We’ve been alarmed by some of the essential oil recommendations for pets online recently. Sometimes it’s for commercial gain in the lucrative natural pet remedy sector, such as using toxic Pennyroyal in flea treatments. Self-appointed experts often recommend essential oils based on the fact that they are beneficial to humans, or tolerated by one animal species. Acting on that assumption can be fatal. This article is intended to provide a summary of the more deadly essential oils that are sometimes recommended for pets.
While we don’t give much thought to it when using essential oil products for humans, the higher sensitivity and smaller size of animals makes it absolutely crucial that we be aware of potential danger. Treatments can impact animals differently than they do humans, and there are variable tolerance levels among species as well. When using essential oils, we must research the possible safety issues through reliable sources of information. Misused oils can be toxic and should always be administered with the guidance of a professional.
Phenols (a chemical group in oils such as those derived from Thyme & Oregano), Monoterpene Hydrocarbons (such as Pine), Phenylpropanes (such as Basil & Cinnamon), and many essential oils in the Ketone group (such as Pennyroyal and Wormwood), should be avoided all together when treating animals. We must also consider age, illness (such as epilepsy) and pregnancy when administering essential oils.
30 Essential Oils that may not be Safe for Pets
- Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
- Birch (Betula)
- Bitter Almond (Prunus dulcis)
- Boldo (Peumus boldus)
- Calamus (Acorus calamus)
- Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora)
- Cassia (Cassia fistula)
- Chenopodium (Chenopodium album)
- Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum)
- Garlic (Allium sativum)
- Goosefoot (Chenopodium murale)
- Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)
- Hyssop (Hyssopus sp. with the exception of Decumbens)
- Juniper (Juniperus sp. with the exception of Juniper Berry)
- Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
- Mustard (Brassica juncea)
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
- Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
- Red or White Thyme
- Rue (Ruta graveolens)
- Santolina (Santolina chamaecyparissus)
- Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
- Savory (Satureja)
- Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
- Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)
- Terebinth (Pistacia palaestina)
- Thuja (Thuja occidentalis)
- Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
- Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Note that these are only the essential oils that have been tested on one or multiple species. Therefore, this is not a comprehensive list.
It is important to keep in mind that many oils that are fine for dogs and horses, are not good for cats (such as Citrus and Pine), rabbits or birds. Based on the expert information I’ve read, I don’t recommend the amateur use of most essential oils for cats, rabbits or birds. There are high quality hydrosols for pets that are safer for non-professionals to use on cats and very small mammals.
Extreme caution should also be used when infusing the air using oil based aromatherapy diffusers, candles, etc. Closely observe these sensitive pets for signs of a negative reaction, use minuscule doses, and use only for a few minutes at a time. For more information, read Common Diffuser Essential Oils that may be Toxic to Dogs, Cats, Birds, Etc. Never use essential oils at full strength on any animal.
Additionally, you may see an essential oil recommended for a specific use, while it isn’t safe for a different application. Many essential oils can be used topically but not internally. Conversely, some essential oils may be used internally but will irritate the skin. Also, the extreme concentration of essential oils may make a type dangerous for pets, whereas using the plant or herb itself is not an issue.
The quality of your essential oils is another concern. For safety and effectiveness, therapeutic-grade essential oils must be obtained from a reliable store that is committed to using only premium suppliers. We dismissed several of our personal suppliers before finding Starwest Botanicals, and now rely on them almost exclusively for our essential oils. As a general rule, if you find an essential oil at a price that is considerably lower than other suppliers, it’s probably a lower grade or at least diluted.
Kristen Leigh Bell, an expert in essential oils for pets, writes, “Essential oils produced for holistic and medical aromatherapy uses are carefully monitored through all aspects of the process – from the growth of the plants to the distillation process itself. Distillation is treated scientifically, with the utmost care being given to the temperature and timing of the procedure to ensure a complete oil is extracted from the plant material, which in turn yields the greatest therapeutic value.”
Natural medicine is subject to the same precautions as synthetic substances because they can be every bit as powerful. We suggest you use extreme caution when acting on the advice you read online.
Read More About Essential Oils for Pets
If you’d like to learn more about essential oils for pets, I’ve read all of the following books and can recommend them with confidence:
- Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals: A Comprehensive Guide to the Use of Essential Oils & Hydrosols with Animals by Kristen Leigh Bell
- Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy by Suzanne Catty
- A Healthy Horse the Natural Way: A Horse Owner’s Guide to Using Herbs, Massage, Homeopathy, and Other Natural Therapies by Catherine Bird
??? Have you seen any toxic essential oils in pet products? Please tell us about it in the comments below.
Bell, Kristen Leigh. Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals: A Comprehensive Guide to the Use of Essential Oils & Hydrosols with Animals. 2002.
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13 thoughts on “30 Essential Oils That May Not Be Safe For Pets ©”
Hi Melody, Its really a nice post. Thanks for sharing such a informative information. We need some more good post like this for our pet’s health.
Hi Melody, I appreciate the homework you’ve done for writing this incredible pet food info. The only thought that came to my mind after reading, is that this would have been complete if you could also include 10 essential oils to include in my pet foods or dog supplements, Thanks!
Thanks Lynda! There are many essential oils that are safe for natural healing in pets. For therapeutic use in food, we usually stick to dried herbs, extracts, and other natural supplements. You may find this post helpful in that regard:
Using Nutritive Herbs for Pet Dietary Supplements (with Recipe)
News to me and valuable news at that! Some pet owners are far too complacent when doling out “natural remedies”. They just don’t know and they won’t know unless people like you spread the word. I’m more cautious most of the time and now I’ll be downright PARANOID LOL 😉
You’re wise to be careful, Troy. There are many wonderful natural treatments and preventatives available for pets, as long as we exercise due diligence. Thanks so much for commenting. 🙂
I’ve always been wary of garlic and I’m surprised to see so many products with garlic as the ingredient. And I see lots of pet products with tee tree oil, so I’m started asking how it’s been diluted. One of my readers had a dog who had a very bad reaction to tee tree oil (absorbed through paws). I don’t want that experience.
Some are borderline or only truly dangerous at full strength. It can be tricky too, like a bit of minced garlic in food could be fine, garlic essential oil too strong, and garlic extract is usually just the most active component (allicin). Tea Tree oil is definitely the most abused essential oil because it’s so common amongst humans and it’s usually full strength. I think some products just add a drop so they can say it’s in there to appeal to humans.
I’m totally floored that there’s so many unsafe oils!! Why aren’t the products regulated if they’re dangerous??
A lot of the natural ingredients haven’t been tested to any great degree. Some are also approved as long as the product content doesn’t exceed a certain amount. It pays to research.
The most responsible and definitive info I’ve ever seen is on this site. I don’t know if I’ve ever thanked you so consider yourself thanked now, from the heart. We need more writers like this and you set the standard.
Thanks so much for taking the time to make my day, Jazmin. Love your name, by the way, I don’t think I’ve seen the spelling before.
My cat has had problems with ear mites off and on for years. I just can’t seem to ever rid him of the mites once and for all. I’ve taken him to the vet numerous times but the ear-drops they give me do not work. They only worked on him once when he was a kitten. His flea meds do not completely get rid of his mites either though they are supposed to. So I tried a little tea tree oil on him without checking to see if there were bad side effects (stupid) and it did clear up his mites. So then months pass and he starts scratching his ears again. I put a few drops in his ears and he starts acting really weird, so I googled it and find out tea tree oil can be toxic for cats. I immediately wiped out and washed out his ears and vowed only to use vet prescribed meds. Again tho, they don’t work on him! He is allergic to flea bites and seems to have general skin sensitivities so I don’t know if that plays into the problem. This last time he came down with a bad case of mites, I tried a TBL of coconut oil with one tiny drop of tea tree and mixed it together, pouring half of the mixture into his ear. He didn’t like the feeling in his ear but acted fine otherwise. I did this for three days and his mites are gone. Obviously I don’t want to hurt or endanger my cat by administering oils that could possibly be toxic but it seems like in diluted form it has been okay so far. He seems fine and really happy now that his ears don’t itch. My cat is an older cat but he’s a big, strong 16 lb Mine Coon so maybe his size helps him to tolerate the oil in moderation? I’m not going to give him the oil at all unless he starts showing signs of mites again. Will probably keep his ears cleaned out with some apple cider vinegar in between and dilute the oil even more next time and see if it still works on him.
Thanks for sharing your experience. You may find this post helpful:
Ear Infections in Dogs and Cats – Natural Treatment and Prevention
Essential oils like Tea Tree are hard on a cat’s liver. Even if he isn’t showing symptoms, it could still be taxing the liver. Cat’s have to be heavily impacted to show symptoms of most things. I suggest trying a more gentle option.
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