Essential Oils and Cats – Should You Believe The Hype?

Cat With Oils - Essential Oils For Cats

The topic of essential oils and cats is a big, noisy debate. It’s a wonderful thing to seek out natural remedies for feline asthma or for whatever else ails the kitty, but as we know, nature is a harsh mistress who must be treated with respect.

Our feline friends may act like tough guys, but on the inside, they’re quite delicate. Apart from being much smaller than us humans, their vital organs process things differently to ours, so what’s safe for us could potentially be life threatening for the cats in our lives. Essential oil therapy is an effective and popular home remedy for the body, mind and spirit, but is it safe for the feline? Let’s find out.



What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are naturally occurring volatile aromatic compounds found in the roots, stems, seeds, bark, flowers and just about every other part of plants. They’re what give plants their fragrance, they play a part in pollination and they help to protect the plant from the elements. Most pure essential oils are extracted from plant matter through steam distillation.Natural Medicine - Essential Oils Cats

Volatile aromatic compounds are small molecules that change from their liquid state quickly at room temperature. The physical and chemical properties of these aromatic compounds allow them to move quickly through the air and straight up your nose into the olfactory system, making them ideal for diffusion.

More than 3000 different essential oils have been identified to date and they’re used for all kinds of physical and emotional healing. The great thing about plants is they’re are constantly changing – this means that their compounds are always evolving so it’s very difficult for the nasties to develop immunity to their goodness. Essential oils are highly concentrated and as such must be diluted in a carrier oil or with the use of a diffuser.



Are Essential Oils Safe For Cats?

There’s a lot of controversy and hype surrounding this and for good reason. The short answer is: yes and no – used incorrectly, essential oils can kill cats. This is because cats lack the liver enzyme that’s needed to break down the compounds in some essential oils, so these compounds hang about in the feline system much longer and can cause serious liver trouble, even when inhaled rather than ingested.Sparrow Sitting Pretty - Essential Oils And Cats

Does this mean all essential oils are bad for cats? Not necessarily. It really comes down to the quality of the oil and the amount of dilution. Remember that cats are much smaller than us – in terms of tolerance you can think of your kitty as a furry infant with a unique liver. Using pure, medical grade essential oils is always the best bet to ensure your cat is getting all of the benefits without any hidden nasties.

As well as the difference in body mass and liver functioning, felines have an incredible sense of smell that is about 14 times better than ours…and essential oils are smelly. Whatever essential oils do to you, they do to your cat in a more serious way.

Used correctly and with caution, essential oils can provide kitty with a gentle, non-invasive fix for many common ailments of the body, mind and spirit.



Essential Oils Toxic For Cats

I couldn’t write about essential oils for cats without mentioning some of the common oils that you should never use around your cat, even if you dilute the crap out of them. These oils are high in phenols and hydrocarbon monoterpenes – compounds which are particularly difficult for cats to metabolise. Essential oils to avoid include:Danger Danger - Essential Oils Toxic For Cats

  • Peppermint
  • Cinnamon
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Thyme
  • Tea Tree
  • Lavender
  • Pine
  • Neroli
  • Juniper
  • …and any other oil containing phenols.

Please note this is not an exhaustive list and I am not a vet. Caution and common sense should be used at all times when it comes to the health of your asthma cat, especially when using anything for medicinal purposes.



Aromatherapy and Cats

Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils for the wellbeing of body, mind and spirit. The word ‘aromatherapy’ should tell you something – it’s all about the smells. As I mentioned earlier, cats have an extremely keen sense of smell, so anything overly smelly is going to offend the hell out of the kitty. This applies to everything, not just aromatherapy – please use extreme caution, under the direction of a holistic vet if you want to try this at home, kids.

Cats Eyes - Essential Oils For Cats

Generally, essential oils enter a body in one of three ways – applied directly to the skin, inhaled or ingested. If you’re a human this is all well and good, but if you’re a cat it’s a slightly different story – remember, they’re like furry, self-cleaning infants. Because of their delicate systems, it’s important to highly dilute essential oils before you go anywhere near your cat with them.



Essential Oils and Cats: How to do it Safely

The oil that you choose will depend on the kitty complaint you’re trying to fix, but don’t assume that because it does something for you, it will do the same thing for your asthma cat. Peppermint oil, for example, is great for coughs and respiratory issues in people, but highly toxic to cats. Anything containing phenols should be avoided completely and any oils that you do use need to be 100% pure.Fresh Air Sparrow - Essential Oils And Cats

Your cat will likely tell you which essential oils he likes or hates. Never shove an open bottle of anything under your cat’s nose – besides the fact that you could overwhelm or injure your cat, it’s really bloody rude. Cats need to be in control of their situations, so let him discover the scents on his own terms.

Diffusing essential oils may seem like the safest bet for both you and your cat, but this also needs to be approached with care. Make sure there’s adequate ventilation and a kitty escape just in case he can’t handle it.

Proper dilution is important so that you don’t irritate, overwhelm or poison your special feline snowflake. There are a small number of brands who make essential oil blends especially for pets, to address a number of common ailments. My personal opinion is that these are best, but should only be used under the direction of a vet who specialises in holistic wellness.


Do you use essential oils with your cats, or do you disagree with everything I’ve said here? Say your piece in the comments box below…

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  1. Your cat is beautiful, as a cat lover I would like to have a space where I could come to visit to see pictures of Sparrow. I know that sounds a little crazy but honestly some of the sites I visit often I just go to see what the cats are up to and see pictures of their latest escapades.

  2. Wow, I guess I didn’t realize how many different oils were harmful to my cat. Thank you so much for you post. Good and very useful information. Thanks!

  3. Your article is an eye opener. I recently bought two different aromatherapy oils, Peppermint lavender and rose. You know, just to keep the house smelling good. Bubbles did not show any reaction though she did avoid going upstairs for awhile (that’s where I burnt the candles). I never knew it could be deadly. Does rose oil do the same harm? Does this mean that I can never use aromatherapy oil at home? Thanking you in advance and really appreciate the information provided.

    1. Hi Veena, yes you can still use essential oils at home, BUT you have to be very careful. Make sure you’re only using 100% pure essential oils that are safe for cats – peppermint and lavender are reported to be high in phenols, a compound that cats can’t metabolise well. Listen to your cat – if Bubbles doesn’t want to be around the smells, chances are they’re no good for her.

  4. Nope, can’t say as I have tried any treatment like that on my cat. As far as I know she is not asthmatic either though. She is pretty healthy as far as I can tell. She really doesn’t complain much. Pretty content to just sleep and shed really.

    Thanks for the post. It makes a lot of sense and a wake up call for cat owners. Be careful with your feline’s treatments. don’t treat them like a human. Goes for the same with dogs.

    1. Absolutely, Brent. The more I learn about dealing with Sparrow’s asthma, the more I realise just how delicate cats really are. Just makes them all the more cute, as far as I’m concerned!

    2. Hi Veena. You mentioned you bought aromatherapy oils. It’s important to note that many aromatherapy oils are not pure essential oils. Many have chemical and toxic fragrance ingredients added. The wording can be misleading!

  5. Thank you Shirley for the information. Having 2 cats of my own, I look forward to the new posts you make. I have a question. Does certain types of cat litters help or hurt cats Asthma? My cats used to go to the litter box, lately they been going next to the litter box. I switched to something new. With the oil/scents you mentioned if that could be in the cat litter. Thank you.

    1. Hi Regina, I’m glad you asked! I’m researching litter at the moment, obviously dust free is best for asthmatics, but there are a lot of different quirks that individual cats may have to litter. If you’ve just changed brands suddenly that could be why your cats are not going in it. Perhaps you could try mixing the new brand of litter with the old, gradually increasing the amount of the new stuff. Your cats could have an aversion to the scent, or it could just be that they’re freaking out because it’s new.

  6. Oh My! Such an informative site! I never in a million years would have ever thought that our feline’s would be so subject to such dangers in our aromatherapy world. Thank you so much for all the great information. ~~Vicky

    1. Thanks Vicky! It’s quite eye-opening, isn’t it? Cats are really sensitive to many things and we have to be careful and responsible when thinking about alternative therapies, even if they’re safe for us humans.

  7. Well this was eye-opening. I usually use essential oils (straight up or barely diluted) in my hair overnight. And Blanche sleeps right next to my head. I wonder if she’s been affected by any of them…I definitely use lavender, grapefruit, ylang ylang, and rosemary on the regular, but very rarely peppermint. Hm. It’s not like she’s licking my head but she can definitely smell it. I’m going to need to be way more cautious about this from now on.

    1. Here’s the thing, Penny. Cats are WAY smarter than us, and way more intuitive so you’d think they’d know to stay away from harmful things. If Blanche was bothered by it she’d probably choose somewhere other than right next to your head to sleep. I did find a lot of information supporting the use of essential oils with cats, so it can’t be all bad. But yes, caution is a good thing.

  8. I am a cat lover myself and I get concerned about Freddie’s (my house cat) breathing when he sleeps. It sort of sounds like he is snoring. This is spring so it is this time of year, and pollen is high in my area. I read through your site and I never thought about aroma therapy for cats. I agree in your list of toxic oils; yes those are deadly to cats. I have Freddie on a vet-prescribed medicine and I use an air purifier, which helps me as well as Freddie 🙂

    1. Snoring Freddie! That’s kinda funny – Sparrow snores too. It might be nothing to worry about, some cats are just snorers. Keep an eye on him though, and if you notice any other weirdness with his breathing get him checked out. Thanks for saying hi, Karen.

  9. Ahhh thank you for writing this! I’ve always wondered, being a cat mommy and recently into essential oils, if I’m harming my cats in any way. Great info!! Question: If I’m diffusing an oil (or blend) that’s on the avoid list, is that harmful to my cats? Should I keep them out of the room it’s diffusing in? Or just let them have free reign to all rooms to get away from it if it bothers them?

    1. Amanda, even if you’re diffusing an essential oil, it’s still getting into your cat’s system. Please be very careful using any oils around your cat, especially the ones on the ‘bad’ list. Even if it’s not harmful, the smell might be overwhelming so I reckon it would be best to dilute more than usual and always make sure your cats have somewhere to get away to if it’s too much for them.

  10. Hi Shirley,
    I have thought about the toxicities of oils to cats, but you are right, they are very sensitive animals. This is a very informative and interesting site. I have a cat that looks very much like yours. Cats definitely make my world a better place. Keep up the great job.

  11. Hi Shirley,
    I am a cat lover as well as an essential oil enthusiast. I have always heard about being careful with essential oils when cats are in your house but I never understood which ones could be harmful. Thank you for letting me know that any oils containing phenols should be avoided when it comes to cats.
    What is the best way to test out an oil on your cat?
    Thank you for your information.

    1. Thanks for saying hi Ev, it’s nice to hear from an oily cat lover!

      It’s probably best to let the feline decide on the oil thing – you could open a few bottles and let your cat sniff them out but be really careful doing this. If you notice any distaste or disgust for a particular oil from your cat then don’t use that one and of course stay away from the dangerous ones.

  12. I never would have thought that something like this could be harmful to cats. It’s good to know for people with cats, especially since all this aromatherapy stuff is getting so popular

  13. You put together a really great article here! I love your site for these reasons. Thanks for such great info for care of cats, its good to know and to be aware of what is helpful and harmful to our feline friends! I hadn’t thought of essential oils for cats until I read this post so am glad that I have the info behind my belt now. Thanks loads 🙂 x

  14. Thank you for this article. I have always heard about using essential oils, but never used them on my cat. I am glad I came across this because I am now aware of what can happen if they are given oils. Cat owners need to be aware of this. Thanks again

  15. I’m a huge fan of essential oils and have a lovely diffuser in my home. We have recently been discussing adding a cat to our family once our youngest son reaches 1 year of age, and I had no idea that some essential oils are toxic to cats. In particular, I use peppermint, lemon and tea tree frequently around the home. Is the concentration that would be coming out of a diffuser (water vapour) enough to be harmful to a cat? Which oils would be safe to diffuse around a cat?

    1. Hi Caroline,

      I think to be on the safe side, it’s probably best to avoid diffusing the oils containing phenols around your cat. Even though it’s dilute and diffused, those compounds are still getting into the bloodstream. I’m no vet, but it’s better to be safe than sorry – I’d stick to stuff especially formulated for cats. Check out this site for more information and cat safe oils.

  16. Your cat is the cutest! (But, not like my little tabby lol) What’s funny about this is the fact that my cat loves smelling essential oils. I have a lot of them in my cubby and whenever I open one to use, he would come rushing to see what the heck I’m doing. I do have a diffuser in the house, and he would often sit by it when it’s on to get a smell of the lavender. Not sure if it is healthy or not but, he hasn’t been acting weird and it’s been 3 years.

    1. Hey thanks Liz, I reckon he’s pretty cute too.

      I don’t know for sure, but logic tells me that a cat isn’t going to sit beside a diffuser if what’s in it is bad for him. I guess if he’s not acting weird all’s good…but I’m just a concerned citizen and not an actual vet so I could be wrong…

  17. A very interesting and well researched article about essential oils for cats. However I really wonder how Oscar our cat would react to being treated with them as he doesn’t react at all well with foreign substances being smeared on him! On a different topic I always thought cats loved catnip plants for calming effect but Oscar just ignores the plants we have! A good article

    1. Hi James. Yeah it’s probably not a good idea to be smearing oils on your cat, if you were going to try it I’d suggest checking with your vet first and maybe diffusing a safe oil to see how Oscar handles it.

      It’s funny about the catnip thing, some cats just don’t get into it at all. Check out this article I wrote about catnip if you want some interesting facts about the stuff. Thanks for stopping by again.

  18. Your articles are so informative & easy to understand. Hubby gave me a diffuser for Christmas along with lavender and echinasia. I use about 4 drops in the diffuser &run it downstairs. Lala is usually upstairs.

    On that note, before her diagnosis, I had (still do sometimes) spray my pillow with a very mild lavender. She’s never sneezed or had an asthma attack when I’ve done that. In fact she seems calmer.

    What’s your take on all of this?

  19. Hi! I am new to is site. My Ragdoll cat, Milo, is really having a hard time right now with his breathing. I have taken him several time to the vet. First he was given an antibiotic shot which the vet suspected an upper respiratory infection which he didn’t. Next she gave Milo a cortisone shot for the inflammation which only helped for a few days. I have researched and researched and found all the symptoms of asthma are what he is experiencing. We are heading to a specialized hospital for animals in a couple of days of which I hope my cat doesn’t get any worse than he is now! He does not eat or drink on his own now which I give to him with a syringe. The doctors are going to scope his airway to see what is going on. Is there any questions I should ask???

    1. Hi Dee, welcome to my little site, I hope you’re finding it valuable! Your story sounds very similar to mine and Sparrow’s, it seems there’s a bit of trial and error with diagnosing what’s going on. How did you go with the scope of the airways? My best advice is to listen carefully to the vet and ask for more information if you don’t understand. I’m so glad you’ve been doing your own research, it’s really important to make sure you know all of your options and learn from others’ experience. I hope Milo is ok, please come back and give us an update and if there’s anything I can help to clear up for you please do sing out 🙂

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