Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia or Melaleuca leucadendron oil) has become quite common in households, either in its pure form or in products. It offers a host of antimicrobial benefits (primarily due to Terpunen-4-ol, alpha-terpineol and linalool constituants), which has made it popular for everything from minor injuries to acne.
The popularity of Tea Tree Oil for human use has naturally extended to pets. It can be found in everything from pet shampoo to flea treatments. This isn’t because it has unique abilities. It’s simply a popular essential oil for humans which they will recognize, associate with something wonderful, and purchase. However, the safety of Melaleuca oil for pets continues to be debated.
Melaleuca oil is quite a powerful essential oil so it doesn’t require much to be effective. The general consensus is that most animals tolerate heavily diluted Tea Tree Oil, be that dilution in a base oil or a drop in a large bottle of shampoo. Limited use of heavily diluted Tea Tree Oil shouldn’t be a problem for most dogs, ferrets, horses and fish, but there is a higher risk if the treatment is somewhere the animal can lick. It isn’t recommended for use on rabbits or cats.
Generally speaking, the smaller the pet is, the more chance there is of any essential oil reaching toxic levels. Animals with preexisting conditions that are irritated or triggered by Tea Tree Oil will obviously react badly to its use in any dose.
Most reports of Tea Tree Oil toxicity have been under the following circumstances:
- Small dogs
- Undiluted use
- Preexisting conditions
- Ingested (contains cyclic terpenes)
Symptoms of Melaleuca oil toxicity include:
- Muscle Tremors
- Lack of coordination
- Depression or behavioral disorders
Symptoms may be apparent immediately, but more likely two to eight hours after use. See a veterinarian if your pet has any of these symptoms.
If you decide to use Tea Tree Oil:
- Purchase formulations from reputable sources, preferably with the percentage of Melaleuca oil stated on the bottle.
- We suggest that you not use Tea Tree Oil on cats due to their high degree of sensitivity to essential oils.
- Never use undiluted essential oils on any animal.
- Avoid eyes and other sensitive areas.
There are many other essential oils for pets that offer the same benefits with less risk, so you may want to play it safe and explore those instead. Niaouli (Melaleuca viridiflora) is a relative of Melaleuca alternifolia with similar properties in a milder form. You can also try Sweet Marjoram (Origanum marjorana), Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum), Grapefruit seed extract, Ravensare (Ravensare armomatica) or Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), to name a few. Hot spots with excessive licking can be safely treated with Calcium Montmorillonite Clay.
For aquarium use, most fish-keepers use a Tea Tree product called Melafix to treat external injuries and infections (primarily gram-positive bacterium). You can make your own diluted Tea Tree Oil treatment using a dispersant, but it still won’t be dispersed as effectively as Melafix due to a process the manufacturer uses to effectively remove the oil from Melafix. I’ve made my own formula and it appeared to work, but a refined product would be more effective and less messy. Note that there are conflicting reports of Tea Tree Oil tolerance levels in Labyrinth fish.
What have your experiences been using Tea Tree Oil products for pets?
Villar D, Knight MJ, Hansen SR, Buck WB. Toxicity of melaleuca oil and related essential oils applied topically on dogs and cats. 1994.
C. F. Carson, K. A. Hammer, T. V. Riley. Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties. 2006.
Wynn, Susan G. DVM. Emerging Therapies: Using Herbs and Nutraceuticals for Small Animals. American Animal Hospital Assn. 1999.
Bell, Kristen Leigh. Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals: A Comprehensive Guide to the Use of Essential Oils & Hydrosols with Animals
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Natural, Organic Flea Treatment and Control (With Herbal Rinse Recipe)
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Natural First Aid for Pets – External Applications of Montmorillonite Clay
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