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Cats - Beware of some natural remedies that can be deadly.

Updated on September 28, 2016
Jemimia and Jeeves
Jemimia and Jeeves
Minnie and our blind rescue cat Lily
Minnie and our blind rescue cat Lily
Jeeves and Dolly
Jeeves and Dolly


Essential oils – GREAT CAUTION


For many years the use of essential oils was considered acceptable for such problems as fleas, minor infected injuries and skin conditions. However, the problem is with the cat’s liver. This is most often the organ that is affected by primarily the terpene content of the oil. That is to say unlike human livers they lack the ability to properly metabolise the various compounds in essential oils. There is an article written by a Dr Khan which goes into this deficiency in more detail.


The toxic effect in cats can occur very quickly, through internal or external application, or by continuous inhalation of essential oils used in burners or fans but either way, it can lead to serious liver damage or even death. The same applies to essential oils applied to human skin and passed to the coat of the animal by stroking or other contact and subsequently ingested when cleaning the fur.


The following Essential Oils are potentially particularly toxic to cats


Peppermint, Lemon Oil, Lavender Oil, Melaleuca Oil, Tea Tree Oil and Cinnamon Bark Oil


Many flea and tick repelling essential oil blends are sold through alternative healing stores or websites. These often contain the most toxic essential oils to cats: cinnamon, pennyroyal, hyssop, thyme, eucalyptus, tea tree, wormwood, camphor, sage, rosemary and tansy. The instructions may state to apply full strength to the cat's coat or to dose like a liquid medication. Both of these practices can kill a cat, according to Colorado State University and many veterinarians. DO NOT USE THESE.


There is a publication called "The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies for Dogs and Cats." where heavily diluted Pennyroyal or Eucalyptus essential oil is added to cat shampoo to get rid of fleas. It states only one or two drops of Eucalyptus oil should be added to the cat's shampoo. They do say the cat needs to be rinsed off thoroughly so that no shampoo or oil is left on the body that could be swallowed when the cat grooms itself and it cautions to never just place Pennyroyal essential oil directly onto a cat's fur. Personally I would never use this idea as for a cat with failing kidneys or liver even a small dose can overload the system.


Before going further into essential oils just a few more words on liver disease in cats. In the early stages of liver disease, symptoms will include vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss, soft and/or grey stool, weakness and listlessness. As the disease progresses, your cat's symptoms may include jaundice, confusion, convulsions and a swollen abdomen from fluids accumulating. In its final stages, symptoms include nervousness that will manifest itself in circling, head pressing, aimless wandering and possible aggression. The cat may have a staggering gait, become blind, be aggressive and fall into a coma. These symptoms are caused by the build-up of toxins in the animal's brain and its inability to expel them and are not reversible. Such procedures as liver transplants exist but they are expensive and usually require the killing of a healthy unwanted cat – which is totally not acceptable. Kidney transplants are similar but as there are two organs the donor cat is not killed but you must be prepared to adopt and love it as your own cat. I must say I have serious reservations about this also.


Even after what I have said you must use an essential oil or essential water in any preparation there are five rules to follow:


Always allow your cat to choose if it will tolerate an essential oil, Do Not Use Essential Oil on a cat if it resists in any way!


Essential oils must always be used in very high dilutions (max 1 drop to 10ml, preferably as little as 1 drop in 25ml can still be effective)


Never put essential oils on a cat's body


Never, ever close a cat in a room with an essential oil burner or fan


Never use essential oil that contains phenols


Despite being recommended in the book "Herbs for Pets." Do not use Lemongrass, or Cymbopogon citratus as a flea treatment.


Under the supervision of a licensed homeopathic veterinary practitioner, Chamomile hydrolated oils are administered orally for a variety of ailments including respiratory issues and stomach pains caused by an excess of bacteria, as stated by the "Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians." When used orally, chamomile is a mild laxative that promotes the passage of parasites, foreign objects and backed-up faecal matter. Personally I have yet to see definitive clinical trials which examine the effect on an elderly cat or one with impaired liver or kidney function. Most clinical trials are carried out using young fully fit animals.


Another book "For Pet's Sake," advocates using Lavender oil for skin problems. I thoroughly disagree with this as Lavender is toxic and the cat will ingest it when it immediately cleans it fur.


Cats can become overwhelmed by the odour of essential oils, sniffing and licking if the person smells of oils. Cats can also behave as they do with catnip (another essential oil) running around and having mad moments. This suggests that the cat really loves essential oil, when, in fact, it is literally driving them crazy.


Other natural remedies:


Most cats are fed on proprietary wet or dry cat foods which are missing many of the natural ingredients their digestive systems are evolved for. Two of the most important are EPA and DHA fatty acids i.e. Omega -3. Capsules are available but as always the trick is to get them to take them. Vets seems to have the knack and perhaps they will show you.


Milk thistle is recommended for cats with liver disease or any liver problems caused by other medications or treatments (such as chemotherapy). Milk thistle helps repair damaged cells and helps protect healthy cells from being damaged. Because it does both, milk thistle may be helpful for cats who already have healthy livers by protecting them from future damage from other medications, such as aspirin. By all means chat with your vet for more information regarding milk thistle and how it can help your cat.


Dandelion has also been used for the treatment of liver disease in cats. It has been used for many years to help stimulate liver function and increase the flow of bile. It is also thought to help relieve jaundice, increase appetite and cleanse the cat's body of toxins. As I have no doubt you have seen, cat will sometimes graze in the garden and eat certain "weeds" to address a particular problem. In many ways a cat is a better judge of what will work and what will harm it.


Herbal medicines and minerals can play a role in treatment of liver disease in cats. Some commonly used treatments for liver disease by themselves or in combination with steroids, other prescription drugs and/or other herbs and holistic treatments. Trials indicate such remedies include burdock, natrium phosphate and turmeric extract but I haven’t seen the results of the clinical trials yet and consequently cannot recommend their use. As and when the results come in I will update the hub.


© 2012 Peter Geekie

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    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Many thanks for this, Peter as many of us use natural remedies on our cats.

      I am a little worried as when I first took in my cat, The Toof, he was a stray tom with a huge abcess on his head which I healed using tea tree oil diluted in warm water. He was totally agreeable to this bathing of what must have been a very painful wound.

      However we are six years down the line and in that time he has blossomed into a handsome, healthy beast so I guess I got the dilution right that time. Won't be using it again though thanks to your info. Again ... many thanks for the warning.

    • Peter Geekie profile image
      Author

      Peter Geekie 5 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Thank you for your comment Angie.

      The Toof being probably a bullet-proof tom with the constitution of an ox would shrug off a diluted Ti-Tree treatment. A lesser cat may have had problems with an essential oil straight into the blood stream.

      Cats are a particular worry as their liver and particularly kidneys seem to be able to function, without symptoms, even down to less than 10% efficiency, then suddenly give up.

      I remember in my early days of pharmaceutical chemistry working on a cure for human leukaemia when one of my cats was diagnosed with feline leukaemia. It suddenly struck me that I was nowhere near as clever as I thought I was as I could do nothing. I did not have the luxury of time to develop anything meaningful and she slipped away much too young. Since then I have divided my time between human and animal work with a particular emphasis on natural or native remedies. As an extension of my human essential oils work I looked at animals knowing of its use in dogs and larger animals. Again I was shocked to find that what I had assumed to be an ideal natural remedy for cats had a catastrophic effect on their livers. Among my other work I will spend some time on looking further into this, but in the short-term will keep my cats away from essential oils or essential waters.

      Kind regards Peter

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Thanks for this Peter ... it might be a good idea if you could write about the dangers to cats from lily pollen as well. I know it's a killer but, unlike me, you would be able to 'flesh' it out a little with facts.

    • Peter Geekie profile image
      Author

      Peter Geekie 5 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Thank you Angie - it's on the list and I will get to it as soon as possible.

      Kind regards Peter

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Hi Peter, this is such important information. Who would have guessed? I don't have a cat at the moment, but it would never have dawned on me that essential oils could actually harm the cat. As you said dandylion etc is fine especially as the cat knows what to eat when its outside, fascinating stuff, thanks, and I learned something new again!

    • Peter Geekie profile image
      Author

      Peter Geekie 4 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Thanks for your comments Nell, essential oils are great tools in natural medicines but not for cats.

      Kind regards Peter

    • Healthyannie profile image

      Healthyannie 4 years ago from Spain

      Lots of people are still applying essential oils to pets bedding hoping it will keep fleas away. Tea tree oil is a big no-no for any pet.

      Many pet owners who have pets with skin conditions insist on using lavender and tea tree essential oils on their pets. I see this a lot in my work. It is very hazardous, and tea tree drops on the back of a dog's neck can kill it. It causes what looks like a burn, and spreads rapidly throughout the skin. If your pet has a skin conditions use Omega 3 (fish oil) to treat the pet as this is a safe treatment. Flax seed oil is excellent for dogs. It is also really good for their brains, and eyes. A safe skin rinse for dogs is weak Chamomile water (made from tea bags if you like) let it cool down and pour over the dog. Rosemary essential oil can cause fits in cats and Idiopathic vestibular syndrome in dogs. Brewers yeast is great for feline leukemia. Love your animal friends. Annie

    • Peter Geekie profile image
      Author

      Peter Geekie 4 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Thank you Healthyannie,

      The sooner it gets through to people that in the vast majority of cases essential oils and cats & dogs can cause serious injury or death, the better.

      kind regards Peter

    • Peanutritious profile image

      Tara Carbery 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK

      Oh no! I burn lavender in my bedroom and have a tea tree oil shampoo for my Dog! I feel terrible now and will stop using both immediately. A really useful hub Peter, thanks.

    • Peter Geekie profile image
      Author

      Peter Geekie 4 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear Peanutritious ,

      Thank you for reading this article. The warning about shutting an animal in a room with an essential oil burner or diffuser running relates to actually to shutting the animal in. If you have a normal ventilation flow and the amount of oil is not overpowering then the animal is unlikely to be harmed. The warning is primarily aimed at people who use essential oils to mask odours and either soak the bedding or put a burner into a room where the animal sleeps and shuts the door.

      Yes please get rid of the T tree oil shampoo, there are less harmful treatments on the market.

      Kind regards Peter

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you Peter. I have three cats and this is very important information. Your cats are lovely and sweet. IN my family we have a practice of taking inn abandoned cats and once I accepted a truly feral cat. An unbelievably difficult adjustment period, but he has now been a sweet and loving member of the household for 12 years. Sharing.

    • Peter Geekie profile image
      Author

      Peter Geekie 4 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear phdast7,

      Thank you for your comments. I am one of these soft touches that loves, or at least, admires most animals. I think it is the unconditional response whether its love or has got you marked down as an early supper.

      There is nothing wrong with using natural remedies it's just that people should remember natural is not always good.

      Great work with your abandoned cats. Because my three are delicate Siamese the best I can do, these days, is to rescue them from their bad environment, pay to have them checked over and vaccinated and found a loving home. If I didn't we would be over-run.

      Kind regards Peter

    • profile image

      tracey 3 years ago

      My cat licked lavender oil off her paw. I put on her to help her itch it was an empty bottle which I filled with water to get the most of the fragrance. After reading how toxic it is im now extremely worried as she is off her food.i really hope she isn't poisoned, im so so worried now

    • Peter Geekie profile image
      Author

      Peter Geekie 3 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear Tracey,

      Luckily the lavender oil was very dilute and is unlikely to have poisoned her although it may make her feel quite unwell. I'm sorry for the delay in replying but I have computer problems.

      If your cat has not recovered by now I think a check-up at the vet is in order.

      kind regards Peter

    • profile image

      Kathi 17 months ago

      I put Rosemary oil in my diffuser and my cat went frantically sniffing around so I didn't use it again just in case it was affecting him in a negative way. I use pepperment in my diffuser nightly and it doesn't seem to bother him - should I ''not'' use the peppermint essential oil at home? I only use the Rosemary at work now.

      Thanks!!

    • Peter Geekie profile image
      Author

      Peter Geekie 17 months ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear Kathi

      Any essential oil will adversely affect a cat if it is forced to breath in the vapours. Some affect the cat more than others. If the cat has a room to go with no vapours present you should be OK to continue, but stop if it shows any signs of distress. Some breeds are quite fragile whereas a big old tom cat can shrug off most things.

      kind regards Peter

    • profile image

      Kathi 17 months ago

      Thank you so much for your reply and for the work you do!

    • profile image

      peter geekie 17 months ago

      Dear Kathi

      Thank you for the reply. I am all for natural remedies but it needs care as some can be dangerous. I have seen articles which advocate that because a product is natural it is by definition harmless. Some of the most deadly poisons in the world are natural or herbal.

      kind regards Peter

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 10 months ago from Northern California

      I used some tea tree oil on a fungus on my toe, one of my cats smelled it and started to vomit. This is a valuable hub. I was going to address this issue myself, but your Hub covers it. Good writing!

    • Peter Geekie profile image
      Author

      Peter Geekie 10 months ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear Garnetbird,

      Yes it can be frightening just how violent the reaction some cats can have to relatively small doses of essential oils. In the case of weak or elderly cats this can be deadly.

      Kind regards Peter

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