Essential oils and cats
Essential oils are a popular household item, but did you know they can cause serious harm to our feline friends if they get their paws on them?
PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing explains: “Essential oils may have benefits to us humans, whether it’s to try help us sleep, treat our skin or simply make the house smell nice. But what may be good for us isn’t always good for our feline friends!”
Cats and essential oils
“Depending on how you use essential oils around your house, your cat could come into contact with them in a number of ways.
- Direct skin contact. Never apply any essential oils to your cat’s skin as it could cause a bad reaction, the application of even a few drops of oil can be extremely toxic to your cat. As cats are very clean and groom themselves regularly, they are also at risk of licking it off and accidentally ingesting it.
- Eaten/swallowed. Cats are curious by nature and if they come across essential oils in the home, they may be tempted to directly drink the liquid for example from reed diffusers.
- Inhaled. A lot of us like to use reed diffusers or plugins to make our homes smell nice. Toxic effects from inhalation are rare because the essential oils used are quite diluted, but for cats with certain medical conditions (like asthma) or if you are considering nebulised or ultrasonically diffused neat essential oils the risk can be greater.
“Symptoms of essential oil poisoning include:
- Excessive dribbling
- Shaking and tremoring
- Walking as if they’re drunk
- Lethargy, depression or dullness
- Difficulty breathing and breathing with their mouth open like they are panting
- Collapse and seizures.
“If your cat has had skin contact with essential oil, you may notice they have sore or red skin, or even chemical burns on their skin. However, just because there isn’t any visible damage to their skin don’t assume that they are ok, as they may have ingested the oil without skin contact, or it may have a delayed effect.
“If you suspect your cat has been in contact with or eaten any product containing an essential oil, contact your vet immediately even if they aren’t showing symptoms. It can be helpful if your vet knows which essential oil your cat might have been exposed to and what concentration it is. Bring the packaging with this information to your vet appointment.
Prevention is key
“It’s better to be safe than sorry, so if you like to use essential oils for yourself, there are ways to reduce the risk to your furry family member.
- It might seem a bit obvious, but make sure all essential oils are stored out of reach of curious paws, ideally in a locked cupboard.
- Don’t touch your cat after handling essential oils. If you have come into contact with essential oils, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before touching your cat.
- Avoid using essential oils for cleaning. Cats like to rub against everything and it could easily rub off onto their fur.
- If you use essential oils for yourself, try to make sure they are diluted first and keep them out of reach of prying paws to minimise the risk to your cat.
- If you use reed diffusers, plugin diffusers or a nebuliser for essential oils, try to keep your cat out of those particular rooms. Make sure any space where you’ve had essential oils diffusing into the air is well ventilated before letting your cat back in.
- Use a prescription flea product. Because essential oils aren’t very well-regulated, manufacturers can put them in products for your pets. It’s common that over-the-counter flea treatments can contain an essential oil to help “repel” fleas. These are potentially less effective than other flea treatments and may present a risk to your pet, so we would recommend getting advice from your vet on the safest and most reliable flea treatment for your pet.
Of course, there are certain essential oils that in the correct dosage are safe for cats but do NOT try and mix these at home yourself. Instead rely on those from a reputable source like the Blissful Cat or Pet Remedy who specialise in essential oil products safe for cats and other pets.
PDSA is the UK’s largest vet charity providing a vital service for pets across the UK whose owners struggle to afford treatment costs for their sick and injured pets. For many vulnerable pets, PDSA is there to help when there is nowhere else for their owners to turn. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information.