Are Essential Oils Harmful To Cats? – What Do I Need To Know?

It’s been one of the most popular trends in recent years. Essential oils and oil diffusers. I thought about bringing one into our home. I’m glad I did my research, as I always do with any product that I’m going to bring into the house. I was SHOCKED by my findings on something that most people might not give a second thought.

First Things First-What Is An Essential Oil?

Essential oils are compounds that are extracted from a plant. It is thought they capture the “essence” of the plant. After you purchase them many times you will mix it with a carrier oil (coconut oil is one example) to carry them to their destination (your skin).

The Most Important Question-Are They Safe For Cats?

Unfortunately, it’s not a strict yes or no. One thing is pretty clear. Full strength essential oils will be dangerous to your cat (or dog). The science behind it is the oil can get absorbed orally and through the skin very quickly.  The next step is it gets metabolized in the liver.  The issue is, cats do not have an essential enzyme in their liver to eliminate the toxin from essential oils. The Pet Poison Helpline has a great article that goes more in depth about the science behind what happens and how you can tell if your cat got into the essential oils. I’ll introduce some symptoms of exposure next.

How Do I Know If My Cat Got Into My Essential Oils?

I’m not sure about you, but I can tell if my cat isn’t acting “right”. I wanted to share some signs to look for if your kitty was exposed to the oils. This information is also contained on the Pet Poison Helpline website.

  1. Being unsteady on their feet
  2. Depression
  3. Low body temperature
  4. Diarrhea
  5. Vomiting (if they ingested the oil)
  6. Drooling
  7. Respiratory Distress

If you think your cat may have ingested some essential oils contact your vet ASAP or you can call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center hotline . Their number is 1-888-426-4435. (You may be charged a consultation fee, depending on the situation).

What Are Some Oils I Should Be Concerned About?

This is not a comprehensive list (there are others on many different websites), but here are 10 oils that are known to cause issues.

  1. Tea Tree
  2. Clove
  3. Peppermint
  4. Wintergreen
  5. Sweet Birch
  6. Eucalyptus
  7. Pennyroyal
  8. Cinnamon
  9. Citrus
  10. Pine

There are some articles about oils that could be safe to use on cats, but for the scope of this article, I’m focusing on the unsafe oils.

I Don’t Put Oil On My Cat And I Use A Diffuser- Will That Be OK?

In looking through many articles and the main thoughts are that as long as the oil doesn’t get on your cat or ingested your cat “should” be OK. However, cats sense of smell is approximately 15 times stronger than humans. So even if the smell isn’t that strong for you, remember it’s going to be much stronger for your cat.

You should also be aware there are also different kinds of diffusers. They are passive and active diffusers.

Passive Diffusers

There are a few different kinds of passive diffusers.

One type is diffusers with a candle to heat the oil and release the smell into the room (like what you see to your left).

Another option is reed diffusers. The oil is in a bottle and you insert the reeds in the oil. The oil travels up the reeds and evaporates into the air sending the scent into the area.

You can also use wearable diffusers. It could be a necklace or bracelet that has an area where you can put the oil on felt or a bead so you can have the smell near you all the time.

Active Diffusers

Active diffusers actually send droplets of the oil into the air. One example is ultrasonic, it uses steam and vibrations to send droplets of oil into the air. There are also nebulizing diffusers produce a mist but they don’t use water as a carrier it is the straight oil.

The active diffusers would be more of a concern because it is emitting actual oil into the air. If your kitty is in the same room there is a chance that the oil could land on their fur or get on their paws from the oil being released into the air. At that point, they could ingest it and display some signs of exposure that I mentioned above.

Final Thoughts…

From what I’ve researched, experts say that if you use your diffuser in a different room from your pet or are using a passive diffuser the chances of your kitty having any issues are not as high. However, if your kitty already has some respiratory issues even the passive diffuser could cause problems. Keep a close eye on your cat if you have a passive diffuser. If you notice any sort of respiratory issue (trouble breathing, coughing) move your kitty into fresh air and move the diffuser to a different area.

Personally, I would rather not take a chance of potentially putting my cats in any danger. To me, having a pleasant smelling room isn’t as important as enjoying (and keeping safe) what is in the room (like the 3 boys to the right of this article).

Have you used essential oils in your home with kitties? I would love to hear about any experiences you might have had. Leave a comment below.

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14 Replies to “Are Essential Oils Harmful To Cats? – What Do I Need To Know?”

  1. Great article.. Keep up the good work…Really love this article base on how everything is outlined.. I was hooked from the beginning of reading this article.

    Would love to see more articles like these being posted on your website more often will definitely save this post for future.. The knowledge of the post is well put together everything that one needs to know about Essential Oils Harmful with Cats…

    1. Thanks, Michael for comment.

      I just started my blog and I’m researching a lot of different topics to share in the future.

      I appreciate you taking time to read and comment.

  2. You are full of wonderful information. This is very helpful. I did not consider that my kitty would be harmed by something so simple. I have used eucalyptus oil in my bathroom as it masks odors and leaves a clean fresh smell.
    Thank you, I will be throwing this out. Aside from essential oils, is there any other fragrances and air fresheners that we should avoid for the protection of our feline friends?

    1. Rosie,

      Thank you so much for the comment. I glad I did research about this before I bought one. I agree with you it’s something so simple it’s hard to believe that it could be dangerous.

      I did some more searching for your question about air fresheners and found an interesting article from PetMD. I might be throwing some of those products out. Yikes! That’s worth another article.

      Thank you again for visiting Nancy’s Cat Corner. Hope to see you again soon!

  3. I am a witness to the essential oils not being good for my pet! 

    I have a dog (named Jack) he’s a puddle mixed with a hound dog and my sister was giving jack a bath and she put a cinnamon essential oils into jacks bath. 

    When he got out, he smelled clean but jack wasn’t the same! 

    He stopped eating and had to go to the bathroom more frequently! 

    He even went to the bathroom on our indoor rug!

     We took jack to the vet and found out he was allergic to cinnamon, the vet gave us something for his illness and he was back to normal. 

    I don’t know if it was the oil its self or the cinnamon but we make sure to never give jack the essential oils in the bath!

    1. Wesley,

      Thank you for your comment. How scary.  I just checked an article on American Kennel Club and yes, cinnamon is poisonous to dogs.

      I’m so glad that you got to the vet and were able to get him back to normal. 

      It’s amazing how something so simple could be so dangerous.

      Thanks again for visiting Nancy’s Cat Corner.

  4. Hi Nancy,

    This is great timing for me since I received a diffuser for Christmas and have not used it yet. Thanks for this great information! I have 4 cats and I certainly wouldn’t want to do anything to risk harming them. I am very sensitive to strong scents myself and found out I can’t use candles and many heated wax room scents. 

    I see cinnamon on your list of bad oils for cats. Cinnamon was one of the oils that came with the diffuser. I also have had tea tree oil in the house for use as a means to open up the sinuses (along with cinnamon and clove). My husband would use those in a bowl of hot water and breath the steam. We did not use them in a diffuser but I am glad I know not to now!

    Thanks so much!


    1. Jessica,

      Thank you so much for your comment and welcome to Nancy’s Cat Corner. 4 kitties….that’s great. 🙂

      I’ve become more sensitive to strong scents myself as I’m getting older. That’s good for me and the kitties.

      I was so surprised that essential oils could cause such a problem for cats. I’m glad that you found this information helpful.

      Hope to see you again soon!

  5. Thank you Nancy for your so informative article.

    Very comprehensive and pertinent opinions about whether essential oils is dangerous for the cats. I never notice that the essential oil products may bring danger to my pets.

    Actually, i do not keep cats in my house. But i have one cute dog.. i’m not sure if the oil will be bad for the dog too? Looking forward to your opinions?

    1. Hi Shaun,
      Thanks for visiting. It was eye-opening when I was doing my research. I couldn’t believe it. I know that there are some oils that are dangerous to dogs. Some of the oils that are dangerous to cats are also dangerous for dogs. Pet Poison Hotline has an article about dogs and essential oils as well. Here is a link to that article.
      Thank you again for your comment.

  6. Hi Nancy,

    Thanks for posting this. My mom was just asking me about using essential oils in her condo that she shares with her cat. I will definitely share this with her!

    1. Leslie,
      Thanks for your comment. Sounds like you saw it at the right time. Thanks for sharing the information.
      I appreciate you stopping by and hope to see you again soon. 🙂

  7. Nancy,
    I just received a rescue cat (UNO) when a friend died. I have not had cats in a long time. This information is very helpful as I have a few diffuser’s around the house that use essential oils.
    After reading your article, I think that I will only use the candle ones in the living room as this room has a larger space than any other room in the house. I will not use any of the ones that spray the oil into the air.
    Are there any of the smells that are harmful to the cat, will any of them trigger Uno to not come into our space.

    1. Hi John,
      Thanks for visiting. I think that’s very smart to use them in a large room. The experts suggest if you do use them to do it in a larger space. That’s a great idea.
      Preventive Vet has a good article on harmful smells. We had one kitty (Oreo) that had a very sensitive nose. He did not like any new smells at all. We had to be very careful with new litter or cleaning products.
      I think a good rule of thumb is when you are using any scents and the kitty doesn’t come into the room that they might not like it.:-)

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