For years, certain essential oils were considered safe for cats and were often recommended for use in treating everything from stress and ear mite infestations to upper respiratory problems.
But recently, some studies have shown that essential oils can be toxic to cats, whether taken internally, applied to their skin or simply inhaled. The liver is the organ most negatively affected, and unlike ours, cats’ livers lack the ability to properly metabolize the various compounds found in essential oils.
Toxicity in cats can either occur very quickly, following a single internal or external application or over a longer period of time -- through repeated or continuous inhalation of the essential oils. Either way, it can cause serious damage to the liver and, and in some instances, even lead to death.
Although using essential oils on cats is now generally discouraged, they may, however, still be used – if diluted -- to treat certain ailments under the close supervision of a veterinarian.
A partial list of the essential oils to be avoided include peppermint oil, lemon oil, lavender oil, melaleuca oil, tea tree oil, cinnamon bark oil, wintergreen oil, thyme oil, birch oil, and any oil containing phenol. If ingested or applied directly to the skin, these essential oils can damage your cat’s skin and even induce seizures. Should yours accidentally ingest ANY oil, rush her to the vet immediately.
Aside from their toxic effects, the concentrated scent of essential oils can be very irritating, even overwhelming, to cats because of their extremely sensitive noses. If you’re a cat owner who diffuses essential oils throughout your home, ensure there’s good ventilation – for your sake and the sake of your cat -- that you only diffuse small amounts for limited periods of time, and that kitty can retreat to a “scent-free” zone if the smell becomes overpowering.
Hydrosols, also known as “flower waters”, are often promoted as a more natural and safer alternative to essential oils. Less saturated or concentrated than essential oils, hydrosols are basically what remain after steam-distilling fresh leaves, fruits, flowers or herbs in water. With properties similar to essential oils, their aromas are often softer and subtler.
While hydrosols may be safer for use on human skin, they are still dangerous for cats as the water can retain residual plant matter that can prove toxic if ingested or even inhaled. While some cats can tolerate hydrosols, others are more sensitive to them. To be on the safe side, limit your cat’s access or exposure to them to minimize the risk of any health issues arising.