Essential oils are beneficial to humans, dogs, horses and goats. Are essential oils harmful to cats or can they be used safely?
Essential Oil Buildup
Most of the essential oils on the market are made of hydrocarbons and terpenoids. In us humans as well as in dogs, horses and goats the terpenoids are transported to the liver to be metabolized. Everything that remains after that is transported out via urine and feces.
The Liver of Cats
First of all: the short answer is, yes, essential oils are harmful to cats.
The body of a cat is build different from our system. Cats lack the liver enzyme to break down these compounds. Everything that doesn’t get broken down in the liver is being stored in the liver to be broken down later when a ‘solution’ has been found for the problem. Unfortunately that solution will never come.
Therefore most essential oils are actually toxic to cats. Their liver cannot handle the terpenoids, which means they get damaged. It is a rather slow process and doesn’t show up until it is too late.
The skin of a cat is very thin and delicate and absorbs fluids rapidly into the bloodstream. Inhalation of essential oil components will also enter the bloodstream via the lungs and then continue towards the liver.
In the same way cats cannot handle chemicals either. A lot of insecticides, weed killers and common household cleaning agents should be used with caution when you got cats in your house. For example mothballs, phenol based antibacterial products (dettol, lysol, pine-sol) can be dangerous to them.
It could even have fatal causes. Ethylene glycol is used in anti freeze for cars. A deadly dose is as little as a teaspoon of anti-freeze.
Tea tree oil and other treatments and shampoos with tea tree oil in it can cause serious illnesses in cats.
A lot of products that we use against ticks and flees for dogs and cats are harmful, not only to your cat/dog but also to us humans (pesticides).
If you do however still want to use a diffuser to spread essential oils, try to follow the following guidelines:
- Do not use excessive amounts of oil
- Use oils that are as low in volatility as possible
- Ensure good air circulation
- No diffusing of oils for 48 hours after last time
No Excessive Amounts
Cats have a stronger sense of smell. We humans get used to smells quickly (adaption) and feel the need to add more oil to the diffuser. Cats however still smell the scent and wonder why it is getting stronger.
Low Volatility Oils
Use oils that are not as strong per ratio. Best is to blend them with a base oil.
Ensure Air Circulation
With that, avoid that cats stay in an area where there is no air circulation and make sure there is a safe haven for them to go to. Also keep the doors open so they don’t get locked in. After a session, you should air the room, for example by opening a window, so the room can fill with fresh air again.
Let House Rest Between Oil Sessions
The feline liver needs usually about 48 hours to process and excrete Terpenes, so avoid any diffusing within the first 48 hours after the last diffusion ended.
Myths Concerning Essential Oils
Essential oils oxygenate your cats blood system to sooth their emotions and nerves
Essential oils do not oxygenate anyone’s blood, cats or humans. It is pure marketing hype.
Essential oils are not against ear mite infestation
Frankincense and Helichrysum are often ‘prescribed’ in these products. But placing the essential oils and vegetable oil in the ear of your cat does actually do more damage than good to the ear organs. It can cause deafness of the ear and the essential oil buildup can cause permanent liver damage causing liver failure and death.
Frankincense and helichrysum are not proven to be helping against mites, but they are toxic to cats.
Peppermint oil can be used against respiratory problems and runny nose in cats
You are better of taking your cat to the veterinary. Some respiratory problems can be life threatening or contagious to other cats. Essential oils, especially peppermint oil will cause irritation and redness on the skin (also in humans) and can cause liver damage in cats.
Hydrosols are water based and are safe to cats
This isn’t proven scientifically and they still contain essential oils, which are bad for cats. It has unknown risks.
Do know this; during my research for writing this article, I figured out that there were many contradictions on the internet. Some said this or that oil was good and a whole list was bad for cats. The different lists had also different names on them. I had nearly written this list here for you, but have decided to vote against all essential oils.
As with most things in life, essential oils were long considered safe until cats started getting sick or died from liver failure.
I got one last note: Even those nice incenses that you can burn often contain essential oils for the scent.
Burning Incenses are bad for your cat too:
1) The smoke is bad for the lungs of you and your cats
2) The essential oils are harmful to your cats liver (as well as that you could get allergic reactions to the oil/scent)
3) Cats are very curious and do not know that a flame is hot – they could burn themselves.
We used to burn a lot of incenses and had oil diffusers running every now and then, but are now considering to stop with this all together or at least keep it to a minimum within a well-ventilated room and possibly only when the cats are not in the main room where the incense or diffuser is placed.
If you were thinking of using essential oil diffusers as a ways to calm your cat, than consider using a pheromone diffuser instead.
Did you know this about essential oils? What is your experience? Share below!