that are considered unsafe, such as tea tree oil? The extensive availability of these products reinforces the misguided notion that essential oils are generally pet-safe and nothing to worry about. While many of these products contain small amounts of diluted essential oil(s), caution is still highly recommended. This includes reading user reviews on sites where the products are sold, as well as consulting a veterinarian about safety before purchasing anything for your pet that contains essential oil.

The bottom line is probably to remember: Your pet is a member of the family and can sometimes even seem like a small, furry human. But, not everything that is safe for humans is equally safe for them. And, while essential oils are popular for a variety of uses in large part because they seem like such chemical-free, natural alternatives, not understanding their possible dangers can be risky at best and deadly at worst.