Essential oils are advertised for a variety of uses, including aromatherapy, beauty care and natural medicine. Because essential oils are naturally derived, people often mistakenly think they are safer alternatives to standard medicines such as antibiotics and antiseptics.
Some essential oil manufacturers even claim that their products are effective pesticides, so you may be wondering if essential oils are safe to use on your pets for flea and tick control.
The truth is that essential oils are extremely potent and can actually be very harmful to cats and dogs, especially if used in the undiluted form. Here’s what you should know about essential oils and your pet’s safety.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are concentrated liquids containing volatile constituents that are extracted from plants.
They are called volatile because the molecules that they are composed of can quickly transform from a liquid or solid state into a gas or aroma form. These oils are typically diluted for various uses.
Can You Use Essential Oils for Flea Control?
Essential oils have not yet been scientifically tested to determine their safety for use on or around dogs and cats.
They have also not been properly tested to determine their effectiveness in dealing with flea and tick infestations.
Essential oils vary widely in their quality and concentration of ingredients because they aren’t regulated.
An undiluted essential oil can be extremely potent, so it should never be used on or around your pets. But even diluted oils can be dangerous, and neither option has been confirmed to be safe.
Many of the essential oils most frequently advertised in flea and tick products—eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender, lemongrass, tea tree oil, etc.—are already known to be toxic to dogs and/or cats.
Essential Oil Toxicity to Cats and Dogs
It’s important to understand that dogs and cats are much more sensitive to essential oils than humans are.
Essential oils are rapidly absorbed into the body through the skin, gastrointestinal tract and mucous membranes. Therefore, undiluted essential oils are much too potent for direct use and should never be applied to the body or given orally.
Also, using any essential oil on or around cats is discouraged. Unlike dogs and humans, cats lack glucuronosyltransferase enzymes, which are liver enzymes that are needed to safely metabolize the chemicals found in most essential oils.
How Essential Oil Can Affect Dogs and Cats
A wide range of symptoms has been documented with essential oil toxicity in pets.
Contact can cause mild to severe irritation of the skin, including itching, burning and sloughing.
Dogs and cats have a very sensitive sense of smell, and essential oils can be overwhelming to their respiratory tract. Inhalation can cause panting, coughing and wheezing and can also exacerbate underlying respiratory conditions, such as asthma or airborne allergies. Severe reactions have even caused aspiration pneumonia.
Essential oils ingested through grooming or in food can irritate the GI tract and cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Once absorbed into the bloodstream, the oils can cause liver and kidney damage.
Neurologic symptoms may include depression, seizures, tremors, excessive drooling and ataxia (uncoordinated movement). Pets may also experience decreased heart rate and low blood pressure.
How to Effectively Control Fleas and Ticks
Fleas and ticks can be reliably controlled using approved products with documented safety and efficacy profiles.
These approval processes ensure that when products are administered in the appropriate dosage, they are safe for your pet and the environment, while also meeting product claims.
Fleas and ticks aren’t just a nuisance. They can carry serious diseases, including some that affect humans as well as pets. That’s why effective control is important for the health of all family members.
By: Dr. Natalie Stilwell
Featured Image: iStock.com/luigi giordano