What You Essentially Need to Know About Essential Oils

There was a posting in January 2018, about how dangerous essential oils are for pets. I saw one saying that essential oils will kill your cat because it does not have a certain enzyme to break down essential oils. I would like to think that whoever sent this message is trying to be well-meaning, or had a negative experience with their pet and essential oils that they would like to prevent for someone else. However, blanket statements like this usually cause more panic and uproar, when not explained clearly. Anything can be toxic – “the dose makes the poison.” Cats do not lack an enzyme; rather this chemical pathway is easily overwhelmed. Cats are much different from dogs and people. Overall, pets are much more sensitive to essential oils, due to their incredible sense of smell and their ability to absorb substances through their skin.

What are essential oils? They are concentrated liquids from plants. They are popular for use in aromatherapy and alternative medicine. These oils have been used for a variety of purposes, including cleaning products, adding flavour to food, personal care, and potpourri for home air fresheners. However, people have a limited sense of smell and can communicate readily, if the smell or the skin application is bothering them. A safe dose for people can be harmful to our pets. These oils can cause a whole range of side effects, from nausea and sneezing to liver issues, respiratory distress, or even death. Pets need much, much smaller doses, and also need a way to escape fragrances wafting in the air.

If you know that your pet has ingested or has had essential oils applied and may be potentially experiencing an adverse effect, contact your veterinarian immediately. Wash off anything applied to the skin with some mild detergent and rinse copiously. Do not try to make your pet vomit, as this could make everything much worse. Be sure to bring products with you and/or know the following information: name of the substance, manufacturer, strength, approximately how much was swallowed or applied, date of expiration. Please follow the recommendations of your veterinarian. Blood work, x-rays, IV fluids, or other treatments and procedures may be recommended to help your pet recover. Veterinarians use treatments to prevent more adverse effects, and tests to check internal health. It provides valuable information to your veterinarian in choosing treatments for your pet, and how seriously a pet has been affected.

Essential oils could be helpful, but there is a lot of information that is lacking. There are very few studies that have been performed on oils. There is still a lot of data missing about safety, potential adverse reactions, and dosages. Some essential oils may be involved in “natural flea products.” However, if products are classified as repellents and not insecticides, then they are not regulated, which means companies must have safety studies performed. Among my veterinary colleagues, there has been an overwhelming number of reports about how pets, especially cats, had bad or severe reactions to “natural” products. It is generally recommended to keep pets away from the following substances: cinnamon, cloves, thyme, oregano, savoury, cassia, bitter almond, calamus, garlic horseradish, mustard, sassafras, wormseed and pennyroyal.

Essentially, very little is known about how essential oils can help pets, and what doses are safe and effective. Until we have more scientific data, please feel free to be selfish and do not share your oils with your pets!

Written by Dr. Rhonda Boulter, DVM