Are essential oils safe for cats? More specifically, can you use a diffuser with essential oils in a home with cats? There has been a lot of discussion and some misinformation going around about essential oils and pets lately. There was one post on social media claiming that cats were dropping dead due to their owners using essential oils in diffusers in the home with cats.
Since I am a cat owner myself I decided to research the subject. I wanted to see if there was any truth to these claims. The level of outrageous claims on the internet seems to know no bounds. So what follows is the results of my exhaustive search for information on the subject.
It seems that there is a lack of any scientific research on the effects of cats inhaling essential oils due to their owners using a diffuser in the home. This seems to stem from the misunderstanding that is out there that says felines lack certain liver enzymes that make them susceptible to liver damage from essential oils. So we still haven’t answered the big question: Are essential oils safe for cats?
I found a paper written by a veterinarian on the subject and her conclusion was based on scientific research and her knowledge of feline anatomy and physiology. Her conclusion was that there was a lot of misinformation about the toxicity of certain oils in cats. You can read the entire article here.
What she found was that many of the claims of toxicity were based on research from a 1972 study that looked at the injection of benzyl alcohol in cats, not into the phenols contained in natural essential oils. But somehow that got stated that all phenols were toxic to cats, and essential oils contain phenols. But this comparison is apples to oranges. I’m sure no one is injecting essential oils into their cats. At least I hope not!
She goes on to quote Jeff R. Wilcke DVM, MS from the 1984 edition of
Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice – Vol. 14, No. 6; titled Symposium on Advances in Feline Medicine II. He writes “Even drugs known for toxicity in cats can be used safely if we are aware of and compensate for certain peculiarities.”
In her article, she further goes on to explain that the blanket statements that citrus oils are toxic to felines come from studies using one of the constituents contained in citrus oils- d-limonene. The study was seeking to find out if this substance could be used to control fleas on cats. The dermal concentrations used were very high and they were being used to test a flea dip. So the cats were not inhaling essential oils from a diffuser, they were immersed in a flea bath with very high concentrations of d-limonene. Once again we have an apples to oranges comparison.
Another statement that is thrown around a lot is that Eucalyptus oil is toxic to cats. There has been no research cited on Pub-Med of toxicity of Eucalyptol (1,8-cineole) in animals.
So from my research and personal experience, I conclude that essential oils can be used safely within a diffuser with cats in the area. My personal experience would seem to provide anecdotal evidence as well. I love to diffuse citrus oils while I am writing. Invariably, my cats will gravitate to my office and lie in the same room with the diffuser. I use Lemon, Bergamot, Tangerine, or my favorite, Sweet Orange on an almost daily basis. I also use other oils such as Tea Tree and other wood oils in blends. My diffuser will run for around 6 hours when filled with water. I have seen no adverse effects with either of my cats. One is a kitten of approximately 8 months and another a 13-year-old Maine Coon.
I have no issue with anyone deciding to be extremely cautious when it comes to diffusing essential oils around their pets. And I would urge people to observe their pets for signs of sensitivity when using diffusers around their cats, especially cats with respiratory problems. What I have a problem with is people who make blanket statements about something without the proper training or even research to back it up.
I also don’t recommend using essential oils on your cat’s fur or skin without talking to a vet. Just like I don’t recommend that humans use essential oils without being aware of their safe use. Concentrated essential oils should never be used unless diluted in a carrier oil. Just like you wouldn’t be safe to use essential oil dilutions of 2% for massage oils on a human baby, using essential oils on a cat without knowing the risks could have an even greater detrimental effect.
So again, my conclusion from the research seems to answer the question “Are essential oils safe for cats?” in the affirmative with some common-sense precautions. And if the cat shows symptoms of being sensitive to the oil, remove them from the area to fresh air. If the symptoms don’t subside quickly, you should call your vet immediately. But I conclude that the blanket statements of cats dropping dead from their owner’s use of essential oils in diffusers to have no basis in scientific fact. If this were true, considering all the people who now regularly use essential oils in the home, we would be having an epidemic of unexplained cat deaths.