Pet-safe Essential Oils
While pet parents should avoid using the majority of essential oils, a few are safe for pets if used appropriately. For example, lavender (when used sparingly and in the proper concentration) is probably the safest essential oil for both dogs and cats. However, due to species variations, other oils that are safe for dogs may not be safe for cats.
When an oil is used, it needs to be diluted and applied appropriately. Because the degree of toxicity of essential oils is dose-dependent, the more concentrated the product, the more dangerous it can be.
Your veterinarian can advise you on dilution and dosage guidelines for specific oils, as well as which pet-safe carrier oils to use (such as coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, almond oil, and grapeseed oil). Most often, at least 1 drop of pure essential oil to 50 drops of a pure carrier oil is required for proper dilution of pet-friendly oils.
Keep in mind that even safe essential oils can still cause airway irritation if inhaled. It’s always a good idea to ask your veterinarian about the safety of an essential oil product marketed for pets – such as shampoos, sprays, or calming treats – before using them.
Furthermore, just because an oil is safe for a dog or cat doesn’t necessarily mean it will improve their health. For instance, citrus oils (including citronella and lemon oils), when used to repel pests, can theoretically help reduce the severity of flea and tick infestations as well as the presence of mosquitos. However, no scientific research has proven that these oils are fully effective at preventing disease-carrying external parasites or mosquito bites – especially not at a safe, non-toxic concentration. Therefore, essential oils should never replace veterinary-approved, year-round monthly flea, tick, and heartworm prevention measures.
Essential Oils Safe for Dogs:
- Cedarwood oil: acts as an insect repellant
- Chamomile oil: elicits a soothing effect and helps calm the gastrointestinal system
- Citrus oils (including lemon oil and orange oil): act as a mosquito repellant and deodorizer
- Eucalyptus oil
- Fennel oil
- Frankincense oil: currently being evaluated as a therapy for bladder cancer in humans and dogs
- Helichrysum oil: a member of the sunflower family with some potential in aiding bleeding disorders
- Lavender oil: induces a calming effect; Dog parents may also wish to consider the calming line of Adaptil® canine appeasing pheromone products, such as collars, sprays, and diffusers.
- Lemongrass oil
- Certain mint oils (peppermint, spearmint): help calm GI upset
- Rose oil
Essential Oils Safe for Cats:
- Chamomile oil
- Jasmine oil
- Lavender oil
- Rose oil
Essential Oils Bad for Dogs and Cats
When it comes to essential oils, it’s a bad idea to assume that what’s safe for the pet parent is safe for the pet. Due to metabolic differences, the same oil we can enjoy with no ill effects can cause GI upset, chemical scalding of the mouth or esophagus, as well as respiratory, neurologic, and liver damage in our pets. In severe cases, death may result.
Cats are especially susceptible to the toxic effects of essential oils. Being such fastidious groomers, cats are at increased risk of developing toxicity when oils settle on their skin or fur. In such cases, oils enter the body via inhalation, ingestion, and across the skin barrier simultaneously, quickly reaching a toxic concentration in the bloodstream. Because felines lack the enzymes that enable the liver to metabolize many essential oils and eliminate toxins, pet parents should avoid using oral, topical, and other inhaled oils around cats.
In addition to pets with respiratory disease (including asthma and bronchitis), essential oil use should also be avoided around dogs and cats with liver disorders, elderly pets, puppies and kittens, or pregnant or nursing animals. Furthermore, prevent pets with open wounds or sores from direct dermal contact with such oils, as the broken skin could allow for more rapid absorption.
Avoid applying essential oils to your pet’s sensitive areas – eyes, ears, nose, and genitals. For instance, attempting to treat ear mites by applying an essential oil to the ear canal can damage your pet’s skin, nerves, and eardrums. Leave the ear mite treatment to your veterinarian! Additionally, topical use of an essential oil like tea tree oil to treat dermatologic conditions, such as hot spots or skin allergies, often causes much more skin irritation. The risks greatly outweigh any potential benefit.
The following list is not exhaustive, but it contains some of the most common dangerous essential oils. If in doubt, consult your veterinarian or check the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC)’s website on toxic and non-toxic plants.
Essential Oils Bad for Dogs:
- Cassia oil
- Hot oils (including cinnamon oil, clove oil, and oregano oil): Although cinnamon oil is an ingredient in some over-the-counter “natural” flea and tick spot-on treatments and collars due to its potential pest repellent properties, it can be toxic to dogs and cats and is not fully protective against external parasites.
- Pennyroyal oil
- Pine oils
- Sweet birch oil
- Tea tree oil (also known as melaleuca oil): Tea tree oil is responsible for the majority of essential oil toxicity cases in dogs and cats. Though tea tree oil carries some antiseptic properties, it should never be fed to or applied to the skin or fur of a dog or cat. Even in diluted form, tea tree oil can be very toxic if ingested or applied topically to a dog or cat.
- Thyme oil
Essential Oils Bad for Cats:
- Basil oil
- Bitter almond oil
- Citrus oils (oils that contain d-limonene, including citronella, bergamot oil, grapefruit oil, lemon oil, lime oil, orange oil, and tangerine oil): Most cats dislike the scent of citrus. While you may be tempted to place citrus oils like lemon or orange oils around areas where your cat is urine marking or jumping where they shouldn’t, the d-limonene component of citrus oils is toxic to cats, so these products should be avoided. To help calm your cat and deter unwanted destructive behaviors, consider a safe and effective alternative, such as Feliway pheromone spray or diffuser.
- Dill oil
- Fennel oil
- Geranium oil
- Hot oils (including cinnamon oil, clove oil, and oregano oil)
- Juniper oil
- Lemongrass oil
- Menthol oils or mint oils (including eucalyptus oil, peppermint oil, spearmint oil, sweet birch oil*, and wintergreen oil*): *these two oils contain methyl salicylates, products similar to aspirin that are toxic to cats.
- Myrrh oil
- Nutmeg oil
- Oregano oil
- Pennyroyal oil
- Pine oils (these contain toxic phenols)
- Rosemary oil
- Sandalwood oil
- Sassafras oil
- Tarragon oil
- Tea tree oil (also known as melaleuca oil)
- Thyme oil
- Wormwood oil
- Ylang ylang oil
- Reference: Thank you from 24 Hour Pet Watch. More info here:
- Dr. Maranda Elswick graduated in 2015 from Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine with an emphasis in small animal general practice and special interests in preventative medicine, hospice care, client communication, and client education. She is a licensed veterinarian in Florida and Virginia. Dr. Elswick is also founder of The Meowing Vet, LLC, a quirky veterinary web presence with free health articles for pet owners, vet students, and veterinary professionals. An avid traveler, she currently resides in Florida with her fiancé (also a veterinarian) and their two dogs.