Essential Oils and Cats: A Big Warning

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / November 29, 2018
essential oils and cats

In recent years, essential oils have been gaining popularity for a range of different purposes. From keeping your home smelling fresh to medicinal, herbal remedies, more and more people are purchasing essential oils for their everyday needs. However, with the rise in popularity also comes a rise in concern amongst cat owners as many have experienced the adverse effects associated with such oil use.

The question then is raised whether or not any essential oil is deemed “safe” for cats. The truth of the matter is that essential oil poisoning exists and is something cat owners must take extremely seriously. There are a large number of essential oils that cat owners must keep far away from their four-legged friend. Understanding which oils are considered toxic and those deemed safe is crucial before purchasing oils for your home or for your kitty.

In this article, we’ll cover all you need to know regarding essential oils for cats including the oils that are safe and the oils you must avoid. We will also discuss the potential adverse reactions to be aware of and what to do if you believe your cat is having an adverse reaction to essential oils in your home. Let’s get started.

essential oils and cats

What Are Essential Oils

Essential oils volatile, organic constituents of plants. Extracted by either distillation or cold pressing, essential oils contribute to the overall fragrance and taste of the plant. Essential oils have been used medicinally for centuries, yet only fairly recently are shops like Whole Foods carrying a variety of oils and their associated diffusers.

Here’s where the trouble lies. With so many health food stores now carrying essential oils, many pet owners may believe that the oils are completely safe. If a health store is carrying the item, it must be healthy… right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Just because something is organic and can benefit humans doesn’t mean that it will have the same effect on our beloved feline friends. When it comes to essential oils and cats, the combination can be incredibly dangerous.

How to Use Essential Oils

People use essential oils in a slew of different ways. Some use the oils as a form of liquid potpourri. Others may use essential oils for aromatherapy. Essential oils are also commonly applied directly to the skin as a perfume.  However, when it comes to your cat, using essential oils must be done with extreme caution.

Never Orally or On the Skin!

It turns of using safe essential oils for your cat, we want to first state that we never recommend using the oils orally or on the cat’s skin or fur. Yes, we know that some studies show that highly diluted essential oils can be used to treat fleas, help manage joint pain, and even promote healing. However, this should solely be done at the discretion of your veterinarian. Even the essential oils that have been deemed safe for cats have proven to cause adverse reactions when applied directly to the skin. Our thoughts? Don’t do it. The possible risk isn’t worth the potential benefit as far as we’re concerned.

Also, never give your cat essential oils orally. The essential oils contain the purest part of the plant and are extremely concentrated. The oils are far too much for the cat’s body to handle. (Side note- We also don’t recommend for cat owners to orally consume essential oils!) We’ll get into the science behind the toxicity in just a moment.

Essential Oil Diffuser: A Word of Caution

The most common way that people reap the benefits of essential oils is through a nebulizing diffuser. A few drops of the essential oil are placed into the diffuser with a specific amount of water. The water heats and produces a steam that is seeped through a small opening, allowing the room to be filled with the diluted oil.

Even though very small amounts of essential oil is used in this method, it can still pose dangers for your feline friend. The essential oil microdroplets can accumulate on the cat’s fur and rapidly soak into their skin. Cats are known to be quite the groomers and can also absorb the microdroplets when licking themselves. Therefore, if you do choose to use an essential oil diffuser, it is imperative that you only use oils that are considered safe for cats.

The Science Behind the Toxicity

The body absorbs essential oils extremely fast, both orally and on the skin. The oils are then metabolized in the liver. Here’s where the problems start. Cats lack the specific liver enzymes that allow them to metabolize certain toxins, including those found in essential oils. Therefore, the body isn’t able to naturally rid itself of the toxicity. Cats are also highly sensitive to phenols, phenolic compounds, and terpenes, all of which are found in many essential oils. Depending on the specific oil ingested and the concentration of said oil, the toxicity can completely overwhelm the cat’s system and cause irreversible damage.

What are Phenols

Phenols are a group of compounds found in many essential oils. They are highly toxic for cats and also prove to cause adverse reactions and sensitivities in some people, particularly if too much of the oil is used. Phenols are found in essential oils such as clove, thyme, cinnamon, and oregano. If using these oils topically for yourself, it is important to make sure they are diluted appropriately.

Interestingly enough, phenols are also found in medications such as Tylenol, ibuprofen, and Aspirin, all of which are highly toxic for cats.

What are Monoterpene Hydrocarbons (Terpenes)

Monoterpene hydrocarbons are another group of compounds that also highly toxic for cats. These compounds are extremely dangerous if ingested or applied to the skin, even if they are diluted with a carrier oil. It is imperative that pet owners stay far away from oils such as cajeput, pine, and petitgrain.

Essential Oils Toxic to Cats

Additionally, the following essential oils are considered to be highly toxic to cats, in any amount. We advise pet owners to not purchase any of these oils, even for their own use as cats seem to get into just about anything. However, if you decide to use the following oils for your own benefit you must ensure they are kept out of reach.

Toxic essential oils for cats include:

  • Wintergreen Oil
  • Clove oil
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Thyme oil
  • Oregano oil
  • Sweet birch oil
  • Lavender oil
  • Citrus oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Pennyroyal oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Tea tree oil (Melaleuca)

lavender is toxic to cats

If you choose to diffuse any of the aforementioned oils (which we do not recommend), it is important to make sure you do so in a well-ventilated room. Make sure to keep the door to the room open so that your feline has the option to leave at any time. Also, experts recommend keeping at least one room in your home completely fragrance and essential oil-free so that your feline has a safe place to breath clean, pure air.

Essential Oil Poisoning

Essential oil poisoning can either happen very quickly or over a period of time. If a reed diffuser or nebulizing diffuser spills over and a large amount is absorbed by the cat (orally or through the skin), toxicity poisoning can happen almost immediately. If the cat is in the same room as the diffuser and is absorbing the toxic essential oil slowly through their skin, the onset of poisoning symptoms may develop slower.

Symptoms of Essential Oil Poisoning

It is crucial for pet owners to be able to recognize the symptoms of essential oil poisoning. None of the following adverse reactions should be considered “normal” and it is important for cat parents to react quickly in order for their cat to get the necessary medical attention.

Symptoms of essential oil poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Muscle tremors
  • Ataxia (lack of coordination)
  • Low heart rate
  • Watery nose and eyes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Panting
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Reduced body temperature
  • Liver failure (and associated symptoms of liver problems)
  • Pawing at their face or mouth
  • Redness on the lips, tongue, gums, or skin (redness may resemble burns)

If you recognize any of the aforementioned symptoms, call the Animal Poison Control Center at (855) 764-7661. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and will be able to walk you through what to do next.

Toxic Plants for Cats

Before discussing the essential oils that are deemed “safe” for cats, we want to cover the plants that are considered to be toxic. Many people believe that if a plant is toxic then their associated essential oil must also be toxic. This isn’t always the case. There’s a big difference between a cat consuming an entire toxic plant and breathing in a heavily diluted essential oil. It is important for cat owners to do their homework on any plant or essential oil that they plan on bringing into their home as one may be considered safe while the next can lead to a slew of complications.

The following plants* are considered to be toxic to cats:

  • Tulip
  • Daffodil
  • Catnip
  • Tiger Lily
  • Poinsettia
  • Lemongrass
  • Oregano
  • Gardenia
  • Onion
  • Iris

Poinsettia are toxic to cats

We recommend keeping these plants out of your home. Cats tend to be quite the explorers and even if the plant is kept high up, chances are, your feline will find a way to get to it.

It is also interesting to note that some essential oils that are considered to be highly toxic to cats (i.e. peppermint oil) are not listed on the list of toxic plants. Again, it is incredibly important to do your research prior to bringing a new plant into your cat’s living environment!

* We also want to mention that the aforementioned toxic plants are not a complete list but rather the most commonly purchased.

Essential Oils Safe for Cats

Keeping all of that in mind, there are a few essential oils that are considered to be safe for cats. To reiterate, even safe essential oils should never be applied to the fur or skin and should never be given orally.  The following oils should also be diffused with the appropriate dilution.

Cedarwood Oil

Cedarwood oil is often considered safe because it typically doesn’t contain phenols. However, it is imperative that pet owners double check the contents of the oil prior to diffusing it around cats. Cedarwood is often used as a form of aromatherapy to help calm people and cats and dogs alike.

Lemongrass Oil

The lemongrass plant is one which the ASPCA lists as toxic for cats. However, a small amount of diluted lemongrass oil is considered to be safe. Again, the oil should never be applied to the skin or ingested.

Cats don’t typically like the smell of lemongrass oil. In fact, it is often used as a means to repel cats from going to certain places. Although diffused lemongrass oil is considered to be safe in small amounts, we still don’t recommend it as a regular addition to your cat’s life.

Rosemary Oil

Rosemary oil is the essential oil most commonly recommended for its ability to repel fleas. With that said, we do not recommend using it topically unless advised by your veterinarian to do so.

A Warning About “Safe” Oils

Additionally, numerous sources deem the following essential oils to be safe for cats:

  • Frankincense
  • Cedarwood
  • Helichrysum
  • Cardamom
  • Myrrh
  • Sandalwood
  • Spikenard

With that said, even these “safe” oils can be harmful to cats if they ingest a dangerous amount. Before diffusing a safe essential oil, talk to your vet about your cat’s current health status. Does your cat have pre-existing health concerns? Do they have respiratory issues that may worsen with the use of essential oils?

At the end of the day, the last thing that any pet owner wants is to inadvertently harm their beloved four-legged companion. We urge our readers to really do their research when it comes to essential oils. While using essential oils is likely a safer option than artificial air fresheners and fragrances, they should still be used in moderation to ensure a safe environment for both you and your feline.

Safe Plants for Cats

Just as there are plants deemed toxic for cats, there are also plants considered to be safe. If your cat enjoys exploring and tends to get into your potted plants, it is important to make sure you also purchase safe plants for inside your home.

The ASPCA website lists the following plants as non-toxic for cats:

  • Basil
  • Cinnamon
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Fennel
  • Hibiscus
  • Jasmine
  • Lemon Balm
  • Rose
  • Easter Lily Cactus

Preventing Essential Oil Poisoning

Many cat owners know the benefits of essential oils for their own personal use. From alleviating insomnia to relieving skin infections to reducing anxiety and depression, people have been using essential oils for centuries. This fact brings up the question as to whether or not cat owners can still reap the associated benefits and simultaneously keep their cat out of harm’s way.

The answer isn’t a simple yes or no as the potential adverse reactions vary greatly depending on the specific essential oil. However, there are several things that cat owners can do in order to prevent their feline from experiencing essential oil poisoning.

essential oils and cats

Keep Essential Oils Out of Reach

Although easier said than done, one of the most effective ways to prevent poisoning is by keeping the essential oils out of reach. Keep your personal essential oils in a cat-proof cabinet where it can not be accidentally knocked over. Additionally, liquid potpourris and diffusing oils can be spilled and absorbed through the cat’s paws. it is important for pet owners to make sure they keep these oils in a place that is not able to be accessed.

Health Precautions

Additionally, cats with certain health conditions should not be kept in the same room as the essential oil diffuser. These cats include:

  • Kittens
  • Elderly cats
  • Cats with respiratory problems
  • Cats with pre-existing liver problems

Even if your cat is healthy, essential oils should be used with caution.

Quality Oils

If you do decide to use the same essential oils be sure to only purchase high-quality, therapeutic grade oils from a reputable source. This is important when it comes to essential oils for your cat as well as for your own, personal use.

Stay Alert

Additionally, one of the most important ways to prevent irreversible damage of toxicity poisoning is to stay alert. Understanding your cat’s normal behavior is crucial in being able to recognize when something isn’t right.

Using a Carrier Oil

First and foremost, talk to your veterinarian regarding whether they recommend using an essential oil for your cat’s individual needs. If they do recommend it and you decide to move forward in administering it, it is imperative that you use a carrier oil to appropriately dilute the essential oil. This is also important to do if you are using essential oils for your own, personal benefit. Common carrier oils include:

  • Jojoba oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Almond oil

Hydrosols: A Safer Option?

Hydrosols, also known as “water flowers” are often deemed a safer option when compared to essential oils. After the steam-distilling process is complete, hydrosol is the remaining water. Therefore, hydrosols are significantly less saturated than essential oils.

In terms of human usage, hydrosols are, in fact, a safer option than essential oils because they do not need to be diluted. However, when it comes to our cats and other animals hydrosols can still be highly dangerous. The flower waters contain residual matter from the plants they are derived from and can be incredibly toxic if ingested or inhaled (depending on the specific hydrosol).

Yes, some cats and other pets can tolerate hydrosol usage. However, others will have severe adverse reactions. Is it worth the risk of finding out the hard way that your cat isn’t able to metabolize hydrosols appropriately? We don’t think so.

Essential Oils and Cats: The Bottom Line

Your furry feline means the world to you. Trust us, we get it. At Simple Wag, we are all pet owners (and cat lovers) and know first-hand that you would do just about anything in the world to keep your four-legged companion as happy as possible. Sometimes, keeping your cat healthy entails a trip to the veterinarian. Yet, other times, pet owners actively seek holistic, at-home remedies to ease their cat’s ailments. Many cat owners recognize that essential oils have awesome benefits for people and hope for the oils to comparatively benefit their feline. However, this is far from the truth and it is important for pet owners to understand this fact.

The bottom line? Essential oils and cats are not a good combination. We advise pet owners to seek out alternative, safer ways to freshen their home. If you do choose to use essential oils for their medicinal properties, be sure to use them with extreme caution. Knowledge is power. Understanding the risks involved is paramount before adding any new supplement into your cat’s life. By educating yourself on the pros and cons of the varying essential oils, you’ll be able to make an informed decision for your cat’s overall health, happiness, and wellbeing.

Furthermore, being able to recognize the symptoms of essential oil poisoning is paramount in terms of getting your cat the necessary medical treatment. If for any reason you feel that your cat may be suffering due to essential oil toxicity, do not delay. Call your veterinarian straight away.

Again, we do not recommend using essential oils around your cat. However, if you decide to use them, do so with extreme caution.


Essential Oils and Cats

Cats and essential oil safety

Which Essential Oils are Toxic to Cats? Which Ones Are Safe? (A Complete Guide)




About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Chelsea Rivera is a Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for