There is a disturbing trend occurring on social media regarding cats and essential oils. Apparently, someone has claimed their cat died as a result of exposure to a Essential oils. Although there was probably no autopsy or any other objective proof that essential oils killed the cat, the parents’ loss must have been very compelling and affected a lot of pet parents. This story is not occurring in a vacuum either. There is currently a very contentious debate between those who claim essential oils are harmful if used on cats and other pets, and those who use the oils to support the body systems of their pets. The problem is that when an anecdotal incident (a single occurrence that may not reflect an overall truth) hits Facebook or other social media it is extremely difficult to restore proper perspective to the debate.
Once these anecdotal occurrences become excepted there is very little that can be done to mitigate the false conclusions that consumers of the information reach. Each consumer of this information will have a different threshold of proof required to correct the anecdotal conclusion depending on their motivations and emotional involvement.
This is exactly what has happened in regards to the use of essential oils on and even around cats. A few incidents where essential oils were used on or around cats, and the cats died or were seriously injured, circulated on social media and caused many consumers to conclude that essential oils should not be used on cats.
Logically this is the same as saying that if a cat has drowned in a flood, then water is not safe for cats. There are many other factors which if not shared objectively, can distort the conclusions reached from any particular incident. The only way to restore logic to the issue is to provide information that reaches a threshold, each individual consumer sets, to overcome the flawed conclusion.
There are only a few common resources which are generally useful to overcoming these false conclusions. They are peer reviewed studies, professional experience, statistical Proof, and the most excepted-the government. Many consumers have lower thresholds and will accept an article in a publication they respect, something they saw themselves, or the word of a “friend who had a cat that died.” In these cases you will find that the evidence they accept from these lesser sources must support their initial opinion on the issue. These proofs are not really objective support; they are merely, “see, I told you so.”
The peer reviewed studies are the basis for modern evidence-based medicine and the major resource for government and professional opinions. They are completed with very strict and numerous criteria and standards. Peer reviewed studies are usually a requirement of the FDA to approve a new treatment or drug and the basis for diagnosis and treatment by most doctors and veterinarians.
Time and population are the primary evaluation tools for studies of treatments and medications for pets or people. A study must be of a large enough group of pets and extend over a sufficient period of time to prove results are statistically reliable. Other issues such as comparison with placebo results, diversity of population, etc. are proper review issues as the studies are evaluated by professionals in the industry. For medicine, a peer-reviewed article in an accepted medical journal is the threshold for most doctors.
Due to the market size of the essential oil industry and the relatively new interest in the essential oils for health, there are very few peer-reviewed studies on essential oils and their effect on pets. One study for example, Concentrated tea tree oil toxicosis in dogs and cats: 443 cases (2002-2012) (
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24344857), studied 443 pets over 10 years to evaluate the negative effects of tea tree oil on cats and dogs. Although the time period for the study may be sufficient, reviewers would not be impressed with sample size. They may also comment on the population of dogs versus cats, and even breed of each.
The 2014 study by the American Veterinary Medical Association, very specifically examined the effects of 100-percent undiluted application of Teatree oil to pets. The conclusion reached was obvious: “Intentional or accidental use of 100% TTO in dogs or cats caused serious signs of CNS depression, paresis, ataxia, or tremors within hours after exposure and lasting up to 3 days. Younger cats and those with lighter body weight were at greater risk of developing major illness,” The study concluded.
Even with the scientific rigor of a good research project, results can be taken out of context. Obviously, from TTO study conclusion, a consumer, invested in the idea that the oils are dangerous to pets, will say this proves it. This logic, however, is flawed since anything ingested in excessive amounts will be dangerous. Essential oils are not meant to be applied full strength in many cases. Especially with smaller pets like cats, a full strength oil can overwhelm the system, and, in the case of this study, cause toxicosis.
As pet parents of either cats or dogs, it is incumbent on us to apply logic, and common sense in evaluating the information we gather to care for our pets. While we never wish to put our loved ones at risk, neither do we wish to dismiss effective and healthy support for the body systems of our pets due to unfounded, emotionally-based claims from unknown sources. Seeking the advice of a credentialed veterinarian to evaluate any possible treatment for our furry friends, is the logical and commonsense approach to treating their illness or injury.