Are essential oils safe for cats?
The short answer to that is yes and no.
I have been using essential oils, hydrosols and herbal oils with cats, in my practice of animal aromatherapy since 1997. In this time I have helped many troubled felines to a healthier, happier lifestyle with no harmful side-effects. If you follow a few basic guidelines essential oils and hydrosols can be a safe and effective solution for many common cat problems.
So why the fuss about cats & essential oils?
Essential oils, wrongly used, can kill cats. Cats lack an important detoxification mechanism, known as glucuronidation, which is present in most mammals. This means, to avoid possible fatal toxic shock (at worst) or a build up of toxic metabolites in the body, you must be very cautious when using essential oils with cats, and completely avoid anything containing phenols.
There have been reports of liver failure in cats after exposure to essential oils. This has always been a cat was forced to interact with the essential oil e.g. using tea tree oil undiluted, or frequent diffusion of essential oils in the home. Despite its widespread use, tea tree oil is not safe for cats.
On the other hand, in a natural environment cats are probably exposed to small quantities of essential oil by rubbing on plants as they walk through them. If just a one whiff of essential oil was going to cause kitty to keel over Felis Catus would not be one of the most successful species on the planet today! If we use nature’s guidance and allow cats the choice to interact with aromatics when and how they like, they will cause no harm.
Hydrosols or essential oils?
All the same, I recommend using hydrolats where possible with cats as they seem to enjoy this gentle, water solution more than essential oils. However, little research has been done at this time about the physiological effects of hydrolats on cats so the same principles must be applied as when using essential oils: high dilutions and free choice.
The best way to use hydrolsols is to put 3-10 drops in a saucer of water near the cat’s usual eating place and allow him to self-medicate by either licking or inhaling. The saucer should be changed daily and fresh drinking water must also be available.
How to use Essential Oils with Cats
The basic guidelines are:
- Always allow your cat to choose whether it wants an essential oil, Do Not Use Essential Oil On Cats if they resist in any way!
- Essential oils must always be used in very high dilutions (1 drop in 25 ml of carrier oil)
- Never put essential oils on a cat’s body
- Do not close a cat in a room with essential oils diffusing
- Do not use essential oil that contains phenols
To find out if your cat wants or needs a certain essential oil or hydrosol, hold the closed bottle in your hand at least 6 inches away from your cat’s nose. Be patient and allow the cat to come towards the bottle if it wants to, rather than you going towards the cat. Once you are sure the cat likes the oil (see responses below), dilute one drop in 25 ml (approx. 2 tablespoon) of cold-pressed vegetable oil.
Signs of interest: Sniffs the bottle, a small sniff but returns to the bottle, tongue licks quickly, easily distracted from the aromas – Offer diluted oil once a day.
No interest: turns away from the aroma, leaves the room – Do not apply.
Cats are very sensitive to the oils so just a few sniffs is all that is needed to trigger the healing process. Cats are also quite subtle in their response to the oils, and sometimes secretive, so if the cat stays in the room with you when the bottle is open count it as a positive response, even if they are acting nonchalant and indifferent.
If the cat shows signs of wanting to lick the oil (this is very rare) allow it to lick diluted oil from your fingers if it will, or put a few drops on a saucer and leave it on the floor, but not near its usual eating-place.
In my experience of treating cats they rarely want essential oils put on their skin, usually a few little sniffs is enough to effect a profound change, even in the case of wounds.
The catnip effect
Cats can become overwhelmed by the smell of essential oils, sniffing, licking or attacking their owner manically if the person smells of oils. Cats can also behave as they do with catnip (after all, it is the essential oil in catnip they are responding to) jumping around and having a mad moment or five. This can lead people to believe that their cat really loves essential oil, when, in fact, it is over-stimulating their nervous system, literally driving them crazy.
Cats often ‘hang out’ near closed bottles of essential oil. I have a client who, mindful of the cautions, put her selection of oils inside a bag on top of a wardrobe out of harm’s way…. only to find that her cats had taken to sleeping beside it. Cats are energetically finely tuned and a collection of essential oils is giving off a powerful radiation to which they are naturally attracted, especially if they (or you) need some healing
There is no need to deprive cats of this wonderful tool, just allow your cat to guide you in how to use aromatics, and never think you know better than a cat!
This video shows clearly how a cat can choose its own hydrosol