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Are essential oils safe to use around cats?

Essential oils have received a big boost in popularity lately as people seek out more natural and sustainable health alternatives. Yet, as is often the case, some things that are safe for you are not always safe for your cat. Consider the following before using essential oils in your home.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are derived by distilling or pressing plants until they can be separated out into an aromatic oil and water. They are often used in aromatherapy, and are thought to have therapeutic value for human beings in very low concentrations. Since too much exposure to essential oils can be toxic, it’s best to only use essential oils under the advice of an experienced aromatherapist.

Since cats are unable to metabolize essential oils, they are highly susceptible to toxic accumulation of essential oils in their bodies. Lea Jacobson, a certified clinical aromatherapist, writes, “Although it is recommended that all essential oils be avoided with cats, there are some that are especially problematic due to high levels of 1,8-cineole, camphor, limonene, methyl salicylate, pinene, as well as essential oils with significant ketones and phenols.” Essential oils should never be applied directly to your cat’s skin or fur.

Can essential oils be added to food or water?

You may see essential oils advertised on products that are labeled as “safe” or “natural.” Just because a product is available from a reputable website or pet store, that doesn’t mean that they are truly safe or appropriate for your cat. Some holistic pet remedies contain extracts that are known to be toxic to cats, such as valerian root, albeit in a highly diluted concentration. Your cat could also be at higher risk if he or she has kidney or liver disease.

Before you giving your cat any holistic treatment, it’s best to discuss the ingredient list and possible alternatives directly with your vet. Never use more than the recommended dosage.

Can cold air diffusers be used around cats?

After learning about the benefits of essential oils, it may be tempting to use a cold air diffuser in your home as a natural air freshener. Cold air diffusers are a lot like vaporizers or humidifiers. However, they do not introduce the heat that would break down essential oils. Although the original concentration may be diluted, they begin to build up in the air. You should never close your cat into a room with a diffuser running.

Even in a well ventilated room, essential oils in the air can have a negative impact on your cat’s health. According to the ASPCA, “effects such as gastrointestinal upset, central nervous system depression and even liver damage could occur if ingested in significant quantities. Inhalation of the oils could lead to aspiration pneumonia.”

The ASPCA goes on to note that since different oils have different levels of toxicity, it’s best not to take any chances by using essential oils near your pet.

Are you still wondering about safe ways to keep your home with cats smelling fresh? We have a treasure trove of articles on our blog, such as how to deal with a smelly litter box and how to spot hard to see cat pee.


Candace Elise Hoes is a pet sitter and blogger at Katie’s Kitty. She is a graduate of the MFA Writing Program at California College of the Arts.

photo by Kadres on pixabay

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