What is Tea Tree Oil for Dogs?
Tea tree oil is a liquid derived from the leaves of a tree native to Australia called Melaleuca alternifolia. The small tree has since been cultivated in America and is grown in Florida and other southern states.
The essential oil has a pleasant, camphor-like smell and is clear to pale yellow in coloring. Tea tree oil has gained attention and popularity for its bactericidal, fungicidal, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal properties that have been linked to effectively treating a wide array of ailments.
What is Melaleuca Oil?
Tea tree oil is also referred to as melaleuca oil or ti-tree oil.
What is Tea Tree Oil Good For?
First, we want to mention that tea tree oil is toxic to both humans and animals if ingested. Tea tree oil should never be taken orally, and when used topically, the essential oil must be diluted. We’ll get more detailed about that shortly.
Tea Tree Oil for Fleas
Perhaps the most known use of tea tree oil for dogs is for treating and repelling fleas. Again, the toxicity and potential adverse reactions that accompany tea tree oil lead many experts to advise pet owners against making their own flea repellent. Even if the essential oil is diluted properly, a dog with sensitive skin is still at risk for having a harmful response to the product.
Instead, pre-made tea tree oil shampoo is available for purchase at most pet stores. The shampoo contains very small amounts of the tea tree oil which greatly reduces the potential for toxicity.
Tea Tree Oil for Skin Conditions | Tea Tree Oil for Yeast Infection
When diluted correctly, tea tree oil can be very effective for treating and preventing bacterial, fungal, and yeast infections.
Tea tree oil also has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can aid in reducing skin irritation.
Additionally, tea tree oil’s antiviral properties can treat and prevent an array of skin conditions.
However, if used incorrectly, undiluted tea tree oil can cause massive skin irritation and can be incredibly harmful.
Is Tea Tree Oil Safe for Dogs?
The question whether tea tree oil is safe for dogs is difficult to answer. Many experts say that when the oil is diluted properly, tea tree oil is safe and effective. However, many pet owners do not dilute the essential oil enough, causing adverse skin reactions. Additionally, there is a large potential for tea tree oil poisoning in dogs if the oil is in a place that the dog can lick.
What is Tea Tree Oil Poisoning
Tea tree oil contains several types of chemicals that are called terpenes. Terpenes are a toxic agent and are what make the oil effective against fungal infections and bacterial diseases.
Whether taken orally or administered on the skin, terpenes absorb rapidly. Therefore, applying tea tree oil in its concentrated form can have the same dangerous effect as inadvertently ingesting the oil orally.
Furthermore, dogs and cats are prone to grooming and licking, causing the potential for toxicity to be even more significant.
Tea tree oil poisoning can occur when a dog ingests a copious amount of tea tree oil in its diluted form or virtually any amount of tea tree oil in its concentrated form.
Symptoms of Tea Tree Oil Poisoning
The symptoms of tea tree oil poisoning will vary based on the amount of terpenes ingested. If a large amount of tea tree oil is ingested, the effects can be detrimental.
Symptoms of tea tree oil poisoning include:
- Skin rashes
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle tremors
- Loss of coordination
- Reduced level of consciousness
Symptoms of tea tree oil poisoning generally appear 2-12 hours after exposure and can last up to three days.
Treatment for Tea Tree Oil Toxicity in Dogs
Treatment for pets experiencing an adverse reaction to tea tree oil depends on the level of toxicity.
In mild cases, skin decontamination may be the only form of treatment necessary. Many pet owners feel that they should induce vomiting but experts say that this is not necessary and may make the condition worse.
In moderate and severe cases, supportive treatment with intravenous fluids (IV) as well as skin decontamination is often necessary. Intravenous fluids will hydrate your dog and also encourage urination which will help flush out the toxins. Your veterinarian may also prescribe anti-vomiting drugs to prevent aspiration. Treatment and medications may be required for up to 72 hours after exposure to the toxicity.
Furthermore, terpenes pose a high risk of toxicity to the liver. Your veterinarian will likely recommend liver protectants such as SAM-e and silymarin (milk thistle) as a preventative measure for up to two weeks following treatment for tea tree oil poisoning.
As with any ingestion of toxins, rapid treatment is critical for a full recovery. The quicker your dog receives medical intervention, the less likely it will be for additional dangerous toxic effects to develop.
Preventing Tea Tree Oil Toxicity in Dogs
The number one way of preventing tea tree oil toxicity in pets is not using it at all. With the absolute perfect dilution, tea tree oil can be beneficial. However, it is incredibly easy to miscalculate when diluting the mixture and cause more harm than good.
How to Use Tea Tree Oil for Dogs
If you still decide to use tea tree oil on your dog, there are several general guidelines to pay attention to.
While we don’t recommend using a DIY tea tree oil as a treatment method, we understand pet owners may continue to try it out. Always be sure to consult with your vet, ideally a holistic veterinarian, before using tea tree oil in any form in order to ensure you are diluting and administering it safely.
General Guidelines for Using Tea Tree Oil
- Make sure the oil is 100% pure
- Store the bottle in a cool, dark place
- Ensure that the cap is always tightly screwed on
- The shelf life of tea tree oil is only 1-2 years after distillation
- When oxidized, tea tree oil causes skin irritation
- Make sure the oil is out of reach from pets and children (and anyone who is unaware of its toxicity)
Guidelines for Topical Use of Tree Tea Oil
- Tea tree oil should always be diluted with a carrier oil (carrier oils can include coconut oil, olive oil, aloe vera gel, etc.).
- Begin with a low dilution (0.5% or lower) and never go higher than 1%.
- Do a skin test on a small patch of skin to make sure irritation doesn’t occur.
- Tea Tree spray using water or hydrosol should also be diluted using a dispersant such as Solubol. Be sure to shake the spray bottle well before each use.
- Do not use the diluted oil on the dog’s face, particularly not close to the eyes, the nose, inside the ears or the mouth.
- Additionally, do not use tea tree oil on the genital areas or mucous membranes.
- Always be sure to monitor the dog after applying the oil to make sure that an adverse reaction does not occur.
Guidelines for Diffusing Tea Tree Oil
- Be sure that the room with the diffuser is well ventilated.
- Do not diffuse tea tree oil for endless amounts of time. In treating respiratory conditions, 20-30 minutes on and then the same amount of time off for 2-3 times a day is plenty. This guideline is for pets and humans.
- Closely observe your dog when diffusing tea tree oil. If they show any signs of difficulty breathing, remove them from the room right away.
Teatree Oil Alternatives
One of the main reasons we advise against pet owners making their own tea tree oil solutions is because there are plenty of alternative oils that are just as effective without the scary potential reactions.
Antiviral Essential Oils
- Thyme ct. linalool
Antibacterial Essential Oils
- Thyme ct. linalool
Antifungal Essential Oils
- Sweet Marjoram
Essential Oils for Fleas
Peta suggests mixing five or six drops of the following essential oils with a carrier oil (coconut oil, olive oil, etc.) or with water.
Shake well and add the mixture to a spray bottle. Pet owners can apply the solution to their dog’s coat every other day as a flea protector.
(*WARNING: Do not use on cats – they are too sensitive for treatment using essential oils)
Additionally, natural diatomaceous earth makes for a great, safe flea preventative for dogs without the potential side effects.
Tea Tree Oil and Pets: A Final Thought
At the end of the day, we can understand how pet owners would get excited about a new way to naturally treat and prevent ailments in their dogs. However, just because something is natural, doesn’t mean it’s always safe.
Tea tree oil can provide great benefits for dog owners, but you’ll want to keep it away from your pup. There are tons of great essential oils that are safe and effective for Fido without the potential for causing harm.