Last modified: September 17, 2019


Prevention is the best medicine in limiting essential oil toxicities in dogs

According to the Pet Poison Helpline the most common essential oil toxicities seen are to Melaleuca or Tea Tree Oil, Pennyroyal, Oil of Wintergreen, and Pine Oils.

Melaleuca oil

Also known as tea tree oil, is our most common essential oil offender in toxicities to dogs. Tea tree oil originates from the leaves of the Australian tea tree. 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. It is equally absorbed with both dermal or oral administration and both result in toxicity.



An oil from Mentha Pulegium, more commonly known as European Pennyroyal or squaw mint. Pennyroyal has a long history in folk medicine with use as an insect repellent. It can be used by unsuspecting pet owners to treat flea infestations or to try to prevent flea infestations. Oral or dermal exposures can both result in toxicity. The short answer on the toxicity with pennyroyal is that it causes hepatic necrosis or liver failure.


Oil of Wintergreen

It is derived from the Gaultheria Procumbens or the Eastern Teaberry. Oil of Wintergreen contains methyl salicylates, more commonly know as aspirin. It is many times used topically as a pain reliever for muscle aches and pains but may also be used in holiday candies with bakers having bottle of concentrated product. Dogs can show signs of aspirin toxicity and we can see signs of vomiting due to severe gastrointestinal upset and ulcers, along with potential renal and liver failure.


Pine Oils

Derived from Pinus sylvestris or the Scots Pine located in Europe. Pine oils are used as a natural disinfectant, deodorizer, household cleaning products and massage oils. The touted benefits of pine oil include increasing circulation, aids in decreasing swelling, tenderness and pain in sore joints and muscles along with antibacterial properties. What we can see in dogs with dermal or oral exposure can be dermal or gastrointestinal irritation, vomiting that may be bloody, drooling, weakness, ataxia, along with affects to the central nervous system, and potential renal and liver affects.

Another element of concern with essential oils is with the risk of aspiration and aspiration pneumonia. Because of the viscosity of oils, we get concerned with the dog getting the oil in their lungs not only when ingesting it, but because of the irritation that it can cause to the gastrointestinal tract, we can see the oil be aspirated when it is vomited back up. For this reason, we do not recommend induction of emesis with oil products and immediate veterinary care is needed with most of these exposures.

Source: Essential Oils & Dogs | Pet Poison Helpline



Essential oils can pose a toxic risk to household pets, especially to cats. They are rapidly absorbed both orally and across the skin, and are then metabolized in the liver. Cats lack an essential enzyme in their liver and as such have difficulty metabolizing and eliminating certain toxins like essential oils. Cats are also very sensitive to phenols and phenolic compounds, which can be found in some essential oils. The higher the concentration of the essential oil (i.e. 100%), the greater the risk to the cat.


Essential oils that are known to cause poisoning in cats include:

Oil of wintergreen, oil of sweet birch, citrus oil (d-limonene), pine oils, Ylang Ylang oil, peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, pennyroyal oil, clove oil, eucalyptus oil, and tea tree oil.

Symptoms that develop:

Depend on the type of oil involved in the exposure and can include drooling, vomiting, tremors, ataxia (wobbliness), respiratory distress, low heart rate, low body temperature, and liver failure.


Inhalation of strong odors or fragrances can cause some cats to develop a watery nose or eyes, a burning sensation in the nose/throat, nausea leading to drooling and/or vomiting, and difficulty breathing. Difficulty breathing in a cat is evidenced by labored breathing, fast breathing, panting, coughing, or wheezing.

NONE of these signs are normal in cats. A coughing episode in a cat can be mistaken by owners for the cat trying to vomit up a hairball. However, in this case the cat crouches low to the ground, with little to no abdominal movement that is more typical of vomiting. No hairball is produced.


Like oil and water, essential oils and cats really do not mix. Owners should be cautious using essential oils and diffusers in their homes in order to protect their cat(s) from a toxic risk. Most importantly, concentrated essential oils should never be directly applied to cats.

Source: Essential Oils & Cats | Pet Poison Helpline

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