Is Tea Tree Oil Safe for Dogs and Cats?
No, undiluted tea tree oil is not safe for dogs or cats. You shouldn’t use tea tree oil on or around your pets unless it’s been professionally formulated, diluted, and thus proven safe. Even then you must monitor your pet closely, and we recommend avoiding the use of the ingredient altogether. Call your vet immediately if your pet has been exposed to full strength tea tree oil.
Tea tree oil is a naturally occurring antiseptic that has quickly become a heralded DIY remedy in households across the country. It’s been proven to effectively treat and prevent acne, repel mosquitos and other bugs, heal minor cuts, and soothe inflamed skin… in humans. Because of its antibacterial properties, it’s also commonly used as an all-purpose cleaning agent for floors, counters, bathrooms, and more.
Basically, tea tree oil seems like a miraculous, inexpensive hero ingredient that everyone should keep on hand. This has led to many unassuming pet parents believing that it’s also OK to use on or around their pets, but this is a dangerous assumption.
Tea Tree Oil is Toxic to Dogs and Cats
Despite its many wonderful uses, tea tree oil can be toxic to dogs and cats when it’s only mildly diluted or in concentrated form. For that reason, it should never be used to clean or heal wounds, or to prevent and treat insect infestations on your pet. It should also be very closely monitored if you opt to use it in your home, even in a diffuser.
“Melaleuca oil, also known as tea tree oil, is our most common essential oil offender in toxicities to dogs,” states the Pet Poison Helpline. “These exposures often occur with application or administration of the concentrated tea tree-oil by well-meaning pet owners attempting to treat their pet for various skin conditions or external parasites such as fleas.”
This is true whether applied topically or orally and is particularly problematic when tea tree oil is in its concentrated form.
“We can see signs of depression, ataxia (very uncoordinated gait), paralysis of the rear legs, vomiting, hypothermia (low body temperature), and dermal irritation,” states the Pet Poison Helpline. “These exposures will require veterinary intervention. The signs can be present for up to four days with aggressive care and treatment.”
What If It’s Diluted?
If you’ve shopped for pet shampoos or treatments, you might have noticed that tea tree oil is a touted ingredient in a handful of items. Such products have been formulated so that the tea tree oil is remarkably diluted — usually between .1 to 1% strength. When tea tree oil has been weakened to this extent, it is no longer considered toxic to pets.
It’s important to note that these products have been professionally formulated and tested for your pet’s safety. As such, trying to replicate such formulations isn’t easy or advisable. Instead of DIY-ing pet treatments, we strongly advise that you only use pet- and vet-approved, fully tested treatments on your furry friend.
Further, we recommend against using tea tree oil, and other potentially toxic ingredients, in your homemade cleaning products. Though your pet is not likely to lick or roll around on countertops or floors that have just been treated with tea tree oil-infused cleaners, it’s best to just play it safe.
What Happens If My Pet Has Been Exposed to Tea Tree Oil?
As mentioned, many well-meaning pet parents use tea tree oil on their pets without knowing that it’s toxic. You’ll even find recipes for pet scrapes and fleas floating around on the internet advocating such usage.
If your dog or cat has been exposed to a small amount of tea tree oil topically, you can use soapy water to gently wash it away, followed with very close monitoring over the next week. If your pet was exposed to a large amount, or if it was applied to an open wound, we recommend calling your veterinarian immediately. You can also contact the Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680) if you’re in a bind. Additionally, your Healthy Paws policy covers costs to the helpline.
Calling your vet is the best plan of action if your pet has ingested tea tree oil, or if your pet has already begun showing signs of being poisoned. Your pet will be treated based on how much was consumed/applied, size, age, and symptoms. A blood panel or biochemistry profile may also be conducted in order to determine whether your pet’s organs are functioning properly.
The good news is that with a quick response on your end, your pet has a very high chance of coming out on the other end OK.