Whether there’s a fluffy Maine Coon leaving hair just about everywhere around your home–or you admit to conversing regularly with your sleek Siamese–if you’re like most cat parents, you want your furry kid(s) to stay healthy and stick around forever. Today’s vet medicine industry goes to great lengths to help you do just that, but there’s a therapeutic area that falls outside the medicinal arena: essential oils. They’ve become as popular for pets as they are for humans. Time to extend a paw on behalf of your favorite companion by learning about this fascinating topic!
The proper way to use essential oils on your cat
The difference between the way humans accept essential oils and the way cats tolerate them has everything to do with dilution, and we’re not talking adding water to the oil! Remember what your mom said: Oil and water never mix. A high-grade, pure vegetable oil is the catalyst that makes essential oils tolerable for felines and the differential between the two must be dramatic: 50 drops of vegetable (also called carrier) oil to 1 drop of essential oil.
You may wish to verify this dilution ratio with your own vet because some recommend taking that ratio up to 80- to 90-percent. Once properly mixed, you can place a drop of this mixture into your hands and begin to pet your cat. Some pet owners add water to already-diluted oil mixes and use a mister to spray their animal, but be forewarned, misting could be a turnoff for your feline and not every cat specialist recommends it.
Always err on the side of caution
Holistic veterinarian Dr. Melissa Shelton is just one member of the profession who believes that as long as a cat parent takes care to use essential oils properly, there is no reason why felines won’t benefit from them. But Dr. Shelton cautions that because cat physiology is different from other animals, improper essential oil use could have devastating health effects.
Cats don’t produce the liver enzymes required to properly break down certain chemicals, so when a topical like essential oil is used on a feline, rather than efficiently making use of it, kitty’s body will store it, and that can leave a cat in a state of toxicity. As a result, your cat could exhibit classic signs of distress that include digestive issues, eating or sleeping concerns and/or behavioral problems.
Further, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has blacklisted some essential oils because they have found exposure to undiluted oils to be one of the leading reasons cats develop tremors. Their systems are that sensitive, which is why it’s always wise to test oil mixtures on a small section of your cat that’s not near her face to see how she tolerates it.
Reasons to use essential oils on cats
One of the most often-discussed reasons to consider using a form of essential oil therapy on a cat has to do with a feline’s propensity to become anxious or traumatized by triggers that run the gamut from moving to a new home to an owner’s death. These uncertainties can make cats feel threatened to the core, thus essential oil treatments are regularly recommended to soothe and comfort.
As a result of her initial trials, Dr. Shelton began to conduct tests over the years to further her understanding of the healing benefits of essential oils. Ultimately, she used them to modify the behaviors of cats who were sick. She found that when cats were diagnoses with serious illnesses for whom no form of therapy worked, she introduced essential oil to the equation and in many cases, she witnessed improvements simply because her patients calmed down.
Says veterinarian Dr. Jeannie Thomason, who has built a distinguished career as an animal-focused naturopath, essential oils, when properly mixed and applied, can impact a cat’s well-being within 21 minutes of application. She adds, “and in some cases, within seconds.” Dr. Thomason believes that these oils promote emotional, spiritual and even physical wellness in animals, just as they do in humans
Oils to Avoid
There is a group of compounds that can wind up in essential oils that are particularly harmful to your kitty. These oxygenated agents are called ketones, phenols and monoterpenes, many of which are byproducts of citrus fruit and tree oil formulations. Strangely enough, human beings can also experience adverse reactions to derivatives of citrus fruits, even when properly mixed with carrier oils.
There are many case studies of humans applying citrus-based oils to their skin and then exposing that skin to the sun, producing a state of phototoxicity that can produce rashes, burns and skin discoloration. Based on this fact, imagine how vulnerable your cat’s skin is!
To help you avoid oils that can cause your cat’s skin the most potential irritation and damage, we’ve composed a list of the most dangerous oils and alphabetized them. There are other oils on the market you can try without having to resort to those on this list and once you acclimate your cat to essential oil treatments, you can expand your list accordingly.
List of Toxic Oils
Application is the secret to success
We’ve already mentioned that dilution and testing are two critical components of introducing your cat to essential oils, but before you start applying, it’s important to introduce these agents to your cat slowly so she can get used to the diluted oil you’re adding to her health regimen.
Folks at the website TheOilDropper.com recommend a slow and gentle approach so if the oil works out, you can make this a regular part of your cat’s grooming routine-especially if you’ve got a ‘scardy cat who needs no excuse at all to run and hide the moment she gets a whiff of your intention.
Rub a little diluted oil on your hands and rub just one area of the cat’s body (flanks are a good place to start because it’s away from her face). Gauge her response by seeing if that classic tail flicking action sends an “I’m not happy” message your way. Importantly, leave open an escape route so your kitty doesn’t feel trapped if she wants to bolt.
Once you declare mission accomplished on her flanks, move slowly and methodically up your cat’s body, gently rubbing the oil on your palms into her fur. Her coat will wick the oil and in turn, it will be absorbed into the cat’s skin. Be prepared for upset stomachs when she grooms; even a little oil could irritate her system at first.
These essential oils are the cat’s meow
When it comes to vets who support the “essential oil for felines” movement, there are 5 essential oils that, once diluted, make good products to try on your cat-remembering always to use natural and not synthetic versions of these oils. These are:
But the benefits of calmness and relaxation don’t end with the big 5. Catnip oil has been known to vanquish fleas that assault kitty, but don’t take a chance on pure catnip oil if you use it to treat your cat. Instead, find a pre-mixed formulation, like fractionated coconut oil with catnip oil that’s pre-diluted with a carrier oil to keep kitty from becoming a flea motel.
There’s more than one way to skin–er, treat–a cat
By the way, plenty of cat parents admit to being fearful of applying these agents by hand to their cat’s bodies. No worries. If that describes you, you can always apply a few drops of diluted oil to a scratching post, cat tree or bedding, and allow your cat to “self-treat” using no more than 5 diluted drops applied to these surfaces.
Hand-application isn’t the end of the essential oils use and treatment menu. Creative cat owners also recommend a quirky preventative health technique that can help acclimate cats to essential oils: Mix 1-to-3 drops of diluted oil into 1 cup of baking soda. Allow this mix to blend overnight in a glass jar.
Sprinkle a small amount–perhaps a tablespoon–over unscented kitty litter and then see if your cat will tolerate it. Advocates of this method advise putting a separate litter box beside the one with the oil just in case Romeo turns up his nose at doctored litter.
8 things to know about cats and essential oils
1) Essential oils are not meant to be used near the eyes and ears of humans or cats.
2) All it takes is 6/100th of a drop of lavender oil to calm pets down.
3) Just because paws have leathery pads that doesn’t mean it’s safe to apply essential oils to them.
4) Got a Norwegian Forest cat? No need to apply extra oil to your palm to compensate for thick fur.
5) Always observe your feline after a hand-applied application of essential oil to check his initial reaction.
6) Don’t wash your cat if you apply too much essential oil. Instead, rub the area with veggie or a carrier oil.
7) Wash your hands with soap every time you apply essential oils to your skin. If you pet her, she could have a reaction.
8) Avoid reed diffusers. A cat coming into contact with oil-soaked reeds suffered awful chemical burns.
9) Give your cat an essential oil break on occasion. She may appreciate the break.
10) Avoid low quality, adulterated or synthetic oils to be sure your cat doesn’t develop liver toxicity.
Advice on buying essential oils for cats
Because essential oils have become such hot commodities in this day and age that prizes holistic healing, don’t be swayed by advertising claims that promise the moon. Instead, pay attention to the words of people who run tests and trials on these products to make sure your kitty gets a quality product.
And don’t be taken in by assurances that the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates essential oils. They do; but they’re assessed as cosmetics, not herbs and medications. Instead, look for the following indications of proper harvesting, processing and storage on labels, like “Wild Harvested,” “Certified Organic” and “Un-sprayed.”
The best essential oil companies are eager to disclose how and where their plants are grown. Need a starting point? These two articles can help: https://www.yourbestdigs.com/reviews/best-essential-oils/ and http://www.thehippyhomemaker.com/which-essential-oil-companies-should-you-buy-from-my-surprising-findings-on-my-quest-to-find-the-best/.
When to seek help
Assuming you started out very slowly and applied a highly-diluted essential oil to a small area on your cat’s body–and assuming you then allow the treatment to settle in to see how your kitty deals with it–you could be a parent to a highly-sensitive cat whose system simply can’t tolerate any essential oil.
At their most extreme, the tremors mentioned earlier in this article should set off alarm bells. Extreme gastro-intestinal distress is another (the operative word is extreme). If your kitty seems weak, disoriented or is drooling excessively, call your vet immediately and explain your situation. It may turn out to be nothing, but why take chances?
If you’re a dedicated cat parent you may wish to own a veterinarian-authored desk reference book like Dr. Melissa Shelton’s “The Animal Desk Reference,” currently in its second edition. This comprehensive guide is the pet version of “The Physician’s Desk Reference” and it’s widely available in both hard cover and paperback from Internet resources and the author’s website.
Hopefully, you will never need it, but posting the ASPCA’s national poison control center’s phone number on your ‘fridge or bulletin board is another wise move: 1-888-426-4435. Make sure you have the essential oil bottle itself in hand if you have to make this call, so you give whomever counsels you all the information they need to make an educated assessment of your cat’s situation.