What Essential Oils Are Safe for Cats: What You Need to Know
by Bubbly Belle
Posted on Oct 20, 2020
Essential oils are definitely having their moment. As more and more people are discovering the benefits and joys of essential oils, their popularity has skyrocketed in recent years. And with the recent consumer market shift towards natural, green, and holistic products, we don’t expect this trend to slow down any time soon.
You deserve to feel good. Essential oils are amazing 100% natural tools that can help you slow down, relax, and feel rejuvenated. Life can get a little crazy, but you deserve to treat yourself and essential oils can treat you in all the right ways.
Even better, we can enjoy the soothing (or energizing) benefits of essential oils even around our feline friends, as long as we stick to a few set do’s and don’ts!
The 411 on Essential Oils
Essential oils are aromatherapy tools that are derived from plants such as leaves, herbs, and barks. Plant extracts are amazing natural and holistic resources. Different mixtures come with their own unique set characteristic essences and benefits. And with over 90 types of essential oils, there’s one that will serve your every need and desire!
Essential oils can be applied to the skin, typically with a roller, or inhaled when they’re used with an air diffuser. The health benefits of using essential oils are extensive; they can help with feelings of stress and anxiousness, easing tension from headaches, promoting sleep, and boosting immunity.
We love essential oils, both in roll-on form and for use in an air diffuser! But we also love our furry friends - the dogs and cats of the household. They really are our best friends and another member of the family. We always ensure that they’re eating the best pet food, getting fresh air, and staying away from harmful ingredients as much as possible. However, the effects of essential oils on our pets is another thing we need to be mindful of.
Cats in Particular
Cats do not metabolize things in the same way that dogs or humans do. A cat’s liver lacks the P450 cytochrome metabolic pathway. This pathway is what synthesizes and breaks down (metabolizes) different molecules and chemicals within cells. Without it, this means that cat’s livers are unable to process certain drugs, medication, and even essential oils.
Essential Oils That Are Toxic for Cats
According to the Canadian Veterinary Medicine Association (CVMA), these are the essential oils that are toxic for cats:
- European pennyroyal
- Lemon, lime, and orange
- Tea tree
- Wintergreen, peppermint, spearmint, and min
Other oils not listed by the CVMA but which could also be harmful to your cat are:
- Laurus Nobilis
- Melaleuca Quinquenervia
- Mountain Savory
These are oils that are high in salicylates or phenols. Phenols are natural chemicals that can be found in almost all foods as well as certain drugs such as Aspirin, Benzoic acid, and Serotonin. Salicylate is a specific type of phenol that is used by plants to protect themselves from harmful diseases.
Cats are naturally carnivores which means they haven’t been exposed to plant-based toxins the way omnivores (like us humans and dogs) have been. Because of this lack of exposure, cats have lost the ability to effectively remove plant toxins from their body. The make-up of a cat’s DNA does not have the functionality that is responsible for metabolizing chemicals like phenol and salicylate.
This difference in genetic make-up means that cats’ bodies take a much longer time to process these chemicals. Because cats are less effective at detoxifying and excreting these chemicals, their bodies may develop a build-up of these chemicals which can get to a toxic level and become poisonous.
Cats can absorb oils both orally and through their skin. The oil will then be sent to the cat’s liver; this is where we run into the problem of the liver not being able to effectively process it. After applying rub-on essential oil, you should keep some distance between you and your cat for at least a few hours - preferably for the rest of the day, or only apply oils before heading out to go somewhere. Unfortunately, oils are most commonly used in the household as a method of relaxation. This is a dilemma.
Essential Oils in Air Diffusers
It’s only recently that essential oils began being used in air diffusers. There are two different types of air diffusers: passive diffusers and active essential oil diffusers. They each work differently with the oil and produce different effects for both you and your cat.
Passive diffusers evaporate the oil and produce their pleasant smell. There are four variations of passive diffusers:
- Reed diffusers: reeds are inside the device and soak up the scent of the oil before emitting the aroma.
- Heat diffusers: this device will heat up the essential oil to the point of evaporation and then disperse it into the air.
- Non-motorized diffusers: use the currents of the room’s airflow to diffuse the scent.
- Motorized diffusers: use a fan to blow air through a filter that has been soaked with the essential oil.
Unless there is a mishap or spillage with a passive diffuser, the only way passive diffusers will affect your cat is irritating their respiratory tract. Cats’ sense of smell is 14 times stronger than ours. We, humans, have 5 million scent cells in our nose. And our furry friends? They have over 200 million scent cells that are all over their chin, lips, forehead, front paws, and even on their tail.
Knowing this, it’s easy to imagine just how strongly your cat is smelling that essential oil. At this potency, even oils that aren’t toxic for cats can leave them with an extremely overwhelming sensation.
The other type of air diffuser is an active essential oil diffuser. These diffusers use pumps or ultrasonic technology to pump oil particles into the air. The key difference is that with active diffusers, actual physical microdroplets are being emitted into the air in addition to the aroma. Yes, these microdroplets are micro, but they still pose a threat to cats. If your cat likes to hang around in the area where your diffuser is, they may develop a buildup of the microdroplets on their fur which may eventually soak into their skin. The biggest threat is that cats may accidentally ingest the microdroplets from their fur when they go to clean (lick) themselves, which is more often than you may expect.
When ingested, cats may experience symptoms such as excessive drooling, vomiting, tremors, low heart rate and body temperature, and in extreme cases, liver failure.
The takeaway? If like many of us, oil diffusers are your savior for relaxing and unwinding at home, try to keep your air diffuser in a room that your cat doesn’t normally occupy. Remember that cats are notorious climbers, so placing your diffuser on a high-up shelf doesn’t necessarily mean your cat will be out of harm’s way. Another alternative is to use your diffuser in an open space that gets natural airflow.
Which Oils Are Safe for Cats?
Let’s get into some better news: there are essential oils that are safe for your cat!
Remember how essential oils are derived from plants? The oils that are cat-friendly are the oils that come from plants that are non-toxic to cats. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), these plants are:
- Easter Lily Cactus
- Lemon Balm
You may have noticed that some of these plants are feline-friendly but are also on the list of essential oils that are toxic for cats. This is because plants themselves have relatively low concentrations of phenols and essential oils are highly concentrated extracts.
We know that by this point we’re thrown a lot of information your way. So, let’s be clear.
These are the essential oils that ARE safe for cats:
This list may not be as extensive as you may have hoped. But hey, we know you would never want to compromise the health and well-being of your best furry friend. We all love our cats and sometimes love means compromise.
There is still a wonderful collection of essential oils that will leave both you and your cat feeling perfectly pleased.
Even with the safest and most cat-friendly oils, try to keep some distance between the oils and your cat. This could look like keeping your air diffuser in a separate room or only applying your oils before leaving the house. If you enjoy using a sleeping aid oil, maybe close your bedroom door at night after you apply it. Or maybe use your focus enhancing oil when you’re locked in your office for the day.
An essential oil diffuser bracelet is another great option. By wearing your essential oil on your wrist, you’ll have all the control over any exposure it may have with your cat. You may need to abstain from pats and cuddles while you’re wearing it, but it’s the best of both worlds for you and your cat.
Being aware of the safety hazards regarding cats and essential oils is the first step to ensuring their safety.
This is everything you need to know! With all your new knowledge in mind, share it with your other cat-loving friends and spread the word on how to keep both you and your cat healthy and happy!