CheapyKeen

Exploring ideas for affordable, sustainable, enjoyable living.

Cats and Essential Oils: Not Happy Together?

on March 1, 2013

Last time I mentioned that essential oils are a handy item to have in your DIY toolkit. They can replace more dangerous synthetic perfumes and save you money BUT their use generally does not apply to cats.

They are not happy together.

Why? Cats have a funky metabolism. Their little livers are unable to detoxify many substances that are harmless to dogs and people because cats don’t make the enzyme glucuronosyltransferase.

Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together...mass hysteria!

Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!

In fact, it’s really kind of a pain when you want to care for your pets holistically, because it seems like practically everything you would do for your dog is wrong for your cat. Toxicity in cats can take years to show up, so Kitty might be going along seemingly healthy and then suddenly keel over. And we don’t want that (although the dog might beg to differ).

On our money-saving, DIYing path we are inevitably faced with people who tell us that we are (1) crazy, (2) dirty hippies, and/or (3) actually putting ourselves in danger. Many people are completely sold on the notion that because something comes in a pretty package and has years of marketing research behind it, it must be better and healthier than what you can make yourself. But in the case of cats, we really do have to take extra care and do our homework, lest in our glee over saving money and sticking it to The Man (marketers) we unintentionally murder Kitty.

The subject of essential oils and cats seems to be a contentious one. There are those who claim that all essential oils are poisonous all the time. There are others who claim that some are safe for cats provided they’re diluted a lot. Though I have infrequently used very diluted essential oils on my cat in the past, I don’t now because I’m not convinced by the claims on either side of the issue.

Claims about the dangers of essential oils for cats are basically as follows: Because esential oils are not truly oils but highly concentrated plant extracts, a cat might be perfectly fine cuddling up to, say, a lavender plant, and yet a lavender extract that’s 500 times more potent could be deadly. Some say that exposure to essential oils (even ones diffused by air for their scent) could even cause lymphoma in cats.

On the other hand, there are many people in the US who will tell you that all essential oils will kill humans if ingested. That is complete BS–some oils are commonly ingested in dilute form in Europe (peppermint, rosemary, lavender, inter alia), and clearly they’re not all dropping dead. My point here is that some people are both alarmist and ignorant and TV and the internet are the perfect tools for them to spread their nonsense. And of course one has to wonder whether essential oils can possibly be more toxic* than some of the stuff in pharmaceuticals, made-in-China cat toys, and grocery store shampoos and flea collars. There are lots of people who claim they’ve used EOs on their cats for years with no adverse effects.

This is one of those cases where you have to do your own homework, but it’s wise to err on the side of caution in using essential oils in your cleaning products if you share your house with cats. In particular, don’t use them if there’s any sign your cat already suffers from liver or immune problems.

*It’s well known that many essential oils are absolutely toxic to cats (citrus, tea tree, etc.)–I’m not debating that, only the ones that some claim are safe (e.g., lavender, cedar).

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