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Many of us have used essential oils for aromatherapy or relaxation, for medicinal purposes or even for cleaning. Essential oils are considered safe for humans to use – but are they safe for cats?

Which essential oils are safe for my cat?

The answer to this question becomes complicated if we consider the various oils available, how concentrated they may be and the different ways you can use them or your cat may be exposed to them. Therefore, at Cat People of Melbourne, we suggest that keeping your cat away from all essential oils is the safest and easiest approach.

Essential oils can be toxic to cats. This is because cats lack a particular enzyme in their livers which helps to break down the oils. This means the oils can build up in your cat’s system and lead to serious organ damage, seizures and even death. So it is possible that all essential oils have the potential to harm your cat.

While you may read online that certain oils are definitely safe for cats, this is simply not the case. Essential oils are distilled and highly concentrated substances, so we would encourage you to avoid them all when it comes to your feline companions.

Also be aware that the promotion of essential oils as being safe is often found on multi-level marketing websites. With this type of marketing, resellers are not formally trained in the correct use of essential oils like an aromatherapist or naturopath. Even the ‘safest’ oils that are recommended for use on babies are not safe for cats, because they lack the enzyme to break them down and they are small in size.

If I’d like to keep using essential oils, how can I keep my cat as safe as possible?

Again, our position is that not using essential oils is the safest option of all.

But if you do use oils, our recommendations are:

  • Never put essential oils in your cat’s mouth.
  • Don’t apply essential oils directly onto your cat’s fur. The oil can be absorbed into their system through the skin or they may lick it when grooming themselves.
  • Keep electric oil diffusers away from your cat. Diffusers release the essential oils into the air which your cat can inhale and cause irritation to their lungs. Diffusers can also create small droplets which can land on your cat’s fur and be absorbed into the skin or be swallowed when grooming. Your cat may also knock over your diffuser and be exposed to the oil. Only use an oil diffuser for short periods of time in a very well ventilated room your cat can’t get into or doesn’t spend much time in. Also consider diluting the oil with water.
  • A much safer option to electric diffusers is reed diffusers as they don’t release oils or small droplets. But make sure you place the bottle of oil somewhere your cat can’t knock it over.
  • If you’ve been using essential oils when cleaning, we believe the safest option is to stop using them. You can use an essence like food-grade vanilla – this is cheaper, easily available from the supermarket and much safer.
  • Store essential oils and any related products or equipment away from your cat at all times. Ideally, store them behind a closed, lockable door so curious cats can’t get to them.

What are the signs of essential-oil poisoning?

The signs of poisoning will depend on the particular oil and how your cat was exposed to it – did they inhale it, swallow it or did they come into contact with it. However, some common signs include:

  • watery and irritated eyes and nose
  • redness of their lips, gums or skin
  • panting or difficulty breathing
  • coughing or wheezing
  • drooling
  • vomiting
  • lethargy
  • weakness, being unsteady or having trouble walking
  • tremors or seizures
  • cold body temperature.

If you think your cat has been in contact with, or has been affected by, essential oils, take your cat to the vet as soon as possible. You can also call the Animal Poisons Helpline on free call 1300 869 738 for advice.