Is Essential Oils Ok for Cats?

Essential oils are concentrated liquids extracted from plants. They are “essential” in the sense that they contain the essence or characteristic qualities of a given plant’s fragrance. People use essential oils in many ways: in aromatherapy, as insecticides, herbal remedies, or flavorings. But what if you have pets, is it good for them too? Is essential oils ok for cats? Are there oils that are toxic to cats?

So, let's answer: Is essential oils ok for cats?

The answer, unfortunately, is “It depends.” Some essential oils can be safely used on or around cats, while others are poisonous to them. Both people and cats can absorb essential oils through their mouth or skin. In humans, at least, the essential oil is then metabolized in the liver. Unfortunately, a cat’s liver lacks the enzymes needed to fully metabolize essential oils, so essential oils that don’t hurt humans can be lethal to cats.

Which essential oils are poisonous to cats?

Cats are particularly sensitive to anything containing phenols since their liver can’t process them. Even humans should handle essential oils containing phenols carefully, as they can irritate the skin and mucous membranes. Examples of such essential oils include basil, cinnamon, clove, thyme, and tarragon.

Tea tree oil or melaleuca is an essential oil that people use to treat various skin conditions. It contains chemicals called terpenes that are toxic to both humans and cats if taken orally. Since cats lick themselves when grooming, they risk ingesting the tea tree oil if it is applied to their skin – and tea tree oil is lethally poisonous to cats.

Other essential oils that are poisonous to cats include the following:

• Bay

• Bergamot

• Birch

• Citronella

• Eucalyptus

• Fir

• Geranium

• Grapefruit

• Lemon

• Lime

• Orange

• Oregano

• Pennyroyal

• Pine

• Sage

• Spruce

• Wintergreen

Which essential oils are safe for cats?

There are a handful of essential oils that can be safely used on or around cats. Examples include the following:

• Cedarwood

• Frankincense

• German or Roman Chamomile

• Helichrysum

• Jasmine

• Lemongrass

• Peppermint

• Rosemary

• Sweet Basil

• Sweet Pea

• Yarrow

Some of these actually have beneficial effects on cats. For example, cedarwood, peppermint, and rosemary oils can all be used as flea repellents. Frankincense can help a cat’s digestion, and jasmine can improve a cat’s mood.

How can you safely use an essential oil around a cat?

The average adult cat weighs only around ten pounds, so they need only a small amount of highly diluted essential oil. Never use pure essential oil around a cat; always dilute it with a carrier oil first. Add four or five drops of the carrier oil to every one drop of essential oil.

Avoid sensitive places like the mouth, eyes, nose, and paws when applying the oil to the cat’s skin.

Keep the essential oils in a cupboard or otherwise out of feline reach when you aren’t using them.

Always wash your hands after using an essential oil on yourself before petting your cat.

If you’re using an essential oil for the first time, watch for behavioral changes or other signs of an adverse reaction to the oil.

Can you use a diffuser around cats?

Again, the answer is “it depends.” Diffusers can irritate some cats’ respiratory systems. Cats that already have respiratory problems like asthma or allergies are particularly susceptible to such irritation, so you should not use a diffuser around them.

Otherwise, you should watch your cat for signs of distress when using a diffuser. Symptoms of respiratory distress in a cat can include watery eyes and nose, trouble breathing, coughing, panting, drooling, and vomiting. If your cat develops such symptoms, move them into fresh air immediately, and call the vet if their symptoms don’t quickly improve.