My cat, Natalee, has always had a sensitive tummy. She eats a fairly normal diet, with the exception that I have to buy specific brands online and have it shipped to the house. Otherwise, she’s always been a healthy little fur-baby–snuggly, playful and sweet. Until one day a few months back when she lost almost half her weight, baffled her vet and scared me with how sick she became! All her symptoms suddenly cleared up as quickly as they’d come on. It was a complete mystery until one day, my mom sent me an article asking, Are essential oils toxic to cats? That’s when it all started to make sense.
Did essential oils make my cat sick?
Natalee is a rescue cat whose tail bends at an odd angle at the end because it was broken at some point before I got her. When my kids and I went to adopt a cat, we knew we’d found the perfect one because she latched onto my daughter and purred loudly, her paws wrapped around my daughter’s neck. Plus, her grey and white coat matched my kids’ chosen outfits that day–a grey and white striped sweatshirt and soft fluffy white pullover! It was meant to be!
Natalee likes to ‘collect’ shoestrings and proudly bring them to you from her stash in the laundry room. I sometimes wake up covered in as many as five various strings that she’s brought to me in the night as I slept. In the morning, she eagerly awaits me waking to praise and pet her for her thoughtful presents.
Then the shoestring gifts stopped. She stopped sleeping in my room. Natalee stopped hanging out on the couch next to me as I watched TV. She took to hiding in the garage all day. Nat was lethargic, and she started losing weight. A lot of it. She would sometimes scream out as if in pain. She would jump and run through her kitty door to her litter box in the garage. What’s worse, she often didn’t make it to the litter box in time anymore. I was really concerned about my cat, and also starting to be stressed out from cleaning up so many messes!
I took her to the vet in alarm. They were concerned when they discovered that my 9-pound cat only weighed 7 pounds, just a couple of weeks after her last checkup. Veterinarians tested her for a number of things, including cancer and parasites, but everything checked out. Her vet suggested a new brand of food and scheduled another appointment.
On her follow-up visit, Natalee had lost another 1.5 pounds and was down nearly half her weight. She hid in the garage, sleeping all day. And we still didn’t have answers!
Cat Mystery Revealed
And then, just as mysteriously as the symptoms came on, they started to disappear. I noticed after the Christmas holidays that Natalee seemed to feel better. She left the garage and returned to the den and my bedroom. She wanted to snuggle and play again. Her shoestring antics returned. Her vet was relieved when she put on all the lost weight and looked healthy again.
I had been using natural oil diffusers in my bedroom and den. I’d read lavender promotes restful sleep and that eucalyptus is a natural stress-reliever. (Plus they both just smell good, right?) But with the busy holiday season, I had stopped using them and hadn’t started back up throughout January.
Then my mom forwarded me a story of a sick kitty that sounded pretty familiar. I did a few quick Google searches and noticed that most of these stories had a much worse outcome than Natalee’s. In many, the pet owners were warning others how their pets had died after being exposed to essential oils! I read up on the subject, and couldn’t believe I didn’t know that essential oils are dangerous to pets. I just had to share what happened to poor Natalee and some of these less fortunate pets so other pet owners can protect their fur-babies!
Here’s what you need to know about essential oils and your pets.
Are Essential Oils Safe For Cats?
Numerous reliable authorities in the animal and medical fields have shared that many essential oils are not safe for cats.
Are Essential Oils Toxic to Cats?
The TODAY show shared a story about Sue Klimas’ cat, Dinah, that sounded a lot like what happened to my cat Natalee! Dinah began vomiting, coughing and sneezing and vets ran blood tests, ultrasounds, and exploratory surgery, but were unable to determine what was wrong.
Dinah also went from 9 pounds down to 6!
Sue had been diffusing lavender and eucalyptus. When she stopped, Dinah’s health was restored and her weight returned to normal!
Michael San Filippo with the AMVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) warns that essential oils can be toxic to pets. “We’d advise pet owners to be cautious using them around the house.”
Essential Oils Toxic to Dogs
The American Kennel club explains that some holistic vets believe there are benefits for using essential oils with your pets. But they add that ‘It’s easy to confuse natural with safe.” The AKC warns that “essential oils are potent substances that can pose serious risks when used improperly.”
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association shares that while dogs are at risk of essential oil poisoning, cats are much more susceptible. This is because of nature and the way cats were designed!
“Cats’ livers are deficient in a process called “gluconuridation”, an important step in the metabolism of many compounds. As such, chemicals that are metabolized by other species often accumulate or are broken down into toxic metabolites in cats.” the CVMA shared.
To put it in simpler terms, cats don’t have certain enzymes in their livers that dogs and humans have, so it’s harder for their bodies to deal with toxins.
Essential Oils Dangerous for Cats
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) states that cats, in particular, are susceptible to serious health problems from essential oils.
“Effects such as gastrointestinal upset, central nervous system depression and even liver damage could occur if ingested in significant quantities. Inhalation of the oils could lead to aspiration pneumonia.” Their website advises, “Based on this, we would not recommend using essential oils in areas where your pets have access unless pets are supervised or the use of the oil is approved by your veterinarian.”
Essential Oils Harmful to Pets
According to The Spruce Pets, “oils diffused in the air are inhaled and also collect on the fur, which results in your cat ingesting them during licking and cleaning. Toxicity can occur very quickly or over a longer period of exposure.”
Essential oil diffusers release oils into the air that the cats can inhale or lick off their fur. A good rule of thumb is that if you can smell the fragrance of the oil, there is oil in the air that can harm your cat.
Hills Pet indicates that cats in contact with essential oils could develop liver disease.
Tina Wismer, the medical director for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center shares that birds are even more susceptible than cats!
“Birds have a very different respiratory system than mammals do, and it’s very sensitive to inhaled toxins. We’ve had birds [affected by] new carpet in the house, or Teflon pans. A lot of different ways.”
Symptoms of liver disease in cats include:
- Lack of Energy/Lethargy/Depression
- Excessive Drooling
- Poor Appetite
- Weight Loss
- Increased Thirst
- Vomiting or Diarrhea
- Changes in Behavior
List of Essential Oils That May Be Toxic to Cats
Just as there are many plants that are toxic to cats, there are numerous harmful essential oils. A few of the more commonly used oils that are dangerous to usearound your cat include:
- Citrus Oils
- Tea Tree
Safety Tips for Using Essential Oils in a Home with Pets
According to the PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals), the UK’s leading veterinary charity, here are some ways you can protect your pets if you use essential oils in your home.
- Always store essential oils out of your cat’s reach.
- Wash your hands after touching essential oils, especially before petting your cat.
- Don’t use cleaning products with essential oil ingredients. Cats like to rub up against everything and roll around everywhere. And these products increase the likelihood your cat may get the oil on their fur.
- Use heavily diluted oils, not heavily concentrated oils.
- Keep your cat away from diffusers.
- Use a prescription flea product, not homeopathic flea medications that may contain essential oils.
Has your pet or someone’s pet you know also gotten sick because of essential oils? Let us know on our Facebook page! You can share this article with your friends and family who own pets and may use essential oils. Let’s work together to help keep our fur-babies safe!