Essential oils can pose hidden dangers to cats

Just about every room in our house currently has an oil diffuser or scented candle in it. I’m not alone.

Essential oils have become all the rage for their use in aromatherapy and alternative medicine, in cleaning products, food and drink flavorings, herbal remedies, perfumes, personal care products and liquid potpourris used as home air fresheners and fragrances. In fact, look around. They’re everywhere! They’ve become so popular I’d dare to bet you have a form in your own home.

What I didn’t realize is that many liquid potpourri products and essential oils are toxic to cats, especially if ingested or applied topically. And, without knowing it, I may have created a potentially toxic environment for our six cats.

What exactly are essential oils? According to, essential oils are the concentrated liquids (volatile organic compounds) of plants. So, if the plants are toxic to our pet, then the essential oils derived from it are toxic.

Why? Essential oils and liquid potpourris contain chemicals that are rapidly absorbed orally or through the skin.

Many of these chemicals are known to be metabolized through the liver.

Cats are particularly sensitive to essential oils because they lack some of the liver enzymes necessary to effectively metabolize these oils. Additionally, very young cats, kittens and cats with liver disease are more sensitive to their effects.

Liquid potpourri and some essential oils can also irritate or burn the skin and mouth. Not to mention a pet’s heightened sense of smell, compared to humans.

Only a couple of licks or a small amount on the skin could be harmful to a cat, depending on the ingredients in a specific product and how the pet is exposed.

Cats can be exposed by tasting liquid potpourri as it simmers or by coming in contact with liquid from leaking or overturned containers. Cats in particular are prolific self-groomers, so if these products get on their skin, they will often ingest them.

Many liquid potpourri products and essential oils, including oil of cinnamon, citrus, pennyroyal, peppermint, pine, sweet birch, tea tree (melaleuca), wintergreen and ylang ylang can be poisonous to cats.

It is best to research to find out which oils are dangerous to your pets or talk to your veterinarian.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) lists essential oils like eucalyptus, orange and lemon (among others) as being among the leading causes for tremors among cats. The group also has warnings on its website (www.aspca

.org) for products that may contain essential oils.

I think of all the citrus sprays we use around the house and it makes me cringe. It also makes me now realize why our cat, Katie, literally flips out and runs out of the room any time I spray citrus spray near her. I can’t even begin to imagine how sensitive she is to the spray and I never knew.

Symptoms may include:

n Fragrance or scent on hair coat, skin, or breath or in vomit;

n Difficulty breathing;

n Difficulty walking or uncoordinated gait;

n Drooling;

n Lethargy or weakness;

n Muscle tremors;

n Pawing at the mouth or face;

n Redness or burns on the lips, gums, tongue, or skin;

n Vomiting.

Rapid diagnosis and treatment are imperative, according to vcahospitals

.com. If you believe that your cat has ingested or come in contact with essential oils or liquid potpourri, call your veterinarian immediately. The sooner you seek treatment, the better the prognosis and outcome for your cat.

Do not induce vomiting or give activated charcoal to your cat. This may worsen your cat’s condition.

Put the product packaging in a sealed plastic bag, and take it with you to the veterinary clinic.

If any product is on the skin or fur, quickly wash it off using hand dishwashing detergent.

Some types of oils are potentially more toxic than others, so recovery may depend on the specific oils ingested.

There is no antidote for this poisoning; however, with early intervention and supportive treatment, most cats can survive.

Keep essential oils and liquid potpourri products out of reach of cats at all times. Curious animals may want to investigate the sweet-smelling liquids, so never leave opened essential oils or simmering potpourri unattended. In addition, consult a veterinarian before using any essential oils or other herbal products on your cat.

Never apply a concentrated essential oil on your cat!

So much for essential oils. This cat mama is taking no chances.

Amy J. Hanna-Eckenrode is the author of “Have Dog Will Blog,” editor of the Central PA Pets magazine and director of the Central PA Pet Expo. She can be contacted at ahanna or by mail: Paws and Reflect, c/o Amy J. Hanna-Eckenrode, Altoona Mirror, 301 Cayuga Ave., Altoona, PA 16602.