How much tea tree oil is toxic to cats


What Are the Dangers of Tea Tree Oil for Cats? I Pettable I ESA Experts

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Cat Care

2 minute read

Expert reviewed by:  

Written by:

Susana Bradford

Published on:  

September 7, 2022

Updated on:  

September 7, 2022

In this article

Tea tree oil can be poisonous to cats, especially if the oil is applied without first being diluted, or if the dose is too high. Many veterinarians and other pet care experts recommend not using tea tree oil for cats, even though it has been considered a safe and effective remedy for some feline complaints in the past. Tea tree oil is one of several essential oils, such as peppermint oil, considered toxic to these animals. Flea shampoos for cats often contain small doses of tea tree oil, but many veterinarians advise that these shampoos should be purchased from reputable manufacturers and should bear clearly defined dosage information on the packaging. Cats can easily absorb tea tree oil through the skin, and can also be poisoned by breathing its fumes or by swallowing the oil.

Small doses of tea tree oil, very carefully applied, may not cause immediate or long-term damage to the cat's health. For the average cat, a deadly dose would be somewhere between 1.5 teaspoons (7.4 milliliters) and 3 teaspoons (14.8 milliliters). A safe dose would be about five drops (0.4 milliliters), mixed with 1 teaspoon (4.8 milliliters) of vegetable or olive oil. The mixture should typically be applied to the cat's skin, avoiding the eyes, nose, and mouth.

Cats are generally considered vulnerable to essential oil toxicity because their livers cannot usually metabolize the compounds found in these oils. Some believe that tea tree oil poisoning could occur even when small doses are applied to the skin, since the toxic compounds in the oil can build up in the liver over time. Some of these compounds include camphene, linalool, alpha-terpinene, and terpinolene. Large amounts of these chemicals can cause liver damage and even death in cats, and there is little that can be done for this type of poisoning.

Manufacturers of tea tree oil products for cats typically warn that essential oil doses should be kept very low to avoid problems. Veterinarians and manufacturers alike usually warn against the application of pure tea tree oil to a cat's skin, since it will typically be absorbed easily. Experts also advise against giving a cat tea tree oil orally. Some experts are concerned about the ill effects of inhaling tea tree oil as well, and warn that cats should generally never be exposed to the pure oil.

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Meet the author:
Susana Bradford

Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.

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Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.

Tea Tree Oil and Pet Toxicity

Tea tree oil, or Australian tree tea oil, has become a popular alternative treatment for many skin conditions affecting humans. Its popularity has resulted in some veterinary skin care products that contain small amounts of tea tree oil. In small concentrations (.1% to 1%), tea tree oil is tolerated and safe for cats and dogs. 

Unfortunately, the oil's popularity has resulted in larger numbers of households with bottles of 100 percent tree tea oil, and accidental ingestion or improper dilutions of this highly concentrated oil can be harmful to pets.

What is Tea Tree Oil?

Tea tree oil is extracted from the leaves of a tree native to Australia that is similar to the myrtle tree. The tree has been introduced to America and is grown in the southern states, particularly Florida. The clear to pale yellow oil has a camphor-like smell and has bactericidal and fungicidal properties.

It is used topically to treat acne, boils, burns and insect bites in humans and pets. It is also used for treating athlete's foot, gingivitis, impetigo, tonsillitis, and vaginal infections in humans. It is sometimes added to vaporizers to treat respiratory infections. The oil can also be found in soaps, toothpaste, lotions, and skin creams.

Tea tree oil is toxic, to both humans and pets, if taken orally. In Australia 100 percent tree tea oil is categorized as a schedule 6 toxin. Packaging there requires child-proof containers and cautionary labeling. Such packaging and labeling are not necessary in the U.S. and Canada.  A 10 year long veterinary study of tea tree oil toxicity in pets found that 89 percent of owners who used 100 percent oil assumed that it was safe. The researches felt that the lack of labeling was a major reason for the feeling of safety on the part of American pet owners.

Tea Tree Oil Toxicity for Pets

Tea tree oil contains various types of chemicals called terpenes. These are the chemicals that make the oil effective against bacteria and fungi. They are also the toxic agent. Terpenes are rapidly absorbed into the body whether taken orally or on the skin. This means topical application of concentrated oil can result in the same toxicity as accidental oral ingestion. Given the tendency of pets to groom, especially cats,  the toxicity risk of topical applications is amplified.

Symptoms of toxicity vary depending on the dose of terpenes ingested. Minor symptoms like drooling or vomiting may be found with mild doses of oil. Animals with moderate illness may appear weak, have difficulty walking, or seem partially paralyzed. Severely ill animals have life-threating symptoms like tremors, seizures, greatly reduced level of consciousness, or coma. Symptoms follow 2 to 12 hours after exposure.

Treatment for Tea Tree Oil Toxicity in Pets

There is no antidote for terpenes. Treatment is based on the level of toxicity. Mild illness may only require skin decontamination with dish soap bathing. Inducing vomiting is not recommended. The neurological effects of the terpenes, as well as the thick quality of the oil, increase the risk of aspiration pneumonia if vomiting is induced.

The effectiveness of orally administered activated charcoal in binding terpenes after oral ingestion of tea tree oil is unknown. Vomiting control with medications is necessary before administering activated charcoal. Activated charcoal should not be given to pets with severe symptoms due to the risk of aspiration of the charcoal liquid.

Skin decontamination and support therapy with intravenous fluids is the standard treatment. Vomiting, muscle tremors, and seizures are treated with medications as needed. Treatment may be necessary for up to 72 hours after exposure. Terpenes are toxic to the liver so the use of liver protectants like SAM-e and silymarin (milk thistle) for two weeks is also recommended.

Prevention of Tea Tree Oil Poisoning in Pets

Although tea tree oil is effective in treating certain skin conditions in pets, it has not been proven to be superior to other traditional medications. In fact, the concentrations of tea tree oil suggested for many skin problems far exceed the concentrations found in most pet products (.1%-1%). The attraction of using a natural product as opposed to a man-made synthetic treatment may not be worth the risk. The use of dilutions of 100 percent tea tree oil should be avoided in pets. It is too easy to miscalculate the amount of oil to use. Finally, oil should be safely stored away from pet access, especially the ingenious, inquisitive cat.

Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: Shutterstock

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Dangerous essential oils for cats

Essential oils are on trend these days, being added to everything from cleaning products and personal care products to medicines. Are there essential oils designed specifically for cats, and how safe are they?

Essential oils: what they are

Essential oils are extracts of plants known for their aromatic and/or medicinal properties, such as rose or cananga.

They are usually used in aromatherapy or for topical application such as during massage. “When inhaled, the aromatic molecules of essential oils move from the olfactory nerves directly to the brain and affect, in particular, the amygdala, which is the emotional center of the brain,” explains Harpreet Gujral, Program Director of Integrative Medicine at the Health division of the Johns Hopkins Medicine network. . The amygdala responds to olfactory stimuli. Does the smell of mint invigorate? This is aromatherapy.

Essential oils in the home

With the rise of online stores and renewed interest in natural health products, essential oils are more accessible than ever. They are actively used in the composition of various household and cosmetic products, such as cleaning sprays, hand sanitizers, fragrances, laundry detergents and others.

Keep essential oils out of the reach of pets to create a safe home environment for cats.

Dangerous essential oils for cats

Like some popular houseplants that are toxic to cats, a number of essential oils are dangerous even in small quantities and especially in concentrated form. According to the Canadian Veterinary Medicine Association (CVMA), the following are considered harmful essential oils for cats:

  • bergamot;
  • cinnamon;
  • cloves;
  • eucalyptus;
  • European pennyroyal;
  • geranium;
  • lavender;
  • lemon, lime and orange;
  • lemongrass;
  • rose;
  • rosemary;
  • sandalwood;
  • tea tree;
  • thyme;
  • wintergreen, peppermint, spearmint and spearmint;
  • kananga.

In addition to essential oils, which are sold in their pure form, they are often found in other household products such as paint thinners and insect repellants, which put cats at high risk of death, notes CVMA.

Special warning: tea tree oil is not suitable for cats

Tea tree oil is extremely dangerous for cats because the toxin contained in tea tree oil is metabolized in the liver,” reports Tufts Now.

If there are dogs in the home, discuss with your veterinarian the possibility of using tea tree oil for dog care. A cat may swallow tea tree oil while grooming a dog.

Which essential oils are dangerous for cats

All of these can be toxic to your furry friend. As the ASPCA notes, “in concentrated form (100%), essential oils clearly pose a hazard to pets,” including when the oil comes in contact with the skin, coat, or paws.

However, there are a number of precautions you can take to safely use essential oils at home.

One way to avoid toxicity is to use aroma diffusers instead of concentrates. CatHealth.com recommends using the diffuser in large rooms and keeping your cat away from the diffuser and its cords.

It is important to remember that drops of oil can get on the cat's coat and she will swallow them when washing herself. Cats love to climb high surfaces and tight spaces, so it's always best to play it safe when storing essential oils.

When to See a Veterinarian

Symptoms of essential oil poisoning include difficulty breathing, coughing, shortness of breath, drooling, vomiting, tremors, lethargy and slow pulse, according to the Pet Poison Helpline.

Contact your veterinarian or emergency clinic immediately if you suspect your cat has ingested this product. In addition, you should immediately stop using any essential oil that causes her irritation or discomfort.

Before using essential oil products and diffusers in the home, it is a good idea to speak with a veterinarian to make sure there are no health or safety concerns for your furry friend.

See also:

  • How to get rid of bad cat smell
  • Cat yoga: how to do yoga with a cat?
  • High protein dog and cat food

Contributor Bio

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien is a writer, mother, and longtime owner of two Russian blue cats who are the head of the house. Her articles can also be found on Care.com, What to Expect and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about family life, pets and pregnancy. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.

Are essential oils dangerous for pets?

With the advent of the ultrasonic aroma diffuser, now I can no longer imagine my daily life without aromatherapy sessions in my apartment. You can read about the benefits of essential oils in one of my articles here, here and here

However, I am a big lover of felines. And at home I have a cat, which for everyone is not just an animal, but a favorite member of the family. Of course, I wondered how safe aromatherapy is in a home with pets. I have read a lot of information, including the recommendations of veterinarians, and I hasten to share with all pet owners.

An interesting discovery was the fact that aromatherapy is purposefully used for the treatment and prevention of a number of diseases in animals . For example,

for animals visiting the street as a prophylaxis against fleas and ticks, it is recommended to drop 1 drop of lavender or rosemary essential oil on the withers hair. It is necessary to apply oil only on the animal's coat, and not on the skin, in order to avoid allergic reactions. In case of stress, such as when moving, you can use lavender or chamomile essential oils. For these purposes, an aroma lamp is ideal, in which it is enough to add 1-2 drops of essential oil.

If you follow the simple rules during aromatherapy sessions, there will be no harm to the animal: