Tea Tree Oil And Cats – Is It Safe For Them Or Toxic?
Approved By: Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM
Certified Content. This article has been fact checked and verified by our veterinary adviser.
“Tea Tree” is a tongue twister much like “toy boat”. Try saying it five times in a row! Still, it is at least easier to say than melaleuca oil, its other name. In its native Australia, the tea tree is also called the paperbark tree, swamp tree and broad leaf tree.
People like to use it. But is tea tree oil for cats safe? Well, for starters, the Australian government classifies it as a schedule 6 toxin.
Bad enough nearly all the animals in Australia are deadly, it looks like the plants are out to get you too! Ironically, the tea tree has been called the “herb of the angels” due to associations with archangels Michael and Gabriel and use in exorcism. It might indeed be angelic when used on minor skin irritations, but it's quite devilish if swallowed.
What is Tea tree oil … (1 minute read)
Is Tea tree oil safe for cats … (2 minute read)
How to treat the toxicity in cats … (1 minute read)
Ways to prevent poisoning … (1 minute read)
How your cat may get exposed to it … (1 minute read)
What Exactly is Tea Tree Oil?
The oil of the tea tree is obtained from the Melaleuca alternifolia plant, which is found in Australia and other subtropical regions. It is distinguished by a camphoraceous odor and a color that ranges from pale yellow to clear.
The aboriginal people of Australia would break leaves to release oils that could be inhaled by someone with a cold, used as an insect repellent or rubbed on a minor wound or skin irritation.
Many people use it as a natural remedy for such skin conditions like stings and bites from insects, acne, boils, athlete's foot, scabies, dandruff, lice infestation, cuts or burns and for fungal and microbial infections.
Tea tree oil can also be used to effectively treat comparable maladies in pets. However, recent reports show that it can be extremely harmful to dogs and cats if used at one hundred percent strength.
Studies show that if allowed a full-strength tea tree oil treatment, symptoms in dogs and cats can range anywhere from simple depression and weakness to vomiting and collapse.
Tea tree oil for Cats safe?
For the most part, no. Full strength tea tree oil is a big mistake.
Young and very small cats are especially susceptible to ill effects. There are various types of chemicals found in tea tree oil, one of them called terpenes. These are the chemicals that cause the oil to be effective against bacteria and fungi.
However, they are also a highly toxic agent. Terpenes are quickly absorbed into the body whether taken orally or topically. This means concentrated oil application to the skin can result in the very same toxicity as accidental oral ingestion. Given the tendency of pets (especially cats) to use their tongues to groom, the toxicity risk of topical applications is multiplied several fold.
Tea tree oil for fleas and mites on cats
One essential oil that is often brought up in discussions of flea and mite prevention is tea tree oil. Many people recommend using this in various formulations to either repel or kill fleas and mites. Tea tree oil can kill fleas alright, but it can also kill your cat.
The crux of the problem is that that tea tree oil is only safe for cats in extremely low concentrations. What's more, these concentrations are far lower than what would be required to repel and kill fleas.
So.. Any way to use it for fleas?
As far as cats and fleas, mites and other parasites are concerned, tea tree oil is either toxic or completely useless. Look for a better alternative.
Symptoms of Essential Oil Poisoning
A cat suffering from essential oil poisoning may experience respiratory distress in the form of wheezing, fast breathing, panting or coughing. She may experience ataxia in the form of wobbliness and general difficulty in walking.
She may act very depressed. Drooling and vomiting are also common signs that a cat has been poisoned. Tremors, lack of appetite and a low body temperature are other signs of trouble.
If your cat is experiencing any of these symptoms, get her to a veterinarian right away. You can also call Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680.
How to Treat Tea Tree Oil Toxicity in Pets
Unfortunately, there is no known antidote for terpenes.
What treatment exists is based upon the level of toxicity. A mild illness may only need decontamination of the skin with a bath in dish soap. It is not recommended that you induce vomiting.
The neurological effects of the terpenes, plus the thick quality of the oil, significantly up the risk of aspiration pneumonia should vomiting be induced.
The effectiveness of activated charcoal orally administered in binding terpenes after oral ingestion of tea tree oil is currently unknown. Vomiting control with medications is vital before giving your furry friend any activated charcoal. Activated charcoal should really not be given to pets that have severe symptoms because of the risk of aspiration of the charcoal liquid.
Skin decontamination plus support therapy with intravenous fluids are the standard treatment. Vomiting, muscle tremors, and seizures are tended to with medicine as needed. This treatment may be necessary for up to three days after exposure.
As terpenes are poisonous to the liver, the use of liver protectors like SAM-e and silymarin (milk thistle) for two weeks is also highly recommended.
How to Prevent Tea Tree Oil Poisoning in Pets
Even though tea tree oil is potent in treating certain skin conditions in pets, it has not at all been proven to be any better than other traditional medications. As a matter of fact, the concentrations of tea tree oil recommended for many skin problems far surpass the concentrations found in most pet products (We are talking faint traces, .1%-1%).
An important point I have to make:
The allurement of using an “all natural” product as opposed to a synthetic, artificial treatment may simply not be worth the risk. (Do not forget; everything is chemicals.) Using dilutions of one hundred percent tea tree oil should be completely avoided in pets. It is far too easy to make a miscalculation on the precise amount of oil to use.
In conclusion, oils of any sort should be safely stored far away from pet access, particularly the ingenious, inquisitive cat.
The reason people can safely use tea tree but cats can’t….
Tree tea oil is effective in treating skin ailments in humans and some people find it an effective treatment for lung congestion when inhaled. Orally ingesting tea tree oil is toxic even in humans. Keep in mind that cats use their tongues to groom themselves. Anything you put on Kitty's fur will eventually land in Kitty's mouth.
Terpenes are also quickly absorbed in the skin and cats have thin, delicate skin which means they absorb such things even more quickly. Do not think that “natural” means “non-toxic”. Lots of perfectly natural plants are toxic. For instance, poison ivy and tobacco are perfectly natural but also perfectly poisonous.
Ways That Your Cat May Be Exposed to Essential Oils
Many homemade cleaning products contain tea tree oil. Many lotions, shampoos and toothpastes make use of it. So are some deodorants and hand sanitizers.
If tea tree oil is put in a diffuser, it can be all over the air in your home, which means it can easily settle on your cat, who may suddenly feel that a grooming session is in order. Be careful what cleaning products you use in your home around your pet.
If you like to use oils in an odor diffuser, only use the kind that are safe to use around your cat. Some people keep it in the bathroom to add a few drops to their bath water to create a medicinal steam to treat lung infections.
Keep anything poisonous up where your cat can't get to it. Do not use shampoos, toothpastes or topical ointments meant for humans on your cat. Ask your veterinarian for cat safe alternatives.
Always request veterinary advice
Your veterinarian knows what's medically best for your cat. This person is the first one you should go to for advice on how to safely treat your cat. You and your veterinarian can work together as a team to provide your furry friend with the best care that she deserves. Listen closely to your vet's advice. Take notes if it helps. Don't be afraid to ask questions.
Chances are very good that your vet has a pamphlet or three about whatever it is that you are concerned about. VetLive and PetCoach and JustAnswer are three good online sites to get free pet care advice from an expert at any time of day. However, while any vet is helpful, the absolute best advice will come from a vet who knows your cat as an individual.
There is just no substitute for working one on one with an animal and examining that animal's unique situation. Next to you, the veterinarian is the best friend your cat could have.
First of all, you yourself might want to think twice before using tea tree oil. Tea tree oil should not be anywhere near your mouth, so throw out any toothpaste or mouthwashes that have it as an ingredient.
A study comparing tea tree oil to clotrimazole in the treatment of nail fungus showed that they had indistinguishable results. Compared to benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of acne, the tea tree oil took longer to work, though it had fewer side effects.
Another study on tea tree oil as an antifungal agent showed it to be just as effective as tolnaftate. Some people find that it causes irritation and swelling of the skin. It has also been known to disrupt the hormones in prepubescent boys causing gynecomastia.
Tea tree oil is a natural ingredient found in many human medicines and cleaning supplies. However, it is not good for cats. If you find a flea treatment marketed for cats that touts tea tree oil as an ingredient, chances are it's too diluted to be effective against fleas. Ask your veterinarian for something both effective and safe to use.
Keep in mind that tea tree oil is not monitored for purity or safety by the United States Food and Drug Administration and the Australian equivalent requires it to be stored in childproof containers. Even if you purchase tea tree oil solely for your personal use, only purchase from a reputable source and keep it out of reach of your pets.
Is tea tree oil toxic to animals?
Tea tree oil is often found in varying concentrations and high concentrations should never be used on pets. As little as 7 drops of 100% oil has resulted in severe poisoning, and applications of 10-20 mls of 100% oil have resulted in poisoning and death in both dogs and cats.
Can you put tea tree oil on cats for fleas?
When diluted and used safely, tea tree oil can kill and repel fleas. But it is among the herbal treatments listed as especially risky in the Merck Veterinary Manual. If your cat or dog licks the oil off, which pets tend to do as they groom, your pet could get very sick.
Can cats be around tea tree oil?
In small concentrations (.1% to 1%), tea tree oil is tolerated and safe for cats and dogs. Unfortunately, the oil's popularity has resulted in larger numbers of households with bottles of 100 percent tree tea oil, and accidental ingestion or improper dilutions of this highly concentrated oil can be harmful to pets.
Can I use tea tree oil on my cat for ringworm?
For ringworm, apply a few drops of tea tree oil directly to the affected area. You can also mix a few drops into their shampoo and wash them with it. If you see any new redness or bumps, stop using tea tree oil and see your veterinarian.