Often cat owners, who are looking for a more natural approach to living, often ask: are essential oils safe for cats? When talking about essential oils safety and cats, there are varying opinions. Some people state that using essential oils that are 2% or less in concentration is generally considered safe for cats. Others will say essential oils should be avoided completely with cats, because they are too sensitive to them. With all the different information on the internet about essential oils and cat safety, it can be confusing what to do. It is my hope that this post provides a little more information to help you make the best decision for your cat.
Are Essential Oils Safe for Cats?
In short, the simple answer is yes. There are essential oils that can be used safely with cats, as long as there is no gross misuse or overdose of them! It has also been my personal experience that essential oils can be used safely with cats when certain guidelines are followed. Below, I will detail four main guidelines to keep in mind when using essential oils with cats.
- Essential Oils Must Be of Utmost Quality: The first order of importance is that the essential oils must be of utmost quality. Only unadulterated, genuine, and pure essential oils should be used with cats. You must ensure that the oils come from reliable sources, and if possible are labeled for use on pets. Buying essential oils from a source that is not reputable will increase your chances of having bad reactions. If possible, try to purchase from a company who owns or manages their own fields. This is important because they can control the manufacturing process of the essential oil, which should ensure that no harmful pesticides or heavy metals were used on the plant while being grown in the field.
- Extra Care Must Be Taken: The next main consideration is the way in which a cat’s liver processes certain essential oil constituents. Cats possess less of an enzyme in the liver that is essential to processing and breaking down some chemicals; specifically alcohols and phenols which are found in many essential oils. Keep in mind that cats are naturally curious animals, so you must be mindful where you place things like diffusers and essential oil bottles. Your cat may knock these items over onto themselves or the area, which can lead to concentrated exposures and increase the likelihood of an adverse reaction. Adverse reactions are more common in cats, partly because they clean or groom themselves more than other animals. This can lead to accidental reactions by ingestion of unsafe oils which were used on a surface in high concentrations, and then picked up on their paws. As a result, these essential oils can be absorbed either orally or topically. As a result, these metabolites can cause toxicity as the cat’s liver is unable to process and cleanse them from the body. If you suspect your cat may have been over exposed, you should watch for adverse reactions like drooling, vomiting, tremors, wobbliness, and respiratory distress. And seek prompt medical attention from a veterinarian.
- Moderation is Key: If applying essential oils directly to your cat, it is important to use proper dilution and safety methods. When using essential oils on your cat, it is important to remember that moderation is key. As with any kind of product, overexposure to something can cause an adverse reaction to happen. This is no different with essential oils. Even though essential oils are natural, they are still concentrated and powerful. Always start with a lower dosage and work up while making sure not to go over a 2% concentration. You should use a quality carrier oil when diluting the essential oils. Petting your cat is typically a well tolerated way to apply essential oils directly onto them. You should apply the essential oil to your hands, rub them together, then gently stroke your cat. This allows your cat to absorb the essential oil through the hair follicles.
- Give Them Freedom to Leave: Lastly, when diffusing essential oils, it is vital that the cat can leave the area if they dislike the smell. When it comes to diffusing, it only takes a few drops of essential oils. Unfortunately, strong synthetic fragrances have caused many people’s sense of smell to become desensitized. This can cause a person to use more essential oil than necessary to smell the oils, and lead to overexposure. In our home, we have used essential oils around our three indoor cats for years with no issues. We diffuse essential oils almost constantly somewhere in our home. I have never seen them run away from a room with a diffuser going. Our cats have never had any issues with essential oils, even with some on the so-called no list. However, we use caution because cats are sensitive creatures, and only use a few drops in the diffuser at a time. I always keep the blends mild; never are they strong or irritating.
Are Cheaper Oils The Same As The High Quality Ones?
At the time of writing this post, the FDA does not regulate essential oils like other drugs, but generally recognizes them as safe for intended use. Due to the lack of regulation, you MUST be careful where you get your essential oils from especially if you will be using them around your cat. Cheap essential oils are often adulterated with synthetics. Purchasing essential oils online by random unknown sellers or big box stores is more likely to contain hidden harmful toxins. This is backed by an investigation done in 2020 and posted on the EPA website. There are many essential oil companies that market their products as “organic, natural, or even certified pure”. Unfortunately, these statements may be untrue and sometimes far from the truth. Companies can make these statements on labels without any proof of purity. This can sometimes lead to adulterated essential oils with incorrect labeling being sold to people without them evening knowing it. With all this said, it is even more important to use high quality therapeutic oils when being used with pets. Doing so will help limit the chances of your cat having bad reactions to your essential oils.
What Essential Oils Are Safe for Cats?
The following essential oils are popular safe choices for cats: frankincense, copaiba, cedarwood, lemongrass, lavender, geranium, and chamomile. (This is not an exhaustive list.) Each of these essential oils contain specific properties that may be beneficial to your cat. These properties come from the constituents within the oil. If you do not know what constituents are, you may want to read my Constituents Made Simple post here. Let’s take a brief look at them:
Frankincense is well known for being emotionally grounding. It is wonderful to support stressed cats. It is relaxing essential oil, which may be helpful for soothing tense muscles.
Copaiba is the ultimate anti-inflammatory and pain supporting essential oil. It is fabulous to apply to arthritic joints or inflamed areas of your cat. It is super gentle and will not irritate or burn. I have used this on open cuts on myself, and can testify to that statement.
Cedarwood may not be the best smelling oil on the list, but it packs a punch when it comes to deterring insects. It has been touted as a natural flea and tick repellent for cats. You can try making your own insect repellent using proper dilution of course!
Lemongrass is another oil that is great for deterring unwanted pests. It is used for purification, so it is great for eliminating unwanted odors. Try mixing 12 drops of lemongrass into 1 cup of baking soda, and sprinkling a bit into your cat’s litter box. Of course, diffusing it is a great way to eliminate odors too.
Lavender, the essential oil that seems to support everything. It is the ultimate essential oil for physical and emotional soothing. Itchy skin will love lavender. Diffusing lavender along with chamomile is a great choice for calming the atmosphere of your home. (To learn more about the benefits and uses of lavender, you can see my post about it here.)
Geranium is another oil that many outdoor pests do not like, specifically it repels ticks. Geranium has a fresh floral aroma that is calming to the mind and emotions. It is also well known for its skin supporting properties. This is an amazing essential oil for your cat’s overall wellness.
Chamomile is such a gentle and calming essential oil. This is a wonderful oil that offers physical and emotional calming. Irritated skin or unsettled emotions may find relief in this oil. One study showed that lavender, rosemary, and chamomile may help soothe skin inflammation or irritations your cat may be dealing with.
What Essential Oils to Avoid With Cats?
High Phenol Essential Oils:
With cats, it is recommended to generally avoid high phenol or “hot” essential oils. Some common oils containing high levels of phenols are: wintergreen, basil, clove, oregano, thyme, mountain savory, tea tree, and cinnamon bark. However, there was a study done on cats with topical applications of Rosemary (5%), Thyme (2%), and Oreango (5%) essential oils. These essential oils were added to a shampoo and applied twice a week, with no adverse reactions reported. I tend to believe it has to do more with the quality and how the essential oils are used, and not so much about the oil itself. The most common essential oil mentioned to cause reactions in cats is tea tree. When reactions to tea tree have been reported, it appears to mostly be caused by gross misuse of the essential oil. Often using the oil several times over the recommended dosage. I think it is important to note that tea tree oil can be easily purchased anywhere and is likely adulterated. So who knows if it was the tea tree itself, or some synthetic additive that caused the reaction. Again, this is why quality is of utmost importance.
Citrus Essential Oils:
A quick Google search will show you many people stating citrus essential oils are toxic to cats. They give multiple reasons, but with little to actual data to back up these fear inducing claims. The claims appear to stem from a few PubMed studies that showed an acute toxic reaction in cats that were dipped or sprayed in an insecticidal solution. The insecticides contained d-limonene, which is the main constituent in citrus essential oils. This seems to be the basis of the claims that citrus essential oils are toxic to cats – they contain d-limonene. But these insecticides did not contain actual citrus essential oils, and they were applied in extreme concentrations. You can view the spray the study here and the dip study here. I have to admit that animal testing angers me, and these studies were no exception! These poor cats were subjected to insecticidal being applied to them in 5-15 amounts the times of recommended dosage! Inhumane to say the least. What I can tell you from our experience is that we use citrus essential oils daily in our diffusers, and other products, with no reactions from our cats. We do not misuse citrus, or any other essential oils. We practice safe dilution and application. Since the pet poison helpline recommends against using citrus essential oils, you should exercise caution if you choose to use these essential oils around your cat.
Proceed with Caution:
As stated, cats are more sensitive than humans, and many other animals, because their liver processes some substances much slower. You must do your own research, and know what essential oils to use caution with. If you have a special situation where your cat needs one of these riskier essential oils, it is advisable to seek the supervision of a veterinarian. Anytime you use essential oils on or around your cat it is vital to use the purest essential oil possible. It is important to avoid hidden toxic additives. Finally, you have to weigh the pros and cons of each essential oil and make the best decision for your cat.
Essential Oils We Use with Our Cats
When it comes to using essential oils with cats, I can only recommend Young Living essential oils. We have used Young Living essential oils for years with our family and pets. I trust their essential oils and products, because I know they are unadulterated, genuine, and pure. Their Seed to Seal process assures us that their essential oils are of the highest standards, and are animal safe when used according to directions. Young Living owns their own fields, where they grow and harvest the plants for their essential oils. This guarantees no toxic chemicals are being used on their plants or during any part of the manufacturing process. By the way, their manufacturing process is second to none. One of the great added benefits of Young Living is they have an entire essential oil line dedicated for pets called Young Living Animal Scents. These essential oils are pre-diluted, and will take the guesswork out of determining which essential oils are cat safe. Animal Scents will offer you peace of mind.
Young Living Animal Scents Essential Oils
Young Living Animal Scents Essential Oils are an easy solution for using essential oils with your cat. These essential oils help take the guesswork out of which essential oils to use and how much because they are premixed. Here are some of the essential oils in the Animal Scents line:
T-Away: This blend helps to promote a calming environment for your cat, and can be used topically or diffused to help with relaxation and emotional balance. T-Away contains a combination of Young Living’s premium Trauma Life, Harmony, and Peace & Calming essential oil blends.
ParaGize: This relaxing and quieting blend can be applied directly to your cat’s abdomen. This blend was developed to support pets with the settling, grounding properties found in Ginger, Anise, and Peppermint essential oils. ParaGize can be diffused to help support your cat’s natural cleansing system and feeling of comfort.
Puriclean: This prediluted essential oil blend helps refresh and prepare your cat’s skin by cleansing and moisturizing dry, flakey, or irritated skin. support pet recovery from minor scrapes and scratches. This blend contains the skin-improvement properties of Patchouli, Mountain Savory, and other premium essential oils.
Mendwell: This prediluted, premium essential oil blend supports your pet’s natural healing process by soothing and moisturizing dry, sensitive, and distressed skin. Mendwell is excellent for supporting your cat’s natural defense system!
Essential oils, when used correctly, can be a wonderful natural tool to help with your cat’s overall health and well-being. However, when using essential oils, you must use common sense and caution. Essential Oils are potent and powerful. Because of this, they can be overdosed. Before using any product on your cat, it may be best to seek guidance from your veterinarian. Even if your cat is healthy, it is important to ensure there are no underlying issues that could cause complications. Remember to use only pure, tested, and verified essential oils on animals. Avoid cheap store bought essential oils, even if they are labeled for pet usage.