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.
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.
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:
- Tea Tree
- …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.
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.
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…