Pet Corner: Essential oils are toxic to cats

Published 9:21 am Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Cats are more sensitive and susceptible to various poisons than dogs and many other domesticated pets.

The popularity and availability of essential oils have increased the exposure of cats to the potentially toxic oils.

Essentials oils are extracted from plants for their use to enhance fragrance and taste.

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The oils are typically highly concentrated and used for aromatherapy, flavorings, herbal remedies, liquid potpourri and even as insecticides.

Essential oils can pose a toxic risk for any household pets, but especially cats.

The oils rapidly absorbed from the mouth, lungs and skin.

Many of the oils metabolize in the liver and cats lack certain liver enzymes to detoxify numerous compounds.

Therefore, cats are much more susceptible to certain toxins including essential oils.

Some oils known to be toxic to cats include wintergreen, oil of sweet birch, citrus oil, pine oils, Ylang Ylang oil, peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, pennyroyal oil, clove oil, eucalyptus oil, and tea tree oil.

This list is not inclusive. Many other oils have the potential to be toxic to cats.

The use of essential oils for aromatherapy comes in a variety of forms including candles, potpourri, room sprays, and passive and active diffusers.

Diffusers work by evaporating the oils and releasing the pleasant smell into the air.

Again, the diffusers are available in several forms such as reed diffusers, heat diffusers, bracelets, necklaces and motorized diffusers.

The primary hazard and concern for cats is indirect exposure through their respiratory system.

Cats with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, allergies or chronically exposed to cigarette smoke are at higher risk for symptoms caused by the airborne essential oils.

Inhalation of strong odors can cause cats to develop a runny nose, watery eyes, burning sensation of nose or throat, drooling, nausea, vomiting, coughing, and difficulty breathing.

Sometimes coughing may be mistaken for a cat trying to throw up a hairball.

Also, the tiny droplets of the oils from a diffuser may collect on the cat’s fur and can cause gastrointestinal illness from grooming or licking themselves.

Some pet owners have been known to apply essential oils directly on their pet for a variety of reasons such as external parasite protection, skin conditions like ringworm, ear mite treatment, and ear infections.

Although some research projects show essential oils may have some favorable properties against parasites and infection, it is never advised to apply the oils directly to any pet.

Clinical signs of essential oil toxicity in cats vary greatly depending on the type of oil, the route of exposure and the amount the cats encountered.

Symptoms may include drooling, vomiting, tremors, seizures, respiratory distress, low heart rate, oral ulceration and liver failure.

Treatment for cats showing signs of essential oils toxicity is primarily decontamination and supportive care.

The cat may need to be bathed with Dawn dishwashing liquid to remove the oil from their fur, which will help with both topical absorption and oral exposure.

The patient may need treatment including intravenous fluids, gastrointestinal medication, respiratory medicine, oxygen therapy, muscle relaxers, anti-seizure medication, and liver and cardiac support.

All cat owners should be cautious about using any form of essential oils. Never apply any essential directly to any pet.

If your cat or any pet shows any signs of essential oils toxicity, contact your veterinarian immediately to ensure your pet lives a long, healthy and happy life.

Dr. Jeff Castle is a veterinarian at Clark County Veterinary Clinic.