6 Essential Oil Safety Tips for Cat Owners 6


 Many essential oils are toxic to cats! Learn which ones, and tips to help avoid exposure of your kitty if you use those oils in your house.Curiosity killed the cat. And essential oils can too if you’re not careful. 

We all love our feline friends, but they have an uncanny knack for getting into things they shouldn’t. So it’s our job as responsible pet owners to be in the know about what’s dangerous for them and then keep it far far away from their cute little noses. 

Read on for top-of-the-line tips to keep your cat safe (without throwing away all your essential oils).

Want to learn more about using essential oils with your cat? Take my free essential oils for pets email course! Inside I cover why using essential oils with your pets can be so beneficial, common mistakes people make when using essential oils with their pets, and I answer all of YOUR burning questions! Just click below to get started.

Cats Are Sensitive to Certain Essential Oils

Researchers have identified two major categories of essential oils that are more dangerous to cats than other mammals (such as humans, dogs or horses). The reason these essential oils are more dangerous to cats lies in the physiology of their liver. Cats lack an enzyme (glucuronyl tranferase) that in other animals helps to process and break down certain components of these essential oils. Due to the concentrated nature of essential oils, toxic buildup of these components occurs and can ultimately be fatal. (see list of references at end of article).

If you’ve already used essential oils on/around your cat, don’t worry! If your cat hasn’t shown any symptoms of toxic buildup, they will likely be alright. Many oils are safe for cats, and even if you’ve used a toxic one your cat will probably be ok if you discontinue the unsafe use immediately, because it takes time for toxic buildup to occur. 

Dangerous Components

So what are the components that make specific oils so dangerous to cats? They fall into two categories called phenols and monoterpene hydrocarbons.

Phenols

[Also known as carbolic acid, phenol describes a group of aromatic organic compounds consisting of a phenyl group bound to a hydroxyl group. Although similar in molecular structure to an alcohol, phenols have their hydroxyl group attached to an aromatic hydrocarbon ring, whereas an alcohol’s hydroxyl group is bound to a saturated carbon atom.]

It turns out phenols can be pretty toxic to humans too. They are corrosive to the skin, eyes, and are irritants to the respiratory tract. But this isn’t too surprising, given the safety warnings that come with high-phenol oils (Cinnamon, Clove, Thyme, Oregano, Savory). These oils are generally recommended for use at the lowest dilution of 1%. If used at a higher dilution, there is a risk of burning your skin or respiratory tract, depending on how you’re using it. Most websites recommend only using higher dilutions for very short periods of time when higher effectiveness is needed (such as getting rid of a particularly bad cold). 

While humans can tolerate these oils is small amounts (due to our liver having the ability to filter out the phenols), cats have a much lower tolerance, and exposure of your cat to these oils should be as limited as possible.

Monoterpene Hydrocarbons

[Terpenes are a very large class of organic compounds commonly produced in plants. Monoterpenes are within this class and consist of two isoprene units (which are a more basic organic compound produced by plants). Monoterpene hydrocarbon refers to a monoterpene attached to an aromatic hydrocarbon ring (what else has an aromatic hydrocarbon ring?… phenols!)] 

Other than phenols, oils containing monoterpene hydrocarbons can be toxic to cats. So what oils contain monoterpene hydrocarbons? Unfortunately, many. Here’s a list of monoterpene hydrocarbons found in essential oils, and the oils that contain these components.

  • Terpineol: cajuput oil, pine oil, and petigrain oil
  • Limonene: Very common in citrus oils
  • Pinene: pine oil (obviously), and other coniferous plants such as fir. 

Using Pure Essential Oils is Key

Often, essential oils producers will dilute their oils with additives to bring down the price of the oil. Many of these additives are toxic to cats (and humans to an extent). So if you find that your cat is reacting to an oil not listed as toxic, it could be that the oil is not pure. Lavender oil is the biggest offender here, and many websites will list it as toxic even though it is not. This is because lavender oil is the number one most adulterated oil, and many of the common additives can cause harm to cats. 

Check out my post on Which Essential Oil Company is Best to learn about how to be reasonably certain you’re buying pure oils, and the companies that I personally use and recommend.

Safety Tips for Using Essential Oils Around Cats

Just because an oil is toxic to cats does not mean that you can never use it in your home. However it does mean that certain precautions will need to be taken to ensure your cat is not exposed to the oil. Here’s a list of tips to help keep your cat safe:

  1. Never diffuse a toxic oil in your home. 

When an oil is diffused into the air, whether with an ultrasonic diffuser or a spray air freshener, there is a high potential that your cat will inhale the oil, same as you (that’s kind of the point of diffusing and air fresheners). The components of the oil that are toxic will be able to make their way into your cat’s body very easily through inhalation, so don’t even allow your cat to sniff toxic oils while you are using them. If you must use an essential oil by inhalation, try putting a few drops in a bowl of steaming hot water and then covering your head and bowl with a towel and breathe in the vapor. (Make sure there isn’t so much steam that you will burn your face – use your common sense). Make sure to do this in a room away from your cat. 

For more information about diffusing oils, check out this post

2. Never pet your cat after applying essential oils to your skin.

If there is any residual oil on your hands, it can get on their fur, and when they go to give themselves a bath they will ingest it. So be cautious and wash your hands well after applying oils, as well as making sure to keep the skin that you applied the oils on covered so that your cat does not rub up against you and get the oils on their fur that way. 

3. Keep all your oils (toxic or not) stored where your cat cannot reach them.

We all know that cats are very curious and mischievous beings, capable of getting into almost anything. Even if your oils are sealed tightly, there is a likelihood that there will be residual oil on the bottle that your cat could lick off or get on their fur. So keep your oils in a closed cabinet or drawer that you are 100% certain your cat cannot break into. (Also for those of you with small children, remember that your kids could get into the oils and inadvertently expose your cat, so keep your oils out of reach of little hands as well). 

4. Don’t use toxic oils to clean anything your cat could lick or rub.

When you use essential oils as cleaners (as with any cleaner) a residue is left on the surface. If your cat rubs against this surface or licks it, they can easily end up ingesting some of the toxic oil. So for example, it is ok to use toxic oils to clean your showerhead, but not your kitchen counter (I’ve never met a cat that doesn’t like to lick dirty dishes left on the counter when you aren’t home). 

5. Don’t leave out dishes that have touched toxic oils.

For those of you that cook with essential oils, it is important to put away or clean these dishes immediately after use because, as mentioned above, I’ve never met a cat that doesn’t love licking leftover food off the dirty dishes in the sink. 

6. Use higher dilutions when possible

Even with all these precautionary measures, exposure of your cat could still happen, so use your toxic oils as diluted as possible for them to still be effective. This way, accidental exposure of your cat to the oil is less likely to be enough to cause a toxic buildup. 

For more information on how to dilute your oils, check out this post

Even if you have been using one of these toxic oils around your cat and your cat has been fine, you should NOT continue use. Toxic buildup happens over long periods of time, and in most cases there are no symptoms until it is too late. 

List of Oils Toxic to Cats

Many essential oils are toxic to cats! Learn which ones, and tips to help avoid exposure of your kitty if you use those oils in your house.

Looking for a printable version of this list? Click here!

Note: While I have done a lot of research and compiled a list that most sources seemed to agree on, I cannot guarantee that an essential oil not on this list is automatically safe for cats. When in doubt, limit use around your cat, and never apply it directly to your cat’s fur or skin. 

What tips and tricks have you guys implemented to keep your kitty safe? Let me know in the comments below! 

References:

  1. Addie DD, Boucraut-Baralon C, Egberink H, Frymus T, Gruffydd-Jones T, Hartmann K, Horzinek MC, Hosie MJ, Lloret A, Lutz H, Marsilio F, Pennisi MG, Radford AD, Thiry E, Truyen U, Möstl K; European Advisory Board on Cat Diseases. Disinfectant choices in veterinary practices, shelters and households: ABCD guidelines on safe and effective disinfection for feline environments. J Feline Med Surg. 2015 Jul;17(7):594-605.
  2. Genovese AG, McLean MK, Khan SA. Adverse reactions from essential oil-containing natural flea products exempted from Environmental Protection Agency regulations in dogs and cats. Vet Emerg Crit Care (San Antonio) 2012; 22: 470475
  3. Bischoff K, Guale F. Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil poisoning in three purebred cats. J Vet Diagn Invest 1998; 10: 208210.
  4. Khan SA, McLean MK, Slater MR. Concentrated tea tree oil toxicosis in dogs and cats: 443 cases (2002–2012). J Am Vet Med Assoc 2014; 244: 9599.
  5. Rousseaux CG, Smith RA, Nicholson S. Acute Pinesol toxicity in a domestic cat. Vet Hum Toxicol 1986; 28: 316317.
  6. Garg SK. General toxicology. In: Garg SK (ed). Veterinary toxicology. New Delhi: CBS Publishers, 2007, pp 136.
  7. Shukla Y. Chemicals, drugs and plants-induced carcinogenicity and genotoxicity. In: Garg SK (ed). Veterinary toxicology. New Delhi: CBS Publishers, 2007, pp 269280.

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About Rachel

Rachel is a blogger and Biophysics Lab Manager who lives in Clemson, SC (go tigers!). After studying conventional pharmaceuticals and how they target specific ailments, she applied that knowledge to figuring out how essential oils can work to treat the same ailments, and ended up creating the blog The Essential Girl.

When she’s not blogging or sciencing the shit out of something in the lab, she likes to swing dance and teach group fitness classes.

  • I often refer back to this post because I worry about using oils. I enjoy reading other’s comments as well. My go to oils at home around the kitties are Frankincense, Clary Sage and Lemongrass.

  • Feliham

    None of the reference links at the bottom link to a website, and when you click “For more information on how to dilute your oils, check out this post” it takes you to apple.com : (

    • Oh goodness! Thanks so much for bringing that to my attention! I went back in and I think the links are fixed now.

      • Feliham

        Thank you! I found this whole post very helpful, and I appreciate your response. Thanks again!

  • Akiko

    I just want to give a huge HUGE thank you and shout out to you, Rachel! You are literally the only article/blog writer I have come across on this self-factualizing internet world that gives a scientific explanation to cat physiology and their reaction to essential oils. I absolutely am smitten with you and your clarity (minus the organic chemistry lingo from my utter lack of chemistry talent, but I understand the gist).
    However, I come with more than just praise; I seek your advice. Luckily, my cats have not moved in with me yet but I did have a mildew/mold scare from moving my stuff from a stagnant, unregulated storage unit and had a cleaning frenzy as a result of it. For people who have been using/diffusing cat toxic essential oils in rooms, furniture, clothes, etc. do you have advice on how to flush out the area of use? How does one remove the essential oils to prevent interaction with our fur babies?
    I am very late to this post but I hope I can still get your response. Thank you very much again!

    • Thank you! So glad to hear you’re enjoying my articles!

      As for removing oils from fabric… the only recommendation I can really give is some sort of professional cleaning, like the way you would get someone to come in and shampoo your carpets. There needs to be a soap/detergent involved, otherwise the oil will not be removed. Another alternative may be to just simply cover the furniture. This will create enough of a barrier to keep your cats safe.