The Science Behind Essential Oils and Cats
Let’s start with a basic understanding of cats. Cats are a unique animal species—just as dogs are unique and humans are unique. Cats are, well, cats! So the protocols used to treat or nurture cats has to be unique to their species. One example of this in the current misinformation out there about cats is that all essential oils are toxic to them, because they are “deficient” in their liver enzymes, and cannot metabolize essential oils. The fear is that the oils could build up over use, cause horrible side effects or even death.
But cat experts—veterinarians, some with specialties in Veterinary Aromatic Medicine, are able to share more specific truths about the metabolism of cats. Beginning with—it’s a completely different metabolic set than ours because, well, cats are cats. They aren’t “deficient” in enzymes any more than humans are deficient in fur. They have a unique metabolism, and must be treated uniquely as cats.
Cats can metabolize essential oils, and they will not build up over time when the oils are used correctly for cats. Cats take much longer to eliminate a drug than a dog…or a pony…or you or I. The amount of time it takes the liver and kidneys to break down and filter half of the amount of a drug is called a half-life. A half-life for a cat is almost 38 hours. A dog needs only 9 hours. A pony only 1 hour. For most medical purposes, a drug clears a human’s system in 5 half-lives (each drug has its own half-life, ranging anywhere from seconds to days).
Cats have less ability to metabolize an enzyme called glucuronyl transferase than other species. That makes them more susceptible to all kinds of toxicity, including plant, NSAIDS (aspirin, Tylenol), chocolate, caffeine, lead, many types of pesticides, and, in the case of impure essential oils, even essential oils.
For that reason, the important things for us to deal with in this post will be:
- What essential oils are pure enough to use on cats?
- What specific essential oils should never be used on cats?
- What specific essential oils are safe to be used on cats?
- What ways can essential oils be administered to cats?
1. What essential oils are pure enough to use on cats?
It’s not hard to find essential oils to buy. But, buying a good one…a pure one…can be a challenge. Online sites, including Amazon, are loaded with fake or watered-down or polluted essential oils. Let me give you a few guidelines for spotting the good stuff!
- How it looks: Try this test—place a drop on white printer paper and let it dry. It there’s an oily ring left behind, it’s not a pure essential oil (except for a few exceptions that are naturally heavier in consistency and color).
- The price: It’s smart to be wary of an essential oil with a super-low price tag. Remember that it takes a roomful of plant material to fill just one bottle of essential oil, and some botanicals are scarce.
- The name: Make sure the plant’s Latin name is listed on the label, or on the webpage. Otherwise you might be getting a hybrid.
- The container: All essential must be stored in dark blue or amber glass bottles to keep the oil from degrading from ultraviolet radiation.
- The feel: Rub one drop between your fingers. True essential oils should never feel thick or greasy.
- How it pours: The bottle should ideally have a plug that controls how many drops come out. It should never have a plastic or rubber dropper pipettes, which can break down and taint the oil.
- How it’s cultivated: Essential oils should never be raised where they have been contaminated by pesticides. Oils labeled “wild-crafted” have been harvested in the wild, away from pesticides. Make sure the oils are organic.
We only use dŌTERRA because they have more stringent testing and purity/quality checks than any other company. But even dōTERRA oils must be purchased through a wellness advocate (not amazon) to be sure you are getting the genuine oils.
2. What essential oils should never be used on or around a cat?
It is important to avoid certain essential oils for DIRECT (topical) application. While research shows that cats have a decreased ability to metabolize some of these oils, it does not mean they are completely unable.
Here’s a list of oils that you should use cautiously around cats. It’s important to note that most of these oils are on the list because of gross misuse of the essential oil by the owner. This means the oil was applied undiluted and over 5-10 times the recommended amount.
These oils should not be applied topically and used in diffusion only (with a door left open for the cat to leave the room).
- Tea Tree
- Citrus oils
Here are some simple tips:
- When diffusing essential oils in your home, always leave a door open so your cat is not confined to one room.
- Never pet your cat after applying these essential oils to your own skin.
- Keep your oils stored where your cat cannot reach them.
- Don’t use toxic oils to clean anything your cat could lick or rub (example: if your cat likes to jump on your counters and/or lick up spills on your floor, avoid using citrus oils in your cleaning solution).
- Use only higher dilutions of essential oils on your cat. You should be heavily diluting any essential oils you apply on your cats.
3. What specific essential oils are safe to use on cats?
Let’s begin with this caution: As we discussed earlier, cats take much longer to metabolize chemicals than many other animal species—including humans—so all essential oils should only be used infrequently on cats. There are at least five essential oils that most experts feel are very safe for cats when used sporadically and topically (with heavy dilution of 1 drop of essential oil to 1 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon). These are:
There are many others, but these are considered to be the safest.
Essential oils should always be diluted when used with cats. Also, because just as every human is unique, every cat is different, and you should always consult your veterinarian if you are concerned about the effect of essential oils on your cat. The vet can give you some blood work reports to ensure your cat has no underlying disease.
4. What ways can essential oils be administered to cats?
There are several ways that essential oils can be used with cats. Water diffusion is a very safe method. If you are diffusing an essential oil that might be toxic to cats, be sure you are not diffusing where the cat’s food and litterbox are kept, and make sure the kitty is not “locked” in the room with the diffuser. Most cats will simply go away if they don’t like an oil being diffused. Dr. Janet Roark, DVM, says this: “I find that most often, though, she needs the oil as much as I do, and sleeps as close as she can to the diffuser. The Protective Blend is one of her favorites!”
- Try making a litter box powder with 1 cup of baking soda and 3-4 drops of an essential oil of your choice. Stir the mixture well and let it sit overnight to saturate the baking soda. Then sprinkle this on your cat’s litter box.
- You can apply oils topically (very diluted) using 1 drop to a teaspoon or tablespoon of carrier oil, and using just a drop of that mixture. Apply along the cat’s spine or rub the tips of the ears.
- You can also make a natural insect repellent for your cat using essential oils. To repel fleas, use 1 drop each of lavender, rosemary, and cedarwood with a tablespoon or so of distilled water, and spritz your cat once a day.
- A repellent for ticks can be made using 1-2 drops each of geranium and lavender in a tablespoon or so of distilled water.
- If your cat has ear mites, you can try a mixture of 1 drop of Rosemary diluted with a teaspoon of carrier oil, then use a cotton swab barely dipped in the solution to clean the ear. Rosemary inhibits ectoparasites and reduces inflammation.
Dr. Roark's top 10 essential oils for Cats:
- Myrrh: powerful cleansing properties, especially for the mouth and throat, soothing to the skin, promotes awareness and emotional balance and well being, use when tension levels are high, maintains peaceful feelings
- Lavender: calming and relaxing qualities, soothes occasional skin irritations, eases feelings of tension, promotes restful sleep, reduces anxious feelings
- Frankincense: Supports healthy cellular function, rejuvenates skin, relaxation, balances mood, soothing
- Helichrysum: promotes a healthy metabolism, promotes vitality and energy, soothing to skin
- Digestive Blend: great for road trips, promotes healthy digestion, soothes occasional stomach discomfort, promotes a healthy gastrointestinal tract, eases feelings of queasiness, helps reduce bloating, gas, and occasional indigestion
- Grounding Blend: promotes a whole-body sense of relaxation, evokes feelings of tranquility and balance, promotes restful sleep, eases anxious feelings, use on car rides to create a calm environment
- Protective Blend: an effective alternative to synthetic options for immune support, supports the body's natural antioxidant defenses, protects against seasonal and environmental threats, supports healthy respiratory function
- Juniper Berry: Supports healthy kidney and urinary tract function, natural skin toner, acts as a natural cleansing and detoxifying agent, use as part of a natural cleansing regimen, diffuse for positive feelings and to lesson stress. Blends well with cypress.
- The Repellent Blend: acts as an effective insect repellent, helps ward off insects
- Arborvitae: protects against environmental and seasonal threats, powerful cleansing and purifying agent, naturally repels insects, grounding aroma, evokes feelings of peace and calm. Blends well with cedarwood and frankincense.
***Note: be sure to dilute EOs when using them with cats - 1 drop in a tsp or more of carrier oil. Check out the information in the Notes section of this Facebook page for more detailed information on using essential oils with cats safely.***