What Essential Oils Are Safe for Cats and Which Ones Are Not?

Incorporating essential oils into your self-care routine, whether it’s with an oil diffuser or by applying them topically, is thought to have a positive impact on your mood and possibly on your health as well. If you’re a devotee of essential oils and feel like they improve parts of your life, you might also wonder if your best friend could benefit from them too… and by “best friend,” we mean your cat.

After all, essential oils are effectively plant extracts. One of the things that often appeals to human users of essential oils is that they’re entirely natural supplements. Unfortunately, natural doesn’t automatically mean it’s good for your pet. Much like trying to introduce your cat to a vegan diet if that’s how you eat, things that could be healthy for pet owners aren’t necessarily natural to your cat and can be dangerous.

As with anything you plan to introduce to your pet’s lifestyle, it’s important to check in with a trusted veterinarian first. We’ve compiled this information carefully, but neither Everlasting Comfort nor any other website should be your only authority when it comes to the wellbeing of your cat.

Why Are Essential Oils Dangerous To Cats?

Essential oils are most commonly used for topical application when diluted properly or used in an essential oil diffuser. If you experience positive benefits either physically or emotionally when using essential oils, it’s because these uses allow essential oils to be rapidly absorbed through the skin. When your body absorbs essential oils, many of the compounds within them are metabolized by your liver.

Cats’ livers lack the enzymes you have that allow you to effectively metabolize essential oils. Without these enzymes, even comparatively small amounts of essential oils can be really dangerous for your cat. You have to be careful to monitor any interaction your cat might have with essential oils lest you risk high levels of toxicity.

Risks Of Using Essential Oils Around Your Cat

The main thing that increases the likelihood of your cat suffering from poisoning as a result of essential oils is the amount of essential oils your cat comes into contact with. If you occasionally burn a candle infused with essential oils -- as many of us do without even thinking twice -- it’s unlikely to be a problem. But there are a few main concerns to keep in mind if you use essential oils around your cat.

Spillage From Your Essential Oil Diffuser

While occasional use of an essential oil diffuser, like burning an essential oil candle, isn’t likely to cause a problem, there is another concern with essential oil diffusers—spillage.

Whether you spill a bit when you’re replenishing your diffuser’s water tank and forget to wipe it up, or if you have a cat that likes to knock things off of surfaces, it’s important to pay attention to any liquid that might spill while you're diffusing. While diluted essential oil droplets in the air may not reach toxic levels for your cat, licking up a puddle of diluted essential oils certainly will.

If you think your cat has gotten into your essential oil diffuser, you should contact your vet or a pet poison helpline right away. Effects of essential oils to watch out for include vomiting, diarrhea, as well as symptoms related to the central nervous system, like a decreased heart rate, muscle tremors, and a slowing of your cat’s breathing. If your cat has consumed a large amount of essential oils, it’s possible they’ll suffer from seizures and liver damage.

Foreign Body Pneumonia

Although it’s generally thought that occasionally using a diffuser with low concentrations of oils will not lead to toxic levels of absorption by your cat, it is possible. If you use your essential oil diffuser too often -- which isn’t good for you, either -- or leave your cat in a confined space with an essential oil diffuser that doesn’t allow enough fresh air, it’s possible that they’ll contract foreign body pneumonia.

Pneumonia caused by a foreign body in cats is different from what we typically think of as pneumonia, which is caused by exposure to a bacteria or virus. Foreign body is exactly what it sounds like: pneumonia caused by a foreign body irritating your cat’s throat or respiratory system, leading to illness. Essential oils, if absorbed in significant levels, can act as this foreign body and cause your cat to become ill.

Symptoms of pneumonia in your cat include a watery nose, watery eyes, difficulty breathing, or unusual drooling and vomiting. You might not immediately recognize the symptoms, because as all of us who have ever owned cats know, they often expel hairballs under normal circumstances. If your cat is crouching low to the ground, but they don’t seem to have the usual abdominal movement you see with a hairball and don’t ever seem to produce the hairball, this might mean they’re having difficulty breathing.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, you should contact a veterinarian or animal poison control immediately.

Ingestion From Grooming

Even if you manage to keep your cat away from the liquid in your essential oil diffuser and limit your use, there’s still a serious risk for your cat to get too much exposure to essential oils. Essential oil diffusers aerosolize essential oils, allowing microscopic droplets of essential oils to diffuse throughout the room. 

But as much as you love it, this method of absorbing essential oils can be dangerous for your cat, even in a room with good ventilation, and even when used sparingly. Essential oils can linger on your cat's fur long after you’ve used the diffuser and can build up over time.

When your cat grooms itself, it could ingest these essential oils, leading to any of the unpleasant and ultimately dangerous symptoms above. If you still feel the need to use your essential oil diffuser with your cat around, it might be safest to regularly bathe your cat to avoid toxic build-up of essential oils on its coat.

Irritation

When you apply essential oils topically, you have to take care to dilute them with a carrier oil. If you don’t properly dilute your essential oils, they can cause damage, irritation, and burns on your skin. The same applies to cats. We don’t recommend ever applying essential oils, even properly diluted, to your cat’s skin. But you should take care with any kind of exposure that it’s limited, so as to avoid irritating your cat’s sensitive skin.

Of course, on the whole, reactions can depend on not just your cat and its exposure but the type of oil used.

Essential Oils To Avoid

The list of essential oils to avoid when it comes to your cat is long, and this one is by no means comprehensive. If you’re thinking of using an essential oil while your cat is around, take care to do your research -- or ideally, consult a vet -- on the particular oil. The first time you diffuse an oil, you should keep a close eye on them to make sure they don’t have an allergic reaction, too.

The following essential oils are best avoided if you have a cat.

  • Basil
  • Bay leaf
  • Bergamot
  • Birch
  • Bitter almond
  • Cinnamon
  • Chamomile
  • Clove Leaf
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Geranium
  • Juniper
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Lime
  • Mint
  • Mustard
  • Myrrh
  • Orange
  • Oregano
  • Peppermint
  • Rose
  • Rosemary
  • Sandalwood
  • Spearmint
  • Spruce
  • Tansy
  • Tarragon
  • Tea tree oil (melaleuca)
  • Thyme
  • Wintergreen
  • Ylang ylang

Are Any Essential Oils Safe For Use Around My Cat?

This is a difficult question to answer. When researching essential oils, you will find a lot of conflicting information. Some sources claim that essential oils like frankincense and lavender are safe to use around your furry friend -- but others put them on the “danger” list.

We’ve erred on the side of caution for our list of essential oils to guard against if you have a cat, and we’re going to do the same when it comes to listing essential oils that might be safe to use around your cat. Because there doesn’t seem to be proof-positive that any essential oil is safe for use around your cat, we don’t feel it’s right to recommend that you use them.

Ultimately, your cat’s care should be between you and your veterinarian. If you still feel like essential oils could or should be used around or on your cat, it’s best discussed with your vet first.

How To Use Essential Oils Safely With A Cat Around

If you’ve discussed with your cat’s veterinarian and have found an essential oil that’s safely used around your cat, you might be wondering how best to use that essential oil to keep your cat safe and healthy. There are a few things to keep in mind!

  1. If you’re using a diffuser -- which could be safe, with the right dosage and type of essential oil -- be sure to use it in a room with good ventilation. Whatever you do, you should be mindful not to leave your cat in a confined area where essential oils are being diffused. This increases the risk of your cat coming into contact with a dangerous amount of particulates.
  2. When you’re choosing which essential oils to use, both for your safety and your cat’s, you should be mindful of what’s in the essential oils. Because the FDA does not monitor essential oils, there aren’t any real requirements about their contents. You should make sure that your essential oils are pure and unadulterated and without any additives that could be harmful. This doesn’t mean you can use unsafe essential oils around your cat if they’re pure -- it just means that a pure essential oil doesn’t have additional dangers associated with it.
  3. Keep your essential oils in a safe place, ideally one that your cat can’t access. If they must be out of reach of your cat, be sure they’re properly sealed and stored in containers that won’t break. Cats are prone to getting into anything and everything and often delight in knocking delicate objects from great heights -- make sure that if your cat has access to your essential oils, they won’t break if knocked down.

In Conclusion

While essential oils offer many wellness benefits for you, they are more likely to hurt your cat. If you use essential oils in a home and have a cat, it’s important to take care about which essential oils you use and how you use them. While some essential oils may be safe for your cat, you should discuss them with your vet prior to deciding which ones and how to use them.

Sources:

https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk/a-scent-sitive-subject-essential-oil-diffusers-and-your-cat/ 

https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/essential-oil-and-liquid-potpourri-poisoning-in-cats

https://abc3340.com/news/abc-3340-news-iteam/why-vets-warn-cats-essential-oils-and-diffusers-dont-mix 

https://www.foundanimals.org/essential-oils-toxic-pets/ 

https://www.healthline.com/health/carrier-oil 

https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/pneumonia 

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