Cats have a unique genetic make-up that gives pause to the use of aromatherapy around them.
Because of this, we researched the toxicity of essential oils to cats. What we found — in short — was a lot of nonsense from non-scientific and non-medical sources proclaiming that some essential oils are toxic and should, at all costs, be avoided.
We, however, found nothing based on specific scientific research that confirms that diffusing any specific essential oil around your cat is toxic, dangerous or life-threatening, so long as certain precautionary steps are taken — steps we cover later in the article.
Your Cat and Essential Oils – Sensitivity in the Nose
What we have found is that cats have a heightened sensitivity to scents and smells. A 2017 research article in Applied Animal Behavior Science revealed that a cat has a scent sensitivity that is approximately 14 times greater than a human. 200 million scent cells are found in a cat versus 5 million scent cells in a human. So, what you’re smelling, a cat is really smelling!
Additionally, cats have scent glands located at the forehead, chin, lips, tail, and front paws. They also have the Jacobson’s organ in the upper part of the mouth.
Research reveals that all mammals possess three specific proteins located in the nose that function as scent receptors. One such protein identified as V1R is thought by experts to enable a mammal to distinguish separate scents in a compound. To compare, humans possess 2 variations of the V1R protein; dogs possess 9 variations; and cats possess 30 variations. What this reveals is that a cat’s sense of small is far superior to most other mammals.
Your Cat and Essential Oils – Sensitivity in the Liver
There is an erroneous belief that certain essential oils around cats should be avoided at all costs. There are also fallacies on the internet about what a cat will tolerate as far as essential oil scents go. For the most part, the research we uncovered gives no credence to the generalizations abounding in the media about the cat species intolerance to essential oils.
There is a lot of contradictory information concerning essential oils use around cats. The origin of the conflict is found in some medical logic. First, the liver in all mammals is designed to remove the build-up of toxins from the body. That requires certain enzymes present in the liver to accomplish this.
Cats lack a specific enzyme called glucuronyltransferase. This enzyme is responsible to rid the body of excess carbolic acid, also known as phenol. Phenols are a bi-product of plant metabolism. Without this enzyme, cats cannot void a toxic build-up of phenols and it can result in liver toxicity.
12 Signs of Cat Toxicity to Essential Oils
- Arrhythmia / Abnormal Heart Rhythm
- Mucous Membrane is Darkened
- Muscle Tremors
- Urine is green or black
Essential Oils That Contain Phenols, Terpenes & Ketones
What Essential Oils Contain Phenols?
Research suggests that most viruses, fungi, and bacteria cannot survive such compounds as phenols, terpenes,
- Basil (phenol – eugenol)
- Bay Laurel (phenol – eugenol)
- Cinnamon (phenol – eugenol)
- Clove (phenol – eugenol)
- Mountain savory (phenol – thymol)
- Tea tree
- Thyme (phenol – thymol)
- Ylang ylang (phenol)
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What Essential Oils Contain Terpenes?
Terpenes have great antiseptic properties. Essential oils containing terpenes, including alpha-pinene, which many sites warn against have positively effects on respiratory tract infections, arthritis, lymphatic systems, and skin parasites. One such alpha-pinene is found in pine essential oil. My cats always roll in the pine mulch and resin in the spring, summer and fall, possibly self-medicating against fleas. Never have they been ill-affected by any in the following list:
- Cypress (alpha)
- Dill (beta)
- Eucalyptus (alpha)
- Fir (alpha)
- Juniper (alpha)
- Myrtle (alpha)
- Nutmeg (beta)
- Pine (alpha)
- Rosemary (beta)
- Spruce (alpha)
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What Essential Oils Contain Ketones?
Essential oils containing ketones have calming and analgesic properties that promote healing (cell regeneration), decongestion and nerve health. Essential oils that contain ketones can be found in the following list:
- Blue Tansy
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What Essential Oils Are Safe for Cats?
Based upon the most notable research, you should feel comfortable using all or most essential oils around your cat. Toxicity is produced from highly concentrated levels of essential oils for any mammal. Small quantities, as in diffusing of essential oils will result in relatively harmless levels of concentration for your cat.
If an essential oil has a phenol constituent, then be sure that the oil is diluted to less than an 8 percent concentration level. If you can dilute your oils so that the phenol content has a low concentration level that means the following: 8 percent for phenols; 20 percent for ketones; 15 percent for d-limonene; and 15 percent for alpha-pinene.
If you are concerned, use a heightened caution with the following essential oils, which should be diluted to a 95 percent dilution rate if using neat:
Diffusing Is the Safest Form of Dispensing Essential Oils Around Cats
Cats typically tolerate diffusion of essential oils very well. Diffusing essential oils through a water-based and ultrasonic system is also a very safe choice. Diffusing essential oils is also the safest form of dispensing essential oils around cats for many reasons. A non-exhaustive listing of benefits to diffusing essential oils around cats follows:
- Diffusion allows dilution of the essential oil
- diffusion promotes an environment that is anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-parasitic
- diffusion allows ventilation in the room
- Diffusion allows your cat to leave the room if intolerant to the scent
If you are new to diffusing essential oils with your cat, then start off by choosing essential oils that have already been tested and known to be safe around cats. Cats, like all animals, have their own individual preferences. So when starting a diffuser method or an essential oil not already tested with your cat, stay vigilant and watch its reaction for likes and sensitivities.
Fun Note: grimacing does not mean an aversion, your cat is probably taking the scent into his Jacobson’s organ.
How to Diffuse Essential Oils Around Cats
Diffusion is the safest and most tolerated form of dispensing essential oils around cats. In a diffuser add 3 to 5 drops of essential oils. The diffuser can be turned on for short periods of time until there is apparent tolerance by the cat (see this video). When it is apparent that your cat tolerates an essential oil, then greater concentrations and periods of diffusion can be increased.
Begin diffusing by using only one essential oil at a time until tolerance is established. Make sure that the room is well-ventilated and that the cat has access to an exit, if he/she wishes to leave.
21 of Our Favorite Essential Oils for Cats
- Balsam Fir
- Blue Tansy
- Clary Sage
- Mountain Savory
- Palo Santo
- Roman Chamomile
Essential Oils for Cat Health
- Anxiety – Geranium, Lavender, Roman Chamomile and Valerian
- Arthritis – Copaiba, Pine, Spruce and Wintergreen
- Bleeding – Cistus, Geranium and Helichrysum
- Bones – Lemongrass, Spruce and Wintergreen
- Calming – Lavender (all animals typically respond favorably to the smell of lavender)
- Coat Health – Rosemary and Sandalwood
- Fleas & Parasites – Eucalyptus, Lemongrass, Peppermint and Tea Tree, (these help to repel fleas and other skin parasites)
- Inflammation – Pine, Spruce and Wintergreen
- Insect repellent – Blue Tansy, Eucalyptus, Palo Santo and Peppermint
- Ligament/Tendons – Lavender, Lemongrass and Palo Santo
- Mites – Peppermint
- Pain – Clove, Helichrysum and Peppermint
- Sinus – Eucalyptus, Myrtle and Pine
- Skin Cancer / Skin Ruptures – Clove, Frankincense, Geranium, Lavender, Melrose and Myrrh
- Ticks – Cinnamon and Peppermintnt
- Trauma – Lavender, Melissa, lavender, Roman Chamo
- mile and Valerian
- Tumors / cancer – Clove, Frankincense, Lavendar and Ledum,
- Worms and parasites – Anise, Fennel, Ginger, Juniper, Lemongrass, Patchouli and Peppermint
- Wounds – Helichrysum and Melrose
Research reveals that cats love scent and essential oils are very healthful and beneficial for your feline. A common sense approach is best to use when introducing any new essential oil or aromatherapy for your cat.
That being said, A good recommendation is to consult with your veterinarian if you have any concerns about using a particular essential oil around your cat. Also, having your vet test blood and urine before beginning to diffuse around your cat may help to relieve any anxieties that still remain.
Product data was last updated on 2019-11-08.