Updated: Dec 9, 2019
You may have seen a recent post that went viral about a family's 16 year old cat who became very ill from what the author claimed to be exposure to certain essential oils. I understand how concerning this may be to both people who do and do not use essential oils, so I wanted to address this concern. I have been using essential for four years for my family and myself, which includes a 60lb black lab mix. I am not a veterinarian, but I have taken time to learn safe ways to use essential oils to support my animal companion. I have done my own research on using essential oils with animals, I am part of several online support groups, and I personally know many people who use oils that have cats and other animal companions.
Over the last four years, this is the first time I have heard of someone's animal companion near death because of diffusing essential oils. I might be sheltered as I only use one brand of essential oils and most of my support groups also only use this brand, but before you throw out your entire oil stash or cross oils off your list forever, there are some really important things we should address.
CREATED FOR DIFFERENT PURPOSES
Not all essential oils are created equally. It is a big mistake to assume they are. Some essential oils are intended to provide wellness benefits and some are intended only to make things smell nice. The way essential oils are grown, distilled, and produced greatly affects the quality of the essential oil. A common practice of some companies is to add adulterants during the distillation process to help increase yield and to help sweeten the aroma. When adulterants are added, it changes the chemical composition of the essential oil and can deplete the benefits you were initially seeking in using that oil.
Another common practice is to produce synthetic essential oils, meaning they were created in a lab and are typically of fragrance grade. Most people use essential oils to avoid toxic chemicals, but synthetic essential oils are toxic chemicals.
The reason I only purchase oils from one company is because they own many of their own farms and have established strict standards for the planting, growing, harvesting, distilling, testing, and bottling of their essential oils. Many companies are not involved in any of these steps and are more concerned about selling a popular product for profit versus providing the world with options from nature to support a healthy lifestyle.
USING ESSENTIAL OILS SAFELY
As an essential oil user, I know animals can also benefit from essential oils when used properly. I also know each animal has different considerations for using oils. For example, diluting is a very important part of using essential oils topically for both people and animals. Diluting simply means adding the essential oil to a carrier oil to ensure even application and absorption and to reduce risk of skin sensitivity. Carrier oils include oils like extra virgin olive oil, grapeseed, or coconut oil. Diluting does not decrease the effectiveness of the oil, but increases the safe usage of an oil. Dilution ratios vary, but basically, the smaller or younger you are, the more you need to dilute. So there would be a big dilution difference among a 1,000lb horse, an 80lb dog, and a 10lb cat. The horse would be able to tolerate a minimally diluted essential oil while the cat would need their essential oil heavily diluted. More does not mean better when it comes to essential oils. A single drop is very potent.
The same is true for diffusing essential oils. Just a few drops of essential oil in a diffuser is plenty to experience the aromatic benefits. The viral article never discloses how many drops were diffused, nor the instructions given on the label, but it did say the diffuser was used for several hours for several days. I would imagine this would have been quite an adjustment for everyone in the household as this would be excessive usage, even for a seasoned oiler. And even more problematic if the essential oils used contained adulterants or were synthetic.
GOOGLE, OUR FRIEND
As you know you can find almost anything on Google. If you want to read something bad about something, you can find it. If you want to read something good about something, you can find it. So I sought unbiased search terms, omitting words like "good" and "bad".
"Essential-oil Related Cat Deaths"
First I Googled "essential-oil related cat deaths". I was really looking forward to citing some statistics here, but I really can't. I went through dozens of articles. Nothing I explored gave specific cases of cats or animals dying due to essential oil toxicity, but most articles do indicate the reason certain essential oils might be toxic is because cats are lacking glucuronosyltransferase, a liver enzyme that helps metabolize volatile molecules. Essential oils are volatile, so the conclusion is a cat may have difficulty metabolizing certain essential oils which could lead to toxicity. It's very important to note this is not saying XX number of cases or deaths are related to essential oil toxicity, it is simply saying it is a possibility.
"Poison Related Cat Deaths"
Then I thought I should Google "poison related cat deaths". Finally some statistics! While I couldn't find numbers for poison-related deaths, I did find this information from preventivepet.com (2018): "In 2009 the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center handled:
45,816 calls involving prescription and over-the-counter drugs such as painkillers, cold medications, antidepressants and dietary supplements
29,020 calls related to insecticides
17,453 calls pertaining to people food
7,858 calls related to ingestion of common house and garden plants
7,680 for veterinary medications
6,639 related to rodenticides
4,143 for household cleaners
3,304 related to heavy metals (lead, zinc, and mercury)
2,329 for fertilizer and other garden products
2,175 for household and automotive chemicals."
Again, I didn't find any specific numbers on deaths, but this clearly shows thousands of cases of possible animal poisoning related to many common household items.
"Things Toxic to Cats"
I next Googled "things toxic to cats". Without even having to click on anything, these items popped up:
So these are basically things that are in almost every home. Clicking on this article published on WebMD's website would also reveal several more items commonly found in homes:
Pain relievers (acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen)
Vitamins and other supplements
Xylitol (found in sugarless gums, candies, toothpastes)
De-icing salts (which pets may walk through, then lick from their pads)
Dog flea and tick medication (pills, collars, sprays, shampoos)
Insect and rodent bait.
As you can see, many common household items are known toxins to cats, yet they are probably still in your home even if you do have a cat. It's all about proper usage and storage for keeping our animal companions safe. The same things go for essential oils.
"Essential Oils Safe Usage Guidelines for Cats"
Finally I Googled "essential oil safe usage guidelines for cats". You will find a lot of info when you search this with varying opinions, even from certified aromatherapists and veterinarians. Since there is a divide on which essential oils are safe and which are not, here are the most important things you need to know:
Purchase your oils from a reputable source, not big box stores or third party sellers. You want to ensure your essential oils are pure and unadulterated with harmful chemicals and synthetics.
Gradually introduce your animal companion to your oils (you should do this for yourself, too). Essential oils can be detoxifying and therapeutic, so allow your animal companion and yourself to acclimate to this new lifestyle. Start with an oil every couple of days. Begin by diffusing about 5 minutes and only use a few drops. This gives you time to evaluate how each oil makes you feel. As you become more acclimated, you can add more diffuser time and more oils to your routine.
Always allow your animal companion the option to leave the room when you are diffusing by leaving a door open. If they are turned off by the aroma, they will leave the room.
Always read the label on your oils for safe usage instructions. If it says to diffuse up to 15 minutes, diffuse for 15 minutes or less, not 8 hours. If it says to diffuse 4 drops, do NOT diffuse 24 drops.
If you have to apply an oil topically, be sure to heavily dilute in a carrier oil such as coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil. Here is a quick how-to guide that recommends 80-90% dilution.
Not all essential oils are created equally. I cannot stress this enough. If you find oils significantly cheaper than leading brands, stay away. They are more than likely adulterated or synthetic and contain toxic chemicals and will not provide you the benefits you are looking for anyway.
Remember, millions of people with animal companions are using essential oils, and an animal companion becoming sick or dying from an oil is not typical when used properly.
While it is uncertain if the essential oil caused the symptoms the cat experienced and unfortunate the cat experienced difficulties, this post did provide us the opportunity to have real conversations about using essential oils safely and the many poisons we have lurking in our households.
In the viral post, the author tells of Googling the dangers of eucalyptus essential oil only after the cat was experiencing out of the ordinary symptoms. The author also wonders why there are no warning labels. As it turns out, there are many, many resources available regarding safe usage of essential oils. Additionally, most of our homes are full of toxic chemicals in our cleaning supplies and personal care products, but they also do not contain warning labels for every danger possible. As consumers we do need to be diligent in doing our own research and making decisions based on what we feel is best for us and our families.
To sum things up, here are some important things to take away from this article:
One drop of essential oil goes a long way. ONE DROP. To this day I rarely diffuse more than 5-7 drops at a time, and I have been using them for 4 years.
Always give your animal companion an option to leave the room in which you are diffusing. ALWAYS.
Essential oils only need to be diffused about 15 minutes for you to receive the benefit. If you have animals, limit the time you diffuse, especially when first starting out.
Buy your oils from a person or place where you will receive support for using your oils. This would exclude places like Amazon; Wal-Mart; Bed, Bath & Beyond; and so on. Essential oils can be difficult to navigate on your own. You are not saving anything by buying cheap oils from big box stores.
Always read the label for safe usage guidelines.
It is irresponsible to put essential oils under an umbrella of dangerous substances when adverse experiences are rare and can typically be traced to misuse or misapplication.
It is always our own responsibility to understand how to use the products we are purchasing for our homes.
My thoughts are with the family and their animal companion from the post that inspired this article, and I hope his health continues to improve.
What are you thoughts?
About the Author: Serena James is a holistic healer and the author of Vibe Higher. She offers a variety of energy healing services and workshops to help individuals experience a life of love, abundance, and wellness as they were meant to.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease or illness. Any action you take as a result of this information is self-prescribed and your right to do so.