Essential Oils Are Harmful to Cats and Small Animals –Truth!
Summary of eRumor:
Essential oils can kill cats and mall animals. Social media posts warn those with cats to avoid certain essential oils.
Exposure to essential oils can be fatal for cats and small animals. But there’s not much scientific evidence about how risky essential oils are for cats, and what levels are safe.
First, we’ll take a look at what essential oils are. They’re high concentrations of oils that occur naturally in plants. When mixed with solvents, essential oils can be diluted and defused throughout a room. They’re used for aromatherapy and for medicinal purposes.
Warnings that essential oils are harmful to cats have been circulating for years. And for good reason. One version that we found on social media warns that “all citrus” varieties of essential oils are toxic to cats. Among those listed is tea tree essential oil. Studies indicate that the warning is valid, but only when cats are exposed to the oils in large doses.
We’re not going to delve into every single essential listed here. But we’ll provide a broad overview of the threat described in the social media post.
The Science Behind Claims That Essential Oils Are Harmful to Cats
The Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory published a study in 1998 that described how three purebred cats were poisoned by Australian tea tree oil. The cats’ owner applied a topical ointment containing the oil directly to the cats to treat fleas. All three became sick within hours. Ultimately, two of the cats survived and one died.
Tea tree oil is toxic to cats because of how they metabolize terpenes, the organic compounds that give essential oils their scents. And other essential oils, like eucalyptus oil, are very similar in composition . They can be toxic to cats for the same reason. Most cases of poisoning result from misuse (like applying the oil directly to the cat’s fur). But cats can also be especially susceptible to high concentrations of defused tea tree essential oil because of cats’ grooming habits, the study found:
The terpenes in tea tree oil are rapidly absorbed through the skin and digestive tract because of their highly lipophilic nature. Toxicity from dermal exposure has not been produced in rabbits but may be possible. Cats may be more susceptible to tea tree oil toxicosis after topical application than are other species because of their grooming behavior. In this case, the cats had been shaved, so that tea tree oil was applied directly to the skin, enhancing dermal absorption. The flea bite lesions may have also increased dermal absorption somewhat. Further, grooming efficiency was probably augmented due to shaving, allowing cats to ingest a large amount of the oil applied
To summarize essential oils like tea tree oil can be toxic to cats if they lick it from their fur, or even if it’s absorbed through their skin. Some argue that highly defused, high-quality essential oil in a well-ventilated room is perfectly safe for pets. However, we weren’t able to find any studies indicating that that’s true, or at what levels essential oils are safe for cats. For those reasons, we’re calling claims that some essential oils are toxic for cats “true.”