Are Essential Oils Dangerous to Cats?

essential oils

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Essential oils, aromatherapy, and potpourri in your home may be pleasant for you, but natural compounds in these fragrances can be dangerous for your cat. Take precautions when using these products so your cat does not have a toxic reaction. If your cat has any liver impairment, it may be best to eliminate these products from your cat's environment.

Essential Oil Toxicity to Cats

Certain essential oils were once considered to be safe for cats and were recommended for such uses as treating ear mite infestations, upper respiratory problems and for stress relief.

Warning

However, compelling evidence has now demonstrated that essential oils can be toxic to cats, whether taken internally, applied to the skin, or simply inhaled. Exposure can lead to serious liver damage, liver failure, seizures, or even death for cats.

Cats lack certain enzymes that provide the ability to properly metabolize the various compounds in essential oils, phenols in particular. These phenolic compounds occur naturally in some plants and are highly concentrated in essential oils. The liver is most often the organ which is affected by essential oils.

Essential Oils Potentially Toxic to Cats

These oils are known to contain phenols and be toxic to cats:

  • Wintergreen oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Citrus oil (including lemon oil)
  • Tea tree oil (melaleuca oil)
  • Pine oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Pennyroyal oil
  • Sweet birch oil
  • Clove oil
  • Ylang ylang oil

The higher the concentration of essential oil, the greater the risk to your cat. If your cat ingests any oils accidentally, go to the veterinarian immediately.

essential oils dangerous to cats
Illustration: Catherine Song. © The Spruce, 2018 

Symptoms of Essential Oil Poisoning

Cats absorb oils that are directly in contact with their skin. 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.

Signs of Essential Oil Poisoning in Cats

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Difficulty walking, wobbliness (ataxia)
  • Respiratory distress (wheezing, fast breathing, panting, coughing)

If you notice any of these signs, move your cat immediately to fresh air, and if the symptoms don't go away quickly, take your cat to a veterinary emergency center. The veterinarian may note a low heart rate, low blood pressure, and signs of liver failure.

How Your Cat May Be Exposed to Essential Oils

Your cat may be exposed to essential oils you use for your own purposes. Keep any essential oils in a cat-proof cabinet so your curious pet doesn't have access to them. Passive reed diffusers or potpourri pots can be knocked over, exposing your cat to the oil-containing liquid. Don't allow your pet to lick your skin if you have applied any products that contain essential oils.

Essential oil and aromatherapy diffusers, candles, liquid potpourri products, and room sprays are sources of airborne essential oils that cats can inhale or lick off their fur. If you can smell the fragrance of the oil, there is oil in the air and it can affect your cat.

Kittens, elderly cats, or cats who have liver or respiratory problems should be kept out of any room where essential oil diffusers are used. Don't wear aromatherapy jewelry when you are around your cat.

The Danger of Hydrosols

Hydrosols are often touted as a more natural, safer alternative to essential oils. Hydrosols are also known as "flower waters" as they consist of the water that remains after steam-distilling flowers or herbs in water, and are less saturated than essential oils.

While hydrosols are safer for use on human skin since they do not have to be diluted, they still are dangerous for cats and other pets. The water can hold on to residual matter from the plants that can be toxic if ingested or even inhaled.

Some pets can tolerate hydrosols, but others are more sensitive. Limit your pet's access to them and their scents to minimize the risk of any health issues. Other substances harmful to cats include marijuana.

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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