Here are answers to some of the questions Dr. Janet get asked all the time. Want to submit another question for her to consider adding to this page? Send Dr. Janet a message today! If you have a more specific question or need an oil recommendation to help your animal, please visit the consult page for a personalized Essential Oil Vet consultation.
Using oils safely
Are Essential Oils Safe to use around Cats?
With cats… ultimately, you will hear many things from many people about cats and oils. Here’s my take: Cats lack an enzyme called glucuronyl transferase. This is important for the Cytochrome p450 liver metabolism pathway. This makes cats very susceptible to ALL kinds of toxicity, including plant, NSAIDS (like aspirin or ibuprofen), Tylenol, chocolate and caffeine (methylxanthines), lead, zinc, many types of pesticides, and many other things.
So which oils do you stay away from? Most highly tested, therapeutic oils (not the ones from any grocery store – the ones that are tested by batch) are so pure that you can use them topically on cats sporadically in a highly diluted form (as if for infants – 0.25% to 1% maximum dilution). It’s not a good idea to use them topically or internally on your cat every single day (with some exceptions.)
*The oils to stay away from and use something different if you can are the oils that are high in phenols and eugenols as far as direct application (topical or internal) to your cat (basil, birch, cinnamon, clove, fennel, melaleuca, oregano, peppermint, thyme, and wintergreen) as well as oils high in d-limonene (citrus oils).
That being said, I have used a highly tested therapeutic grade Melaleuca on my own cats without dilution without any ill effects. (I do not recommend you do this, though!) Just like people, every animal is different and you should consult your veterinarian if you are concerned.
As far as diffusion – I diffuse everything! I just make sure not to diffuse anything in my kitty’s room (where his food is) and make sure he’s not “locked” in the room with the diffuser – he will go away if it’s one he doesn’t like or need. It is recommended that you use a water based diffuser rather than one that pulls oils directly from the bottle.
The main thing is, don’t give oils to cats topically or internally *every* day (with some exceptions), dilute them, only use highly therapeutic grade, tested essential oils, and when in doubt, feel free to ask.
Is melaleuca oil safe for animals?
Melaleuca alternifolia, or Tea Tree oil – its use is controversial in small animals, and almost every veterinarian I know will tell you that it is toxic. In my opinion, this unnecessarily frightens pet owners and oil users. So I’d like to spend some time discussing this topic with you today.
In January 2014, JAVMA (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association) published a study entitled “Concentrated tea tree oil toxicosis in dogs and cats: 443 cases (2002–2012).” This article took all of the toxic exposures to Melaleuca that were reported to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center of dogs and cats over a 10 year period and analyzed them. This included reported toxic exposures throughout the US and Canada. The article concludes by stating that use of tea tree oil in dogs and cats is not recommended. And this is why your veterinarian tells you it is toxic.
They analyzed 443 cases – over 10 years… a little over 44 cases reported each year. To put that into a little bit of perspective, it’s estimated that 70-80 million dogs and 74-96 million cats are owned in the United States alone. Granted, not everyone uses essential oils. Of those cases, only 31 were classified as major illness.
The brands of the essential oils that caused toxicity were not disclosed in this study, it is likely that they are not known. Being that different purity levels and potency exists between brands, I believe this is a contributing factor in toxicity of this oil in most cases.
The amount of oils that caused toxicity was “dose dependent.” In other words, the larger the dose or amount of oils used, and the smaller the animal, the more severe the symptoms were. The animals ranged from 0.2 kg (less than 0.5 lb newborn/ juvenile kittens) to 71 kg (156 lbs dogs). The toxic dosage ranged from 0.1 mL to 85 mL – in terms of standard sized essential oil bottles, that is 5 drops to over 5 Bottles worth of essential oil. Two dogs were reported with applications that resulted in death – one was accidently given 0.4 mL of this essential oil IV (in the vein) which is about 20 drops. The other was a small dog (miniature poodle) that was given 28.5 mL (that’s a little less than 2 full bottles) topically for 3 days straight. None of the cats that had toxicity died from exposure. There were no reports of toxicity from diffusion.
The symptoms of Melaleuca toxicity in dogs include depression, lethargy, listlessness, somnolence, or appearing subdued, paresis, weakness, or hind limb weakness, ataxia, muscle tremors and fasciculation, and rarely: coma, collapse, recumbency, dermatitis, pruritus, rash, stiffness, increased salivation, and high serum liver enzyme activities. In cats symptoms include salivation or drooling, ataxia, coma, recumbency, unresponsiveness, unconsciousness, or a semicomatose state, muscle tremors or fasciculation, dermitis, pruritus, or rash. These symptoms will develop within 2-12 hours and may last up to 72 hours.If you think your dog or cat has had a toxic topical exposure, wash your animal with mild dish soap and rinse thoroughly. If you think your dog or cat has ingested this oil, do not induce vomiting. They can be fed activated charcoal. Contact your veterinarian if either of these is the case.
Interestingly, in one year (2003), the American Association of Poison Control Centers recorded 787 exposures to Melaleuca in humans; 518 of these were in humans less than 6 years of age, 57 in those 6 to 19 years of age, and 212 in those over 19 years of age. Based on these numbers compared to those in the 10 years of reported dog/ cat cases, Melaleuca may actually be safer for pets than humans! (If you were basing it solely on reported cases).
All of this to say, that Melaleuca should not be feared and avoided at all costs the way it seems to be around animals. If you have a newborn or young kitten, I do not recommend using it on them, or small dogs less than 20 lbs, or even large dogs in large amounts, or animals with liver disease. Because this oil is so common, we tend to think it is very safe to use on ourselves, but the truth is it is very potent and should only be used in small amounts or diluted, even with people. Be knowledgeable about the information that is out there. Be sure to look at all the facts and ask questions. The margin of safety for this oil may be larger (or smaller) than what you may have originally thought. That being said, there are other oils that are equally as effective as Melaleuca that have an even higher margin of safety for small animals.
Can I diffuse Essential Oils around Birds?
Birds are extremely sensitive to essential oils, so I recommend only using a water diffuser if it is in the same room as the birds, rather than one that pulls oils directly from the bottle. They can benefit from the oils just like we can! Here is some good information about birds and oils:
Overall, avoiding the hot oils may be prudent, but I tell bird owners what I tell all my pet owners: I think it’s really interesting that so many people will put a commercial, chemical filled air freshener in every room in their house without thinking twice about it, but are worried about harming them with essential oils! I do love that people are cautious (as they should be) with their pets. In general, each individual animal has preferences and dislikes, and sensitivities, just like different people do… so I always tell people to just observe your pets behavior – if it is behaving normally, all is well – if it is behaving abnormally, that may be an oil that they are sensitive to. They are very good at telling you! (Especially birds!)
How do I use oils safely around Rabbits (and other hind-gut fermenters)?
Rabbits (and chinchillas, sugar-gliders and other small mammals) are hind-gut fermenters. This means that the bacteria in their gut is very important for proper digestion of the forage they eat. It also means they are very susceptible to digestive issues if that delicate bacterial balance in their gut is upset with things like antibiotics (which kill the good bacteria as well as the bad) and other things that may harm the good bacteria in their guts. Strong oils that may cause an imbalance in the gut with rabbits include cinnamon, oregano, clove, melaleuca, and others. So caution should be used when using those oils around bunnies. If you must use these oils in the same area for some reason, be sure to give probiotics to help support them. They love citrus oils, and some of the more soothing oils like lavender, roman chamomile, helichrysum, and frankincense are all safe to use highly diluted (0.25%-0.5%). I recommend water diffusing around rabbits, as they are a bit sensitive. If you need to give oils in their water, just one drop per 1 liter to 1 gallon of water is the recommended dilution for most of the oils. They may also be utilized topically highly diluted when indicated, but check with your veterinarian before applying topically. And as always, observe their behavior. If they are acting normally, all is well! If not, it may be an oil they are sensitive to.