Cats and Essential Oils Don't Mix

Cat and Essential Oils Warning is a true tale of what can happen when your beloved cat is exposed, even passively, to essential oils. Almost every day someone asks on one of the essential oil/aromatherapy Facebook groups about using essential oils with their cat.

Inevitably, some "expert" will share a link to a veterinarian's website who advocates using essential oils on animals, including cats. Of course, this DVM also sells her own brand of essential oils, specifically blended for animals. But if you do a little research you'll see that this one particular DVM used to sell Young Living essential oils and advocate using them on cats. So I don't put much faith in anything she recommends.

 Why Essential Oils Are Toxic for Cats

Of course, not all essential oils are toxic to cats, but some of them are, and it has to do with a cat's physiology. Their body lacks the ability to metabolize the essential oils that get into their system, and some of chemical constituents in some essential oils are pure poison to them.

It doesn't matter how you use the oils. Even diffusing can be dangerous because of their keen sense of smell. As far as using oils directly on their skin or fur, that's even more dangerous. Even using those toxic oils to clean your floors or cabinets can cause (and have caused) terrible problems for cats.

Heartbreaking Story of a Cat and Essential Oils

I wanted to take the time to share my heartbreaking experience with using essential oils with a cat in the home.  Oils can be very toxic to cats as their bodies; mainly the liver cannot process the oils…even when smelled in the air. 

I had a house cat and 4 dogs…on the dogs I had been using rosemary and lavender waters with some peppermint essential oil for flea control with no problems.  The fleas had gotten so bad and almost out of control so out of frustration I made the choice to use all oils with water instead of the waters I had made from my plants.  I also used very minimal EO’s in our home for cleaning and pest control.

Some brief history on my cat…for several months she has been drinking a lot and peeing a lot so the thought was possibly diabetes.  I had changed her diet but it didn’t seem to help so we knew a vet visit was in order.  She was showing no other signs of anything wrong except a few pound weight loss. I had talked to the vet and we were going to bring her in for some tests. 

Before the date of her appointment the next week, on Friday evening I used the “oil” spray on my dogs…the first dog I sprayed in my kitchen (I normally sprayed them outside) before realizing it was too strong for the cat so I took the rest outside and hoped the smell would dissipate quickly. 

Over the weekend and on that Monday our cat started acting strange and was peeing on random things in the house.  Tuesday I took her to the vet and he ran blood work to rule out kidney failure, diabetes and a flea born sickness that kills red blood cells. 

There was no diabetes as we had previously thought it may, and the kidney tests were slightly elevated but not “in failure” bad, and the flea borne illness was negative but she had some very alarming levels in her work up.  She was severely anemic (to the point of being close to a transfusion) and her liver enzymes were elevated along with some other concerns. 

The vets next concern was feline leukemia.   Our cat was a rescue as a kitten and at the time tested clean but she was outside as a barn cat for years.  For the past 4 years she has been exclusively an inside cat not even once going outside and the picture of health.  

The next day (Wednesday) the vet called me with her test results of positive feline aids…he said she possibly was a carrier since birth and it didn’t show up on that initial test but that something had suddenly caused her immune system to no longer be able to fight it off.  I was devastated that we didn’t see this coming as she really appeared very healthy until a few days earlier, outside of the peeing issues. 

After much reflection and research on using EO’s with a cat in the home, I remembered the symptoms of a toxic reaction to oils in a cat (even when smelled in the air) and I feel that the exposure to the oil spray I used on my dogs and in the home may have set her system in motion to not be able to fight off the Feline Aids virus that lay dormant.

Severe toxic reactions can happen within hours of exposure I have learned and can devastate a cats system within days.  Never once did I use any oil on the cat as I knew that they were toxic with direct exposure but what I did not realize at the time was just how toxic they can also be using them in their living environment.

That afternoon we made the heartbreaking decision to put our beloved cat to sleep as she had deteriorated in literally 2 days to not being able to fight the virus. 

I tell you this not to put a damper on the use of oils as I will continue to use them but to share the extreme caution with which they need to be used around pets, especially cats.  I don’t have any solid proof that the oils exacerbated this sickness but my gut and research tells me they did, and I will forever regret not being more careful.  Please be very careful if you have house cats…they say some can slowly build a tolerance to the fragrance of the oils in your home but there are others who simply cannot and the risk is high for them.    

This [photo at top] was our sweet Pinky who we raised from an 8wk old kitten...the other pic is my heartbroken daughter holding her Pinky for the last time at the vet just before we had to put her to sleep.

If I can save one kitty then sharing our story is always worth reliving the pain of knowing my carelessness was most likely the cause of our loss. 

~Shauna Davis*

*Shared with permission

Avoid this Tragedy with Your Cat and Essential Oils

To avoid a similar tragedy with your cat, you need to know exactly which essential oils to avoid using around your cat. The following essential oils are known feline toxins:

  • Citrus oils
  • Peppermint
  • Oregano
  • Clove
  • Sage
  • Lavender (cheap perfume and camphorous types)
  • Melaleuca (tea tree oil)
  • Cinnamon (cassia)
  • Wintergreen
  • Thyme
  • Birch
  • Bergamot
  • Pine
  • Spruce
  • Any other oils containing phenols

For more information about essential oils and their chemical constituents to avoid with cats, check here:

Love Oils? Love Your Cat More

You can love your essential oils, but please love your cat more and realize that using some essential oils around you cat can have deadly consequences.

Share Your Story

If your cat has been hurt by essential oils, we invite you to share your story:

Essential Oils Hurt My Cat