Are Essential Oils Poisonous to Cats?

Your client calls and may ask you for information about cats and essential oils.

  • Can they safely use tea tree oil to treat fleas?
  • What about using a diffuser to scent the house?
  • Are candles a danger?
  • What if the cat licks my body lotion?

These oils are found in many products from skin preparations to diffusers and candles to their most concentrated forms in a bottle or vial. Do you know what advice to give, and what information you can provide, to reassure and warn your clients?




“Should I be worried???”


Examples of commonly found essential oils in products made for use in the home:

  • Tea tree oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Lavender oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Pine oil
  • Clove oil
  • Citrus oil
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Wintergreen oil

The oils are highly-scented and extremely volatile and are a skin irritant and inhalant hazard to all pets in their concentrated forms – but are especially so for cats in any form, from very dilute to ultra-concentrated, as cats have difficulty eliminating the oil, if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Cats lack an essential liver enzyme to metabolise and eliminate the toxin, (and likewise for any phenolic compounds found in the oil product).

Most diffusers and candles contain only a slight amount of the essential oil, as it is there mainly to produce a scent, so the hazard for inhalation exposure is small; nevertheless, these products are far more dangerous if ingested, applied topically (skin irritant) or worse – absorbed through the skin (e.g. should the contents of a diffuser splash onto the skin).

Care should therefore be taken to ensure that the products are kept well away from possible interference by the cat – and with care taken to handle/control the product safely when it is in their pet’s presence.


There are diffusers that emit particles of oil into the air i.e. an electronic, ultrasonic or nebulising diffuser (rather than the traditional passive reed-type diffuser). These should be avoided as it is possible droplets could land onto the cat’s fur and be ingested through grooming or indeed absorbed directly through the skin. The risk is small; however, it is best to avoid using these types of diffusers, just in case. Please reassure clients that a Feliway diffuser is safe!

Symptoms of essential oil exposure:

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Ataxia
  • Tremors
  • Panting
  • Respiratory distress
  • Hypothermia
  • Bradycardia
  • Liver compromise (to failure) can develop if exposed to a highly concentrated form of the oil.

And finally, in answer to your client’s questions…

  1. Treating for fleas with tea tree oil. The answer is clearly NO. As 1. You risk poisoning the cat and (if you are feeling sassy) tell them that 2. It only makes the fleas smell great…
  2. Using a diffuser. The answer is that the vote goes to non-electronic dispersal diffusers as the best option, if you must use them. However, the safest option is not to use anything and open a window to freshen-up a room (so long as the cat doesn’t try to escape!).
  3. Candles. Should be okay but remember that naked flames can also be a hazard if knocked over or if their pet gets close enough to get singed!
  4. Body lotions (and similar). No doubt their pet will suffer a short-lived ptyalism episode, as the taste will be nasty to them, but other than that (unless having ingested a lot – unlikely) it is safe to use them.

If in doubt you could try this site: