Many people swear by essential oils – a spritz of lavender to promote sleep, a splash peppermint to boost energy and help with digestion, a mist of eucalyptus to work as a natural decongestant. While these highly concentrated plant extracts have largely anecdotal but widely buzzed-about benefits for humans, many essential oils aren’t safe for cats. Here’s a rundown on essential oils for cats – the good, the bad, and the dangerous.
Here’s the deal: There aren’t any unequivocally “good” essential oils for cats; there are merely some that may be safer than others. Whether you’re diffusing essential oils in your home or using them to clean, deodorize, or chill out, if you have cats, it’s best to use caution. The influx of essential oils into mainstream popularity is still fairly new, so the full impact of these plant-based solutions on cats is not yet fully understood
“There has not been a lot of research so far into essential oils, so a lot of the information available is from individuals,” says Nicole, a veterinary technician at Heritage Animal Hospital in Olathe, Kansas.
The following essential oils are considered safer for use around cats, though the oils should always be used at a low concentration and never consumed or applied directly to a cat’s fur or skin. It’s also best to observe your cats closely while using essential oils to ensure your feline friends don’t have any sensitivities or adverse reactions.
The list of essential oils for cats to avoid is much longer than those that may be considered safe. While some cats may have no reaction to essential oils, evidence suggests the ones on this list are frequently harmful or toxic to cats – and that is likely true even when these oils are diffused or used in low concentrations.
Keep a close eye on your cat and watch for unusual behaviors when using an essential oil for the first time – drooling, muscle tremors, difficulty walking, and lethargy can all be signs of essential oil poisoning in cats. If you spot these symptoms, contact your vet right away – or dial the ASPCA’s 24-hour Animal Poison Control hotline at 888-426-4435.
So should you ever use essential oils on your cats? Heritage Animal Hospital’s Nicole puts it bluntly: “We don’t recommend using any essential oils with cats,” she says. “They seem to be very sensitive to their effects.”
Artificially scented air fresheners and sprays can also be harmful and overwhelming to cats – it’s important to keep in mind that their noses are much more sensitive than ours. Cats have 200 million odor-sensitive cells in their noses, while humans have 5 million. If you must use essential oils around cats, make sure they are diluted and diffused instead of applied directly, and make sure your cat can retreat to another room for fresh air if she needs to.
Even in a diffuser, tiny droplets of essential oils are dispersed through the air and may absorb through a cat’s skin, or she may ingest them while grooming. If the essential oil in question is toxic to cats, it may cause an adverse reaction that could include drooling, vomiting, tremors, wobbly gait, difficulty breathing, and even organ failure. This will, of course, depend on the cat’s sensitivity to essential oils (some kitties are more easily and severely affected than others), as well as the amount of oil the cat consumed.
Essential oils can also cause respiratory distress in cats, including watery nose or eyes, irritation in the throat, and nausea or vomiting. Watch for rapid breathing, panting, or coughing – and if you notice these symptoms, get your kitty some fresh air immediately. If she doesn’t stop wheezing or coughing, you’ll need to get her to the vet for treatment. While it’s true your cat might tolerate essential oils just fine, in most cases it’s probably not worth the risk.
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Angela Lutz is a writer and editor who has been fascinated by felines since childhood. She has more than a decade of experience writing about everything from health care and books to yoga and spicy food. She has written for Catster since 2012. Angela lives near Kansas City, Mo., with her husband, son and three cats.