Aromatherapy is increasingly popular, not just for great fragrance. It is also accepted as a good complementary therapy. Cat owners, who are also Aromatherapy users, must consider some safety issues about the two. Using essential oils for cats can be dangerous or even lethal. But it can also be useful and beneficial.
In this article, you’ll find out about the following:
- Cat physiology and why do people use essential oils on their cats.
- Safest ways to use aromatherapy oils around cats.
- What essential oils can be used on cats and which to completely avoid.
- General safety tips to help your cat get along with the safer oils.
- Details about good essential oil substitutes for your cat: hydrosols.
- Symptoms of essential oil poisoning. The sooner you act, the faster the cat can recover.
- Carrier oils for cat use, plus a few gentle Aromatherapy recipes to use on your cat.
- Last but not least, for all doTERRA users, check out the tips and details on their essential oil blends and cat use.
Are Essential Oils Safe for Cats? Facts, How to Use and Safety Tips
Essential oils are considered and recognized to be a good complementary and alternative medicine. This is also known as CAM. Plant extracts have been used as medicine since forever.
In the past decade, many scientists turned their attention toward them. What they’ve discovered in their researches can only help us know these oils. As a consequence, we’re better informed about the benefits and interactions of essential oils.
In the pet care department though, there is still severe lack of data. Veterinarians should know a lot more about these aromatic essences. You should always tell a vet about your intention of using Aromatherapy on your cat.
But why are cats so special? You’re probably up to date with the fact that cats are more sensitive to aromatic oils than dogs or other mammals. There are several factors that make this statement true.
What makes a cat different than all other mammals (and more sensitive to aromatic oils)?
- First and most important of all, is the lack of a few important liver enzymes. They are called UDP – glucuronosyltransferase (UGT). Their purpose is to help metabolize phenolic compounds. Thus, it’s harder for cats to process and eliminate aroma oils high in phenols (and ketones). It’s not impossible though, but the long time it takes to eliminate them may build up in their liver and kidneys. This would lead to high toxicity. Very large dosage of toxic essential oils can also cause death. Nonetheless, cats can still process alcohols and fatty acids, among others.
- Cats have a thinner skin. This means that essential oils absorb faster and in greater quantity. It will thus reach their blood and potentially cause them harm in a short time.
- Cats are also more interested and drawn to the fragrance of aromatic oils. This may pose a problem at times, when the cat may spill the diffuser or the oil bottle on itself.
- They have a much more sensitive sense of smell than humans. 70 million receptors vs. 5 million receptors.
- They have a special vomeronasal organ called Jacobson’s organ. It is situated between the palate and the nose, and it helps detect pheromones. This organ is responsible for your cats random strange behavior. Oversaturating this organ with essential oil molecules can make it aggressive or lethargic.
- A cat grooms itself regularly. This increases the risk of ingesting active toxic molecules.
So, compared to humans, everything’s different about a cat. Its physiology, skin, hair, weight, odor sensitivity, etc.; they are all different.
This means the aromatic oils used will act differently on the cat and cause various effects. In other words, what works well for you and your family, may seriously harm your cat.
Why Do People Use Essential Oils on Cats?
Studies show that most tested essential oils have antibacterial properties. Some are also very good antifungals and antivirals that can protect from infections. Aromatic oils can also soothe inflammations (anti-inflammatory) and relieve spasms (antispasmodic).
They can also improve digestion, strengthen the immune system, and so on. These effects have been tested in the lab, on rats. But they’ve also been tested on humans, on various occasions.
One of the most important discoveries was that they can actually relieve anxiety and be able to relax the body and mind. Research on pets and essential oils is still very scarce.
That’s why there’s such an increased interest to use Aromatic oils for almost everything. Their benefits range from skin care to surgery recovery and anxiety/stress relief.
We all care deeply about our pets. Because of it, many people try to make them feel better with essential oils.
Can cats be around essential oils? Yes, they can. Cats can be around essential oils, even around the most toxic ones. The only safety rule is for the exposure to be as minimal as possible and the quantity used to be the same.
Even though they aren’t for humans, many plants can actually be toxic for cats. For example, nutmeg is toxic to cats.
In the wild, cats would only eat grass, which helps them with digestion and hairball elimination. They would also rub their furs on many plants and ingest small amounts of their oils.
But inside a home, the cat would be in danger, especially if it’s constantly surrounded by active essential oil diffusion.
When you have a cat, you must consider it in everything you do and use around the house.
How to Use Essential Oils for Cats
Some (very few) essential oils are actually safe for cats. Dogs are more resilient. They can tolerate, process and eliminate all essential oils faster. This doesn’t mean however, that they don’t get intoxicated and can’t also die from exposure.
Cats and essential oil diffusers – The way you use essential oils makes it safe or unsafe for your cat. Robert Tisserand, a well-known authority in the way essential oils work, says the overall exposure is what matters most.
He advises people who spray or diffuse essential oils around cats to:
- Ensure good room ventilation. The best way is to keep a window ajar during and after diffusion. The oil molecules can saturate the air and cause vapor build-up. This is what makes it dangerous for cats. Ventilating can prevent these problems. The same thing applies to humans that inhale oil molecules. People can get headaches or feel nauseated when the air is saturated.
- Diffuse only small amounts of oils. A few drops of aroma oil will evaporate into the air. This makes it very hard for the cat to actually catch vapors on its fur or breathe in too much.
- Diffuse on short or limited periods of time. This limits the overall exposure and makes it safer for cats to be around essential oils.
- Make sure you leave the door open so that the cat can leave when it wants to. If the cat doesn’t like the scent or has had enough, it will want to leave the room.
Can I diffuse essential oils around my cat, you ask. Generally speaking, you can. Diffusion done properly is safer than topical applications. There are very small chances for the oil to cause toxicity as it reaches the blood in very small amounts.
Aromatic oils are volatile, which means a big part of them evaporates fast. Depending on the diffusion method, they may not even touch your cat. Nebulizers are the best at dispersing pure oil molecules that remain suspended in the air for a long time.
So, if you’re interested in diffusing essential oils around cats, you should do it in a subtle manner. Diffuse small amounts on a short, limited period of time.
And also, don’t forget to let the air circulate in the room to avoid saturation. If you have an asthmatic cat, avoid diffusing altogether.
Learn more about:
Can you use essential oils on a cat? Topical application is very common and effective among people. For cats though, this method of using oils on cats is not well-regarded.
This should be used only rarely, in serious cases, like when a wound is infected, for example. Robert Tisserand himself used Tea Tree essential oil on his cat. For a limited time and in very small amounts, as he mentions.
As a general rule, essential oils for cats need to be diluted more. The concentration needs to be 2 – 3 times less than for a human adult.
Usually, a drop of aromatic oil should be enough for an adult cat. However, you should always talk to a vet before applying any remedy on your cat.
Applying a blend or a pure oil on your cat’s skin for a week, can weigh heavy on its liver and cause toxicity. It can also irritate the skin.
Most vets and professionals don’t recommend using essences on your cat for more than 2 – 3 consecutive days. And that in the smallest amount possible!
There are also two very important criteria for using essential oils on cats safely.
- A good knowledge of Aromatherapy oils chemistry. This means you can gather this knowledge yourself. Or you can simply talk to a specialized vet, who knows essential oil chemistry.
- The aromatic essence you use needs to be 100% pure. Many essences are sold as pure and natural when they’re in fact, lab – made. Check out how to avoid adulterated oils.
Some essential oils are safe for cats, while others aren’t. Check out the following paragraphs to find out which essential oils are toxic to cats and which are not.
Essential Oils and Cats
Are essential oils toxic to cats? There’s no definite yes or no to this question. Some essences can be toxic and even deadly to a cat. Others are non-toxic and can help it feel more relaxed.
As long as they’re used in very small amounts, on short periods of time, most essential oils should not be toxic.
Which essential oils are dangerous to cats, is what everybody wants to know. There are many dangerous aroma oils for cats; most of them are rich in phenols. As an oil reference, the following list should serve you as starting point in your research:
For the safety of your cat, you should avoid the following aromatic oils:
- Sweet Birch
- Ylang Ylang
- Tea Tree
- Juniper berry
- Blue Tansy
Most of these oils are high in phenols. I already mentioned that cats lack some liver enzymes that metabolize phenolic compounds. The same goes for ketones, another class of chemical molecules that may cause harm to your cat. d-Limonene (from citrus oils) can also be toxic to cats. However, these effects can be felt only when the oils are used in high amounts and long periods of time.
For example, Wintergreen and Sweet Birch are very rich in methyl salicylate. This organic compound acts just like aspirin, which is highly toxic to cats. Ylang Ylang also contains some methyl salicylate.
But what about Peppermint? Is Peppermint dangerous to cats? It certainly is. In humans, it can trigger seizures and epilepsy or asthma attacks. It can also cause jaundice for those prone to it.
In children under 30 months old, it can cause respiratory arrest. The way it works on a cat is not known, so it’s better to be extra cautious.
Peppermint can be very dangerous to cats, if diffused or used regularly, on long periods of time. A drop here and then should not be too risky, especially if you ventilate the room well.
How about Lavender? Is Lavender oil dangerous to cats? I’ve seen Lavender mentioned by the ASPCA to be toxic for cats.
There are neither enough or no studies at all to back up or deny this claim. I can see why, in a big amount, it could indeed be toxic. But its main constituents belong to the alcohol class of compounds, which a cat can metabolize.
This means, the oil molecules of Lavender are eliminated in a matter of hours, instead of days. Some dog owners noticed their pet becoming calmer after inhaling Lavender.
* Update: I found one scientific paper that mentions linalool to be toxic to cats. Linalool is one of the main ingredients of Lavender oil.
A stray cat can rub its fur against lavender plants and then ingest some oil molecules. That would be a small amount though, and it should not be a problem.
Considering that it’s the overall exposure to Lavender, a cat should be ok when it inhales small amounts. As long as it is done occasionally and not regularly.
Some aromatic oils may also interfere with a cat’s hormonal activity. This means that the following oils should not be used on cats for more than a couple of days:
- Rosemary (all chemotypes)
- Clary Sage
- Tea Tree
Some Aromatherapy oils can also induce contractions. They are usually very high in geraniol and eugenol. This means you should avoid diffusing or using the following essential oils for pregnant cats:
- Bay St. Thomas
- Cinnamon leaves
Prohibited essential oils for nursing cats:
- Star Anise
These oils may stop milk production. In women, some of these plants were used in concoctions to stimulate milk production.
For now though, there’s no way of knowing for sure. Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid diffusing essential oils around nursing cats altogether.
So those were the essences that can be toxic to you cat(s). Now, let’s see what essential oils are safe for cats.
Calming essential oils for cats (in small amounts):
- Roman Chamomile
- Litsea Cubeba
- Atlas Cedarwood
A good energizing essential oil for cats is Catnip. It doesn’t cause addiction, yet it gives your kitty a few moments of happiness.
Still, you should use only very small amounts of any oil, and in well-ventilated places. There is a study/experiment done on cats with valerian root and their reaction.
The study concluded that valerian root can be a good substitute for catnip. This in case your cat doesn’t react to catnip.
So valerian root, the plant, can improve the life quality of your cat. I did not find anything about Valerian essential oil and cats. I can only assume that used in small amounts, the oil could do your cat well.
General Safety Tips for Essential Oil Use on cats
Now you know what essential oils to use on cats, for various problems. Let’s see some general safety rules for using these aromatic oils around cats:
- The most important thing is to tell your vet about using Aromatherapy oils around your cat.
- Do not attempt treating anything with oils without the vet’s advice.
- Do some research before using an oil around or on your cat. You could avoid so many unnecessary problems this way.
- Test an aromatic essence on your cat for allergic reactions. Place a drop on a cotton pad near it and leave it there for a day or two. Watch your cat closely. Any lethargy, salivation or wobbling may be a sign of poisoning or bad reaction.
- Avoid using essential oils for cats younger than 3 months old. This applies to pregnant and nursing cats too.
- Try not to rub their fur with essential oils. They will lick it and ingest a big amount, which may harm the cat.
- Avoid using aroma oils around the cat’s eyes, nose, and mouth and inside the ears.
- Don’t give it essential oils to ingest, unless you’ve got the doctor’s approval and an appropriate dosage.
- Avoid using the corresponding floral waters of potentially toxic essential oils.
- Try to limit topical application to very severe situations. And always use small amounts, diluted first.
- Give your cat time to get adjusted to the aromatic essence. Try diffusing a drop or two, in a well-ventilated area, every other day. Do not force your cat on a scent! Let it leave if it doesn’t like it, or you’ll stress the cat.
- Avoid exposing your cat to second-hand smoke. That makes it more susceptible to essential oil poisoning.
- Avoid diffusing any aromatic essence if your cat suffers from asthma or allergies.
Floral Waters (Hydrosols) for Cat Use
Many French sources recommend using hydrosols instead of essential oils for cats. These are by-products of oil steam distillation. They contain traces of some oil molecules, it’s true. But mostly, they’re made of water-soluble compounds.
Vitamins like C and B don’t make it into the aromatic oil because they don’t mix. So using floral waters on cats is a lot safer. However, those that are obtained from toxic plants should also be avoided.
You could try to repel fleas from your cat by spraying some hydrosol on its fur and skin. I still suggest talking to the vet about it first! There are no studies about how much essential oil (or hydrosol) can be used to kill fleas. This means they could be repelled or not.
Floral waters known to repel insects are:
- Douglas Fir
- Rose Geranium
- Juniper berry
- Atlas Cedarwood
As you can see, some of these extracts are potentially toxic. While we’re still waiting for studies to be performed on the use of Aromatherapy for pets, hydrosols may be a very good alternative. The same safety tips as for essential oils apply to hydrosols too.
Symptoms of Essential Oil Poisoning in Cats
Animals may not talk our language but they do have ways of showing us their discomfort or unhappiness. A cat purrs, kneads, plays, etc. when it’s happy and feels good. But it may also vomit, salivate in excess, etc. when it’s not feeling well.
Like I said so far, essential oils can saturate the air by causing vapor build-up. This build-up is dangerous for both yours and your cat’s health. Check this list for symptoms of aroma oils poisoning in cats:
- Digestive problems, signaled by vomiting and hyper salivation (drooling).
- Nervous problems, signaled by tremors and lethargy (lack of energy or force to move). Wobbling is also included. It’s harder for the poisoned cat to maintain equilibrium.
- Local irritation that may lead to skin ulcers.
- Respiratory problems. You may hear some wheezing or coughing, or see the cat struggle to breathe in. Fast breathing is also a respiratory problem that needs closer investigation. You can tell your cat is vomiting and not eliminating hairballs by its position. If it crouches to the ground and seems to have no abdominal movement, it’s vomiting.
- Watery nose and/or eyes.
This intoxication may last for many days, as the oils that caused it are eliminated slowly. That’s why you should take the cat to the vet immediately.
Until you get there, you should take the cat out to breathe in fresh air. Sometimes, this is all it’ll need to feel better. In which case, you’ll have to ventilate the house well and avoid using that specific oil. Or you can do it behind closed doors.
Carrier Oils for Cats and a Few Therapeutic Recipes
I’ve told you many things about the use of essential oils for cats. Now you know how to do it safely too. I’ve also told you that they need to be diluted for most topical applications. The best way to dilute an aroma oil is with carrier oils, a.k.a. vegetable oils.
Carrier oils are cold pressed from seeds, nuts and kernels; the fatty parts of fruits. Thus, they are oily and fatty and don’t evaporate. They can also spread well on any surface you use them on.
Some vegetable oils are toxic to cats, e.g.: Macadamia and Grapeseed. There aren’t studies to show this, but the fruits themselves are known to be toxic to cats and dogs.
Plant-derived fatty acids are pretty well tolerated by cats. However, if they eat these oils, they’re not very nutritious either.
Why would you want to give your cat vegetable oil to eat? Well, it’s a very common practice actually. Many cat owners give their cats vegetable oil to encourage hairball elimination. Olive oil is especially popular in this practice.
The oil does indeed promote a better passage for hairballs and stool. Check out more about it in this in-depth article:
There are other good vegetable oils you can use for your cat. Just make sure they’re unrefined and pure. Externally, you can give your cat’s fur some luster with Sunflower seed oil, Jojoba, Argan, Avocado and of course, Olive oil.
Rub a small amount between your palms and then run your fingers through the fur. Leave it there for 20 – 30 minutes and make sure the cat doesn’t lick. Then rinse it off with warm water and a special, gentle pet shampoo.
Safe Essential Oil Recipes for Cats
Theory is theory, but practice is even better. If you still want to do something for your kitty (though most often, they don’t need it), you can try these simple blends.
Calming and Gentle Aromatic Oil Blend for Kitty
- Valerian essential oil: 2 drops
- Lavandin essential oil: 2 drops
- Lavender hydrosol: 1 Oz (30ml)
- Distilled water: 1 Oz (30ml)
First, test a very small amount. You can spray the air with this recipe and let the cat walk through it. Or you can spray your palms and then run your fingers through its fur.
Either way, make sure you use a very small amount, once or twice a week or even month. Give your kitty time to get adjusted and then see if it likes it or not.
Wound Care for Cats Recipe
- Lavender hydrosol: 1 Oz (30ml)
- Tea Tree hydrosol: ½ Oz (15ml)
Give the bottle a shake before each use. Spray a small amount on a cotton pad and wipe the wound clean with it. You can do so daily in the first 3 days, and then follow once every couple days until the wound gets a crust.
doTERRA Essential Oils for Cats: Which Ones are Safe?
There are so many people out there who use doTERRA essential oils. Of course, this implies that the cats will do too.
It’s important to know whether you can use doTERRA essential oils for cats or not. Generally speaking, almost all are useful to humans, but some can be very harmful to cats.
The company sells some popular and commonly used proprietary blends. Some of them I’ve also reviewed and can tell you why they can or can’t be used around cats.
If used in small amounts, on a short period of time, in well-ventilated rooms, etc. this blend may not affect your cat negatively. Larger amounts will obviously not going to do your cat any good.
In fact, it contains almost only citrus essential oils (and Vanilla absolute). Misusing this blend, on a long term, it could poison your cat. There’s a study that tested the effects of d-limonene in topical applications on cats. Citrus oils are very high in limonene.
The lowest dose (1.5 Oz/gal of water) showed no toxic effects. 5 times more of this concentration caused the cats to drool and tremble or shiver, among others.
This blend contains some safer essential oils for cats and some not so safe. Make sure you’ll not be using it on or around a pregnant or nursing cat. A normal, healthy cat, however, may like it, if you use the blend occasionally.
For your cat’s health and well-being, you should use it behind closed doors, in a well-ventilated room. It contains citrus oils, Peppermint, Cinnamon, and Ginger. You now know that 3 out 4 of these ingredients can harm your cat or even cause serious health problems.
The Deep Blue blend is meant to soothe and relieve pain in the muscles and joints. For that, it uses essential oils high in phenols (Wintergreen, Camphor, Ylang Ylang, Blue Tansy, etc.). These doTERRA essential oils for cats are the most dangerous.
You can either avoid using the blend altogether or do so behind closed doors. Make sure the house is well-ventilated so the air may circulate.
This blend contains just one good essential oil for cats. The other ingredients may all cause toxicity to the liver and kidneys of the cat. You could use this blend occasionally, in the conditions I mentioned above.
Whisper smells very nice and I get why you would feel bummed to give it up. The vet may be able to tell you how much and how often you could enjoy this blend without harming your cat.
Luckily, the company has some nice diffusers that you could use for Aromatherapy. I will always recommend the use of nebulizers, which are the best at the moment. They atomize the oil molecules very finely, and they don’t use water or heat.
Unfortunately, there are no essential oils for fleas on cats from doTERRA. They have the same oil varieties as the others, and there are no studies performed for this purpose.
Like I told you, some oils are known to repel insects, including fleas and ticks. But the exact concentration at which this can happen is not known. Don’t attempt to use any essential oil for fleas on your cat without consulting the vet first.
As you can see, the topic of safe essential oils for cats leaves enough room for debating. If one is not well-informed about their potential dangers, Aromatherapy can even be fatal to a cat.
Still, if you are cautious enough (even to the point of overreacting), you can still enjoy diffusing your favorite aromatic oils around cats.
Unfortunately, there’s a serious lack of necessary data and very few Aromatherapy specialized vets. This makes it difficult to know all the dangers and benefits of essential oils. As a responsible cat owner, you should always research and talk to a vet about using essential oils for cats.
Have you ever had problems with aromatic diffusion around your cat? What did your vet tell you about essential oils?