Can essential oils be used around cats?

Q: I'm seeing some scary warnings about cats not being able to tolerate essential oils, now I'm scared to diffuse them.  Can essential oils be used around cats?

A: When using Young Living oils, I don't worry.  I've heard that when you have your diffuser on just make sure that your cats can come and go from the room as they please.  The Animal Desk Reference is a GREAT resource for this.  The cat section says that "many misconceptions have been placed on what cats like or don't like - and it appears that these generalizations may have been made based on individual reports, and not from cats as a whole."  It also says "Cats present their own unique controversies and requirements to essential oil use. Most cat owners would agree that cats have distinct opinions of the world, and this certainly holds true for aromatherapy. Cats are likely a little proud of the fact that they are indeed, the most contested topic in the world of essential oil use. Human viewpoints of this subject range from the adamant stance that essential oils cannot be used safely for cats, to those who use contraindicated essential oils on a daily basis for their felines. After hearing all of the cautions and warnings from the veterinary community, I had concerns for my own multi-cat household. Routine blood and urine evaluations calmed the concerns, and no detrimental effects have ever been shown with over 3 years of almost continuous diffusion in my home. What I eventually found to be true, was that the veterinarians who were so carefully warning other veterinarians and owners not to use essential oils, had in fact, never used them themselves. The oils that were linked to killing cats and harming animals were also never graded or evaluated by the veterinarians who condemned them. My current recommendation when considering essential oil use for cats is to choose oils that are used often, have been used in many cats, and to use them with techniques cats enjoy. Tea tree oil, or melaleuca alternifolia, is another feline controversy which fascinates me. I have directly communicated with people who have sadly exposed their cat to a poor grade Melaleuca oil, resulting in subsequent seizures and death. Conversely, I have also witnessed firsthand a cat receiving 4 drops of Young Living Melaleuca oil orally twice a day, followed by blood work, and showing no ill events. I do not use this example as a recommendation for everyone to use Melaleuca for their cats, as there are many essential oils that can be used in place of this particular oil. It is the best choice to first select an oil which is known to be very safe and well tolerated in cats. However, it is reassuring to note that if I have a particularly resistant medical case, and feel that Melaleuca oil may be useful, that it does have the potential to be used. Traditional chemical flea and tick preparations are very similar to essential oils in regards to quality, effectiveness, and risk. In the veterinary community, we have seen horrific side effects to the use of over-the-counter, lower cost flea and tick products. The use of better quality products, typically results in a reduction of significantly harmful reactions. Although not completely benign, this is a very different scenario from the reactions of seizuring and drooling cats, neurologic symptoms, dying kittens, or pets who are frantically trying to rub the product off of themselves. Even the most traditional vets can usually relate to this parallel concerning quality variations. Essential oils can vary in quality, much like other veterinary products, and poor quality can equal toxicity. One factor that is true for cats, is that they are notoriously deficient in the Cytochrome p450 liver metabolism pathway. This particular pathway is utilized for the metabolism and excretion of all sorts of chemicals from their body, including traditional medications. A cat's liver just does not metabolize items in the same manner or efficiency as a large dog or a human. This fact has made cats unique in veterinary medicine, no matter what the substance may be that we are exposing them to. For example, certain traditional Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory (NSAID) drugs can be used in dogs, but if given to a cat, has a high likelihood of causing significant damage to organs and even death. Medically, I have found that we can actually use many of the contraindicated essential oils in cats, and sometimes quiet aggressively. If there are other oil choices for treatment that carry similar benefits and activities, then those should be a first choice. However, when needed and indicated, the use of more aggressive essential oils is completely possible for cats."