Essential oils have been a part of civilization for centuries. From uses in healing to perfume, they've been applied to the human condition in more ways than one. People who own pets, however, should take extra precautions when handling or using essential oils on or around animals. Cats and dogs can be especially susceptible to illnesses due to exposure to the compounds in these oils. If pet owners decide to use essential oils while treating animals' maladies, they should check with a veterinarian to verify that their use won't harm pets and get suggestions for safe, diluted products.
Cats and Essential Oils: A Hairy Relationship
Although cats are incredibly agile and adaptable creatures, their bodies are not equipped to handle exposure to the chemical compounds found in essential oils. Phenols, the plant compounds that can be found in concentrated form in essential oils, pose the greatest threat to cats' health. Humans can manage being around phenols and can even wear them on their skin as aromatherapy treatments or in perfume because the human liver is able to process these compounds, but cats' physiology is different. Cats can't properly metabolize phenols in their livers, and exposure to these oils can result in liver malfunction, damage, failure, seizures, or even death. If your cat's veterinarian has alerted you to your pet having a liver impairment, you should consider eliminating all essential oils from your home.
While all essential oils can be potentially toxic to cats, certain types are especially hazardous. Popular essential oils like peppermint oil, tea tree oil, pine oil, eucalyptus oil, and lemon oil are all particularly dangerous to felines. Other oils commonly used in cleaning products, aromatherapy aids, or air fresheners, like cinnamon oil, sweet birch oil, pennyroyal oil, clove oil, ylang-ylang oil, and wintergreen oil, can also potentially harm your pet. When it comes down to it, essential oils can pose a threat to all cats, regardless of the type of contact that they may have with it; ingesting, touching or even sniffing the oils in the air can result in poisoning.
Symptoms of poisoning can range from seemingly benign to serious. For example, cats who have been exposed to essential oils may drool or having trouble walking. More serious cases indicate damage to internal organs. In these cases, it's not uncommon to see cats vomiting, trembling, or experiencing respiratory distress. Any time a cat demonstrates symptoms of essential oil poisoning, it's prudent to take it to an emergency vet; this is especially true if the cat has been exposed to large quantities of essential oils or if the oils are highly concentrated.
To ensure the health and safety of your cat, you may want to inspect all of the fragrance products in your home to verify that they don't contain essential oils. Look at the labels on all of your air freshener products, including room sprays, to see if they contain them. Throw out all diffusers and liquid potpourri products. Pay special attention to products marketed as aromatherapy items, and research every perfume that you wear. Know that even items that you wouldn't necessarily suspect, such as candles, scented jewelry, and hydrosols, or diluted flower waters, can potentially pose a threat to your cat's health if they contain essential oils.
Essential Oils: Menace or Dogs' Best Friend?
Many pet owners who want to limit their pets' exposure to chemicals consider treating their dogs' health challenges with essential oils, and in fact, some holistic veterinarians regularly incorporate essential oils in treatment plans in an effort to naturally control physical and psychological conditions in dogs, including skin conditions, anxiety, and flea infestation. Since dogs have a pronounced sense of smell and, like cats, don't metabolize essential oils well in their livers, it can be important for pet owners to exercise extreme caution when using these oils. Accidental ingestion or exposure to concentrated oils can result in upset stomach, breathing problems, central nervous system damage, behavior changes, or more serious side effects.
Generally, only healthy, adult dogs should be exposed to essential oils. Younger dogs, including puppies, elderly dogs, and those with serious illnesses, such as liver disease, should be spared from exposure. A dog's reaction to contact with essential oils can depend on the particular essential oil used, its concentration, and whether the oil has been specially formulated to be safe for canines. For example, while some veterinarians may choose to treat dogs with a pet-safe tea tree solution that has been diluted down to 0.1%, pet owners who use the concentrated form on their dogs at home put their pets at risk for serious reactions, including coma and death.
A large part of effectively treating dogs' health conditions with essential oils depends on proper and safe use. If you'd like to incorporate essential oils into your dog's treatments, consult a veterinarian first to find out which ones are appropriate to use for your pet's particular malady. And be aware that some essential oils should always be avoiding when attempting to treat dogs, including tea tree, citrus, cinnamon, peppermint, pennyroyal, pine, wintergreen, sweet birch, and ylang-ylang. If any of these essential oils touch your dog's skin or end up in its mouth, you should immediately contact your veterinarian.