Essential oils have become a pervasive part of many people’s self-care routines. But when a recent Facebook post about a cat getting sick from exposure to essential oils went viral, pet owners have understandably begun to worry. According to the experts, depending on the essential oil, you may be putting your pet at risk.
Was Ernie the cat poisoned by essential oils?
Sue Murray, a woman from Michigan, posted about her daughter’s 16-year-old cat, Ernie. Murray began using a diffuser at home and noticed after a few days that Ernie wasn’t acting right. “The first couple of days I didn’t notice any symptoms from Ernie, but on the fourth day, he was lethargic, unstable on his feet and was drooling excessively,” Murray said, according to BuzzFeed News. Once he was treated, Ernie still wasn’t himself for a few days, but it seemed that he was on the mend.
In response, the “Essential Oil Vet” Dr. Janet Roark and many essential oil distributors came out to dispute the claims that Ernie was harmed by the eucalyptus oil Murray used. In her video, Dr. Roark — who is also a dōTERRA distributor — points out that Murray used oils purchased on Amazon, where subpar essential oils are readily available. She reminds viewers that the FDA doesn’t regulate the essential oil industry, so unless you shop from a reputable company, you might put your furry friends at risk. Finally, Roark reminds us that pets are particularly sensitive to any chemical exposure, including essential oils, so you should always use caution.
Of note, according to Roark, Ernie’s symptoms are non-specific to poisoning. She suggested that he could have been reacting to another substance, something in his water, or another issue that could be chalked up to him being a geriatric cat. She also noted that Ernie’s vet gave him antibiotics and vitamins, citing Murray’s post. Roark notes that in cases of poisoning, the first step is to dilute the poison through fluids. In short, she says that there’s no way to tell for sure that the essential oils were the culprit. That doesn’t keep pet owners from hesitating before using their diffuser, and understandably so.
Potentially toxic essential oils for pets
According to the ASPCA, cats, in particular, are very sensitive to essential oils. On its website, the organization cites gastrointestinal upset, central nervous system issues and liver damage as some of the risks associated with essential oils. Noting that the toxicity varies depending on which oil you use, the ASPCA says that when a cat inhales oils through a diffuser, the oils can cause aspiration pneumonia. “Based on this,” the website’s Animal Poison Control page reads, “we would not recommend using essential oils in areas where your pets have access unless pets are supervised or the use of the oil is approved by your veterinarian.”
Which oils are unsafe for cats?
Cat owners should exercise caution when using essential oils. Phenols, a chemical group in thyme and oregano oils, monoterpene hydrocarbons in pine oils, phenylpropanes in basil and cinnamon, and many ketone oils including wormwood and pennyroyal should be avoided altogether.
Citrus oils like orange, lemon and grapefruit also spell bad news for cats. Other oils to avoid around cats include wintergreen, clove, birch, anise, hyssop, juniper, tansy and tea tree oil.
Essential oils to avoid around dogs
Cats aren’t the only pets that can have an adverse reaction to essential oils. Dogs can also be affected by some of the oils that are safe for use with humans. By and large, dog owners should avoid using anise, clove, juniper, thyme, wintergreen and yarrow essential oils around their fur babies. Garlic and horseradish essential oils can also cause a range of allergic responses.
Essential oils that are toxic to birds
Birds are particularly susceptible to fragrances from household chemicals and candles. So, it goes without saying that they can also be affected by essential oil diffusers as well. Some resources online note that cedarwood, citronella, pine and melaleuca are poisonous to birds, so if you own a bird, it might be best to avoid these.
How to safely use oils around your pets
Essential oils enter the bloodstream quickly through topical application, ingestion or inhalation. Even very small amounts can have a large impact on the body — human and animal alike.
The most important consideration is the type of oil you use. Many essential oils on the market are fragrance-grade and not therapeutic or medical grade oils. While Young Living and dōTERRA are not the only companies selling these high-quality therapeutic grade oils, they are reliable companies. In fact, Young Living provides a guide for using oils, but we encourage you to talk to your vet if you have any questions about the safety of essential oils. dōTERRA does not currently list animal information on its website, but many distributors claim they have safely used oils on and around their pets for years.
When introducing a new oil to your household, diffuse it for a short amount of time and pay careful attention to your pet. Make sure that the room is well ventilated and that your pet doesn’t stand directly next to or over the diffuser. Begin with essential oils that are assumed to be safe for short-term use like lavender or frankincense. Then, monitor your pet for a few hours to make sure they’re acting normally.
Dr. Roark suggests a water-based diffuser in an open room that animals can leave if they don’t like the smell. Use only three to four drops of the oil at a time to avoid over-exposure.
Stop diffusing the oil and open the windows if you notice your pet acting strangely. In severe cases, call or visit your vet to make share your furry friend receives the care they need to recover from the exposure.
How to know if essential oils are harming your pets
It’s fairly easy to spot signs of poisoning in your cat or dog. In addition to a loss of appetite and trouble urinating, your pet may exhibit running eyes, vomiting, excessive panting, rubbing face, muscle tremors, diarrhea, rashes and drooling. Birds may experience wheezing, signs of dizziness and incoordination, weakness, anxiety, seizures or depression.
Common sense suggests that we would hear about essential oils poisoning more pets if they were highly toxic to our furry friends. But, since essential oils are a relatively new health trend, there’s an obvious lack of research on the topic. Be sure to talk to your vet before diffusing essential oils around your dog, cat or bird. Remember, what is safe for you may not be safe for Rover, Spot or Max.
Have you ever experienced strange behavior from your pet after using essential oils?
— Megan Winkler