Be Careful With Essential Oils

Questions remain about their safety, especially for pets

A webinar from the Pet Poison HelpLine by Charlotte Flint, DVM, DABT, raises more concerns about essential oils, which are concentrated volatile plant oils found in many fragrances. Essential oils are readily absorbed orally, dermally, and through the respiratory tract (cats with feline asthma are especially susceptible to airway irritation and exacerbation of their respiratory problems). Many essential oils can cross the blood-brain barrier, which means they can enter the brain.

Cats can’t metabolize some compounds as easily as dogs. They are deficient in a process called glucuronidation, which occurs in the liver. This is one reason that medications, shampoos, and flea-control products made for a dog carry a warning that the product cannot be used in a cat. If you use essential oils, you should know that:

  1. Skin irritation and intoxication can occur if the cat accidentally gets oil on their paws. Symptoms include drooling, loss of appetite, and ulcers and burns on the mucous membranes of the mouth.
  2. Cinnamon oil can cause painful, ulcerated lesions on your cat’s paws and liver toxicity. There is no antidote. Care involves the use of gastrointestinal protectants.
  3. Citrus oils concentrated in dips and shampoos may contain limonene found in citrus plants and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, skin irritation, and tremors.
  4. Not all products are created equal. Plants are affected by growing conditions and geographical location, time of harvest, and possible adulteration with herbicides or pesticides, so quality and purity can vary significantly.
  5. Dawn dishwashing liquid can remove much of any oil that may get on your cat’s coat, but the cat should be seen by a veterinarian immediately if he shows symptoms.