Are Essential Oils Bad For Dogs and Cats?

Do you sometimes doze off to a few drops of Ylang Ylang oil on your pillow? While it might be soothing for you, did you know several essential oils are bad for dogs and cats?

Your diffusers and aromatherapy kit might seem harmless. But they can, in fact, be toxic to pets. Most owners are shocked to hear their beloved bathroom-staple tea tree oil could be seriously harmful to their dog or cat.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are concentrated compounds which are extracted from the leaves, stems, bark, or other parts of a plant. They have a strong fragrance – or essence – of that plant.

They aren’t oils in the scientific sense of the word, but usually come in an oily liquid form. They’re frequently used for aromatherapy and some people find different oils helpful for sleep or relaxation aids, as well as in treating some skin conditions.

But are they ok to share with your furry family?

Why are essential oils bad for dogs and cats?

Many owners confuse “natural” for healthy. But just because something occurs naturally, doesn’t mean it’s safe. Take poisonous mushrooms, for instance! And remember there are lots of common plants that are toxic to pets, even though they’re natural as well. For pets, essential oils fall into the “natural but dangerous” category.

Cats are particularly sensitive to essential oils and are more likely to suffer severe side effects, though essentials oils can be bad for dogs too. The reason for this feline sensitivity is that essential oils are metabolised in the liver, and cats lack an essential enzyme which allows this process to happen. Kittens, elderly cats, and cats with liver or respiratory issues are all in very high-risk categories.

In both dogs and cats, essential oils can be absorbed orally (through licking or drinking) and through the skin. If your pet’s paws touch essential oils, they’ll be absorbed into the blood stream.

Similarly to xylitol poisoning or chocolate toxicity, oils are harmless to humans yet can’t be properly broken down by our pets so can make them really sick. Find out about more common things that are bad for pets so you can pet proof your home.

While dogs are less susceptible than cats, essential oils are still toxic to dogs. If your dog is young or has liver problems, their risk is higher.

What are the effects of essential oils on dogs and cats?

Because essential oils are bad for dogs and cats, it’s important that you recognise some of the symptoms. In cats, exposure to essential oils can be fatal. If not, it could also lead to liver damage, liver failure, respiratory failure, or seizures. In dogs, it can cause central nervous system and respiratory issues.

Here are some of the more common signs of essential oil poisoning:

  • difficulty breathing, including panting, coughing, or wheezing
  • difficulty walking or problems with coordination and balance
  • drooling
  • lethargy or weakness
  • muscle tremors
  • low body temperature
  • pawing at the mouth or face
  • redness or burns on the lips, tongue, gums, or skin
  • vomiting and drooling
  • watery nose or eyes
  • low heart rate

If you use essential oils and suspect that your pet might have got hold of them somehow, take them straight to a vet. If they got the oil on their skin or paws, wash it off quickly and thoroughly.

Take a sealed packet of the oil or take a photo of the oil and any other ingredients to show the vet.

Essential oil diffuser being sniffed by cat

Which essential oils are bad for dogs and cats?

Some essential oils which are highly toxic to cats include:

  • Cinnamon oil
  • Wintergreen
  • Tea Tree oil
  • Citrus oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Oil of Sweet Birch
  • Pennyroyal oil
  • Sandalwood oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Pine oils
  • Ylang Ylang
  • Clove oil

Essential oils which are bad for dogs include, but are not limited to:

  • Pine oil
  • Tea tree oil
  • Wintergreen oil
  • Citrus oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Sweet Birch oil
  • Ylang Ylang
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Pennyroyal oil

As you can see, it’s a lot of oils!

If you have any doubts about whether an essential oil is pet-safe or not, assume that it isn’t.

Which essential oils are safe for pets?

Most essential oils have the potential to be harmful to your pet. The ones listed above, however, have some of the most serious symptoms. In general, the more diluted the oil is, the safer for your dog or cat.

When used properly, in small amounts, and with caution, the below essential oils are considered pet safe. However, you should always consult a veterinarian first for peace of mind.

  • Lavender
  • Chamomile
  • Jasmine

Minimising the risk of exposure

If you need to use essential oils in your home, try to follow these guidelines. They won’t completely remove the risk of essential oil poisoning, but will limit it:

  • Keep them in a locked cupboard out of reach of curious dogs and cats
  • Always use a passive diffuser, not an active diffuser. Find out the difference here.
  • If you use a diffuser, choose an oil that isn’t toxic to your pet, and keep your pet out of that room
  • Be wary of insect repellents or other products containing essential oils
  • Never apply any essential oil to your pet’s skin without consulting a vet first

Pet insurance provides extra protection

While pet insurance might not stop your cat breaking into the aromatherapy cupboard, it can help you cover the costs of treatment.

Check out our cat insurance plans and dog insurance plans to give your pet an extra layer of protection for accidents and illnesses.

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