Essential oils have grown in popularity over the past few years. Although they are widely used, information on their health effects and safety is scarce and often contradictory. This is especially true when discussing their effects on cats.
There are a lot of myths about essential oils and what to do to avoid negative consequences for pets. There are many varieties of essential oils, each with its own physical and chemical properties.
Asking the question “Are essential oils safe?” is equivalent to asking “Is the medicine safe?” or “Are plants safe?” The type of oil, dose and route of exposure determine the answer to this question. This document serves to provide an overview of this topic so that you can make informed decisions about essential oils. It is not intended to serve as an exhaustive source of information and to include all essential oils and the risks they present.
Please contact your veterinarian for advice regarding exposure to essential oils and their potential side effects.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are plant extracts that contain a large amount of volatile oils (which evaporate easily). They are extracted and concentrated by distillation or by cold pressing. The smell and taste of plants is often determined by the essential oils they contain. Essential oils can be sold on their own or used in other products. While many people think of diffusers, cosmetics, or potpourri when they think of essential oils, insecticides, paint thinners and flavorings also use these compounds.
What studies have been done on the long term effects of essential oils on humans and pets?
There is little information on the impact of many essential oils on the health of pets. As a result, people often rely on opinions instead of relying on facts. Some say essential oils are largely safe because there has been no increase in hospital admissions despite their growing popularity. Others say the side effects of their use can be subtle and cumulative for low-level exposures and conclude that there is insufficient data to assess safety. There have been several reported cases of direct exposure to certain oils which have caused harm or even death.
There is very little published experimental data on the toxicity of essential oils to cats. This is in part due to the diversity of essential oils, the lack of funding for such studies, and the ethics of exposing animals to life-threatening substances. Data on chronic or low-level exposure are even scarcer. Therefore, much of the factual data is based on case reports or theoretical toxicity based on chemical properties.
Why are we talking about cats and not dogs?
Dogs are also susceptible to certain essential oils, but cats are more vulnerable. A cat’s liver is deficient in the process called “glucono-conjugation”, an important step in the metabolism of many compounds. These chemicals, which are metabolized by other species, often accumulate or are broken down into toxic metabolites in cats. This is especially true for compounds called “phenols” which contain an “aromatic” or “benzene” ring.
Cats’ small stature means they are susceptible to poisoning from smaller volumes of oils, and their propensity to groom themselves means that skin contact often results in oral contact. Cats also have very sensitive airways and are vulnerable to reactions to inhalants like smoke. Therefore, it is more likely that they will develop respiratory distress when exposed to volatile oils.
Toxic effects of essential oils
Exposure to essential oils can be by mouth, inhalation, or even through absorption through the skin. Some essential oils can induce a reaction that is not directly “toxic” by triggering allergic reactions. Cats suffering from asthma, chronic upper respiratory diseases, skin allergies, or the like may show exacerbated clinical signs when exposed to essential oils. With asthma, these reactions can be serious or even fatal.
In humans, there are a growing number of positive patch tests for hypersensitivity to essential oils — lavender and tea tree oil being the most frequently cited examples.
Other oils can be more directly toxic and cause liver, kidney, heart or other organ failure.
Which oils can be toxic?
A list of toxic and non-toxic oils is of limited use because the potential toxicity depends on the route, frequency and amount of exposure as well as the quality of the supplier and other compounds that are in the formulation. the brand of oil.
The published lists do not include all the same oils as there is a dearth in the publication of scientific studies. Many of the references to “toxic oils” are based on testimony and the basic principles of how species and substances should interact, citing a few rare and diverse reports of toxicity.
These lists are therefore not very accurate. A complete list of plant toxicities, such as that provided by the ASPCA poison control site, may often not be clear as to whether it is the plant or the oil in the extract.
A provisional list is provided below for reference, but further research is required to assess the accuracy of this list and other resources as this information has not been evaluated by a government agency.
This list has been compiled from a variety of sources and is NOT exhaustive (and is not presented in order of toxicity and alphabetical order):
– Bitter Almond
– Cinnamon (True & Cassia, leaf & bark)
– CloveCitronella from Java or Ceylon type
– Eucalyptus (All types)
– Geranium Rose & Bourbon type
– False ambrosia
– American Pennyroyal
– Sweet OrangePine, Spruce, Balsam Fir and Juniper oils
– Japanese yew (Taxus spp.)
– Lavender and Lavandin
– Mints: Peppermint, Spearmint, MintPennyroyal
– Rosemary (All types)
– Clary SageCommon Sage
– Tea Tree
– Thyme (All types)
– White Cedar leaf (Thuja occ.)Ylang Ylang
What are the signs of overexposure?
Signs of toxicity will depend on the dose and type of oil, but they will often include changes in mental status (depression or lethargy), neurological signs (staggering, difficulty walking, weakness, tremors, seizures ), digestive symptoms (drooling, vomiting) and physical signs such as an animal rubbing its face with its paws, redness on the skin or mucous membranes, respiratory distress (breathing difficulties, cough), low body temperature, slowed heart rate and death.
The quality control of essential oils is not monitored by government regulatory agencies, so some preparations may have varying levels of active ingredients and may not contain the ingredients described. The oils are also suspended in different types of solutions which can be toxic.
Can I use essential oils if I have cats?
As with a lot of other situations, the answer is “it depends”. Factors such as oil type, method of use, strength, and individual cat’s sensitivities all play a role in the risk of essential oil toxicity.
There are many opinions about the use of essential oils in vaporized or aerosol form.
Some general guidelines for using essential oils in homes with cats:
Although some oils have an insect repellent effect, the risk of serious or fatal reactions to these oils is high in cats, and there are very safe and effective alternatives available.
Avoid using the oils mentioned in the previous list before the publication of new studies.
Avoid the use of essential oils in homes with cats with asthma, allergies, or similar conditions.
Keep cats out of rooms with high concentrations of essential oils (for example, when using paint thinner, washing floors, or when using diffusers without opening windows).
What should be done in the event of exposure?
Take your pet, along with the product packaging, to a veterinarian immediately if you suspect exposure to a toxic essential oil. Do not attempt to give home first aid such as induced vomiting or charcoal therapy first. Some oils can damage the esophagus and be fatal if inhaled. If a cat has an essential oil on its paws or on its fur (eg, a spill of a diffuser or essential oil bottle), the paws should be washed with a mild soap and water, rinse them well and immediately call your vet for advice.
Immediate veterinary support may be required in certain cases of exposure. The effects of poisoning vary, and your veterinarian will develop a treatment plan that will suit your particular circumstances. Call a clinic right away if you notice any worrying signs such as seizures or difficulty breathing.
It may be necessary to perform tests and admit the cat in order to provide care which may include intravenous fluids, respiratory support, pain control, other medications, and dose-dependent nursing care. The prognosis after exposure will vary depending on the type of oil, the dose, and the time between exposure and treatment.
Please contact your veterinarian if you have specific questions regarding essential oils.
Dr. Kathleen Cavanagh, B.Sc., D.M.V, MET
CVMA Online Editorial Consultant
Matthew Kornya, B.Sc., D.M.V., ABVP resident
July 31, 2018
L’ASSOCIATION CANADIENNE DES MÉDECINS VÉTÉRINAIRES
Translated by Google from:
Pet Poison Helpline
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Animal Poison Control