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Are Essential Oils Safe for Cats?

Cat stretched out on bed relaxed
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Essential oils are becoming more popular not only for human use but also for dogs and cats. Yet, they are highly controversial, and many people are concerned that essential oils are bad for cats.

We take a closer look at different types of essential oils and whether they can be used safely with our feline companions. 

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils can be found in the seeds, bark, flowers, resin, and roots of aromatic plants. They are very concentrated, which is why more is not better when using essential oils for humans and animals. The concentration of essential oils is also why there are increased risks and concerns that essential oils are toxic to cats. 

The chemistry of essential oils is very complex, with each essential oil consisting of hundreds of different and unique chemical compounds. Essential oils protect plants against environmental threats and provide many beneficial properties for users, such as repelling insects naturally, reducing anxiety, and even helping with GI issues like nausea and vomiting

Are Essential Oils Safe for Cats?

Cat lounging with essential oils

If you are wondering whether essential oils are safe for cats, the answer is it depends on how the oils are used.  

Not all essential oils are created equal. The biggest concern with essential oils is that they can contain adulterants and contaminants that are toxic to pets, especially cats.  For this reason, you should only use therapeutic grade essential oils from reputable companies that will show you third-party testing results. These tests ensure that the final product only contains the natural constituents that make the essential oil therapeutic and safe, rather than just smell nice. 

Due to the concentration of essential oils and cats’ sensitive sense of smell and how they process chemicals, it is best to use therapeutic essential oils that are diluted. However, even if an essential oil is considered safe for cats, you should never use it forcibly on your pet. In addition, certain essential oils can be toxic to cats when inhaled or ingested through licking, so it is important to know which oils to avoid.

What Essential Oils Are Safe for Cats?

Cat bundled in blanket

Cats are not small dogs. Cats detoxify differently than dogs and can be more sensitive to essential oils that are higher in plant-based compounds. If you’d like to use essential oils more frequently or at higher concentrations, make sure to partner with an integrative veterinarian who specializes in aromatherapy. When the right types and dosages of essential oils are used with cats, they can provide useful therapeutic benefits.  

Some cat safe essential oils to consider include:

  • Frankincense
  • Lavender
  • Roman chamomile
  • Cedarwood 
  • Copaiba

Now, let’s explore some of the common uses and potential benefits of these cat safe essential oils. 

Frankincense 

Frankincense is an essential oil safe for cats that is commonly used to help with emotional health. It can even be used to support the body if a cat has cancer. This is an essential oil of choice for cats since it is very safe when used appropriately. It can be well tolerated and helpful for many cats due to how it helps reduce anxiety and supports the immune system. Frankincense essential oil is helpful for cats who have cancers or lumps and bumps, or who suffer from anxiety and need a safe, calming essential oil for cats. Frankincense can be used in an essential oil diffuser, offered as self-selection, or even applied topically when diluted appropriately with a carrier oil. 

Lavender 

Lavender essential oils

Lavender is another safe essential oil for cats that is often used for its calming properties. It can also function as a natural insect repellant and an effective essential oil for fleas on cats. However, lavender is also the most commonly adulterated essential oil. This means other substances may be added that affect the quality of the product. Make sure to source lavender oil from a reputable company to ensure your cat does not experience adverse effects. 

Roman Chamomile

Roman chamomile is helpful for jumpy or reactive cats who are prone to stress and anxiety. Cats who are stressed tend to have urinary problems, so this is also a helpful essential oil for urinary issues like cystitis. This safe essential oil for cats helps to calm the nerves but also soothes an upset stomach, especially when GI problems flare with stress. 

Cedarwood

Cedarwood essential oils

Cedarwood is a helpful essential oil for cats who are timid or fearful, especially when there are changes in the household or when moving to a new house. Cedarwood is a grounding essential oil and it also provides effective flea repelling properties for cats.  

Copaiba

Another powerful but very safe essential oil for cats, especially as they become seniors, is copaiba. Copaiba has strong anti-inflammatory components and barely any scent or flavor, making it well-accepted by most cats. Since inflammation is common in most diseases, copaiba can be used to help cats feel better. Copaiba also helps magnify the effects of other essential oils safely to make them more effective. This essential oil is very popular to use for senior cats who are experiencing inflammation and osteoarthritis in their joints. 

Other Essential Oils Safe for Cats

Other essential oils safe for cats include: 

  • Geranium
  • Lemongrass
  • Rose
  • Juniper berry
  • Valerian
  • Bergamot
  • Carrot seed
  • Helichrysum
  • Lemon balm
  • Myrrh
  • Vetiver
  • Ylang ylang

How to Use Cat Safe Essential Oils

Diffuser for essential oil in the house

A safe way to start with essential oils for cats is to use a water diffuser in an open room where your cat can come and go as they please. Use one to two drops of a safe essential oil for cats in a water diffuser and diffuse it in an open space for one to two hours. Another option is to dilute one drop of a cat safe essential oil into 10 milliliters (2 teaspoons) of a carrier oil like avocado oil, coconut oil, or cold-pressed sunflower or jojoba oil and offer it in a bottle or a small dish for your cat to “self-select,” or choose to interact with however they desire. 

Again, you should make sure the essential oils you use come from a reputable company. For example, AnimalEO is a company owned by an integrative veterinarian who specializes in making pet specific essential oils. Calm-A-Mile, Evict, and KittyBoost are great products to start with that can help reduce anxiety, repel fleas and ticks naturally, and support your cat’s overall health. 

Kin + Kind Flea & Tick Prevent Spray is another safe product that uses high quality essential oils to help repel insects naturally, and is especially useful if you have cats who go outside and are exposed to fleas, ticks, and other insects.

What Essential Oils Are Bad for Cats?

Comfortable cat stretched on a couch

Because cats are different in the way they metabolize drugs, toxins, and chemicals compared with dogs, they can be more sensitive to essential oils.

Essential oils that can be toxic to cats include:

  • Peppermint
  • Tea tree (Melaleuca)
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Wintergreen

Now, let’s discuss some of the potential risks associated with these essential oils. 

Peppermint 

Peppermint can actually be a safe essential oil for cats, but it is very potent and needs to be used at a very diluted concentration. Other safer alternatives would be using the dried organic herb or a peppermint hydrosol, which is less concentrated than the essential oil. Common uses for peppermint include helping cats with GI upset and as an insect repellant. Peppermint essential oil is commonly used to keep cats off Christmas trees. As long as you’re using a reputable brand, you do not need to worry about toxicity. 

Tea Tree

Tea tree (melaleuca) can be very dangerous for cats. Overuse of this essential oil can cause toxic shock and even seizures in cats. Do not use the essential oil form of tea tree. The hydrosol (less concentrated form) is a safer form to use if needed for cats as a wound disinfectant. However, it is best to partner with an aromatherapist to ensure your cat stays safe and healthy. 

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is an essential oil toxic to cats and is best avoided. Cinnamon essential oil contains a moderate concentration of eugenol, which is commonly implicated in toxicity cases in cats. It is also a hot oil, which can be irritating if applied topically to the skin. This oil also has anticoagulant properties and can put pets at an increased risk of bleeding.

Clove

Clove is another essential oil that contains very high levels of eugenol. This is commonly found in natural flea and tick sprays, which is why it’s important to read labels. The quality of the essential oil used is most commonly the reason for toxicity, which is why you should only use this essential oil if working with a qualified animal aromatherapist. Using clove inappropriately with cats can lead to health issues like liver disease.

Wintergreen

Like lavender, wintergreen is also one of the most synthetically created essential oils, which increases the risk of adverse reactions in cats. When pure, therapeutic-grade wintergreen essential oil is offered at the appropriate dosage and in the correct manner, cats can do OK with this essential oil. However, it is best avoided for pet parents who are not confident in using aromatherapy with their cats. It can increase the risk of seizures for cats who are prone to seizures. It also has anti-coagulating effects and can increase the risk of bleeding. 

Other Essential Oils Not Safe for Cats

Other essential oils not safe for cats include: 

  • Birch
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Savory
  • Spearmint
  • Citrus

Overall, for the optimal health and well-being of cats, these essential oils are best to avoid unless working with a qualified animal aromatherapist. 

Symptoms of Essential Oil Poisoning in Cats

Cat not feeling well laying down on floor

There are numerous symptoms your cat can show if they are not responding well to essential oils. Signs to watch for include:

  • Lethargy
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Change in breathing pattern
  • Squinting eyes

Any other change that you would consider to be detrimental or out of the ordinary can be a sign that the essential oil is potentially causing harm to your cat.

If a cat exhibits signs of distress during diffusion, simply turn off the diffuser and increase access to plain fresh air by opening the windows and turning on fans. In most cases, this is enough to stop any issues. 

If an essential oil was applied topically, do not try to flush it off the skin with water. Essential oils are fat soluble. Use a carrier oil (like coconut oil, avocado oil, sunflower oil, or canola oil) or even milk to wash the affected area to help remove the essential oil. 

However, if there is ever any concern, or if changed behaviors are severe or last more than 20 minutes after fresh air is provided, you may wish to consult with a veterinarian or call poison control for further help and advice. 

Essential Oils and Cats: Tips and Advice

Cat in meadow

Essential oils for cats can be helpful and powerful in supporting their health and even treating disease when they are used appropriately at the right dosage. If there are concerns over using essential oils, remember to start with small dosages diluted with carrier oils or diffused. Essential oils are very concentrated and do not need to be used frequently like many other supplements or natural remedies to be effective. 

Allowing your cat to self-select the essential oil they prefer is the best way to offer essential oils. Self-selection can be done by diffusing the oil in an open room and the cat can come and go as they please or by placing one drop of a safe essential oil for cats on a cloth and allowing the cat to choose to interact as they wish.

Essential oils are very helpful with many conditions that are resistant to conventional treatment. But if you are feeling hesitant about trying essential oils for cats, you can partner with an animal aromatherapist or try the safe companies mentioned in this article to get you started. The key is to go slow. With safe and appropriate handling, many cats can benefit from essential oils.

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