Are Essential Oils Safe for Cats?
I am a huge fan of essential oils and use them extensively within my household and with my family.
When I first starting to get into essential oils and aromatherapy I went crazy with my oils on the family and myself and then had a thought to use them with my pets as well. This lead me to research which oils could be used for what purposes on my dog and cats. Whilst performing this research that I discovered that some essential oils are toxic to cats.
Once I discovered this I immediately stopped diffusing those listed as toxic when our cat Sooty is around and we always ensure we wash our hands should we touch any of the toxic oils before patting our fur baby.
Disclaimer: I am not a vet – just a crazy oil lady who uses pure grade essential oils on myself, my family and my animals. My recommendations should not replace the advice of professionals and you should always have your own vet check out your animals if you are concerned about any health issues.
Research has identified two major categories of essential oils that are dangerous to cats and the reason these essential oils are more dangerous to cats is in the physiology of their liver. Cats lack an enzyme (glucuronyl transferase) that in other mammals such as dogs, horses and humans, helps to process and break down certain components of essential oils. Due to the concentrated nature of essential oils, toxic build-up of these component can occur causing toxicity which can ultimately be fatal. 
However, in saying that, many oils are safe for cats, and even if you’ve used an oil that is considered toxic, your cat will probably be ok if you discontinue the use immediately, this is because it takes time for toxic build up to occur. If you have any doubts, then you should take your cat to the vet for a complete check-up.
So, what are these dangerous components that make some essential oils so dangerous to cats?
There are two categories – phenols and monoterpene hydrocarbons.
Phenol – Also, known as carbolic acid. Examples include Cinnamon, Clove, Thyme, Oregano. These oils are generally tolerated by human in small amounts (high dilution rates) due to our liver having the ability to filter out the phenols, cats have a much lower tolerance, and exposure of your cat to these oils should be as limited as possible.
Monoterpene Hydrocarbons – Oils containing monoterpene hydrocarbons can be toxic to cats. So, what oils contain monoterpene hydrocarbons? Quite a few. These include – Terpineol: cajuput oil, pine oil, and petitgrain oil. Limonene: Very common in citrus oils. Pinene: pine oil and other coniferous plants such as fir.
Safe Oils for Cats: NON-TOXIC
Unsafe oils for Cats: TOXIC
All Citrus Oils
Whilst I have done a lot of research to compile the above lists that most sources seemed to agree on, I can’t guarantee that an essential oil not on this list is automatically safe for cats. When in doubt, limit use around your cat, and never apply it directly to your cat’s fur or skin.
In addition to scents’ toxic effects, some scents can irritate your pets in other ways. Cats have a much stronger sense of smell then we do, so what can smell amazing to you can be very overwhelming to your cat. So, if you are diffusing essential oils then make sure your cats have a place they can escape from the smells and have time out on their own.
The other thing I must insist on is that if you plan to use essential oils around your cats then please ensure you only use pure therapeutic grade essential oils and not cheap nasty oils that contain high level of chemicals. Do your research!
Addie DD, Boucraut-Baralon C, Egberink H, Frymus T, Gruffydd-Jones T, Hartmann K, Horzinek MC, Hosie MJ, Lloret A, Lutz H, Marsilio F, Pennisi MG, Radford AD, Thiry E, Truyen U, Möstl K; European Advisory Board on Cat Diseases. Disinfectant choices in veterinary practices, shelters and households: ABCD guidelines on safe and effective disinfection for feline environments. J Feline Med Surg. 2015 Jul;17(7):594-605.