Of Cats and Controversy

If I only had a dollar for each time I was told “essential oils cannot be used with cats”…

I’m going to cut to the chase right away.  This statement is just straight out untrue.  There are a few minor rules to make so – but in fact.  The blanket statement is wrong.

First rule of untruth.  The statement that cats cannot tolerate essential oils is based on metabolism information from well before the 1970’s.  In veterinary medicine, it is known that cats are deficient in some of their enzyme processes, mainly in their liver.  However, this does not mean that they DO NOT have them.  It just means they use them a bit differently.  In veterinary medicine, we were taught in years past, that cats could not tolerate drugs like Morphine or Aspirin due to this fact.  And indeed, 30+ years later – there are practitioners who are greatly skilled in using these drugs properly and with great effects.  Indeed, their half-life may be longer (requiring less drug, with less frequency in administration) – but it does not always remain true that they are not beneficial – or that they can NEVER be given.

Even in 1984 – a full article in Veterinary Clinics of North America:  Small Animal Practice – Volume 14, Number 6 – “Idiosyncracies of Drug Metabolism in Cats: Effects on Pharmacotherapeutics in Feline Practice” – covered this topic in depth.  Not specifically mentioning essential oils, but mentioning phenols, morphine, aspirin and other drugs for which glucuronide synthesis is an important part of metabolism.  This article clearly states “Even drugs known for toxicity in cats can be used safely if we are aware of and compensate for certain peculiarities.”

This is positively ANCIENT information in terms of timeline.  This is 33 years ago folks!  And much of the information for which we base the cats’ faulty metabolism on is even older!

So that is the first part of the controversy.  Yes, cats do have certain limitations, but this does not mean that things cannot be done.  We just have to know HOW to do them.

Second issue at hand is quality of essential oils.  And I am not talking about what your “representative” tells you about Seed to Seal or Certified Therapeutic Grade nonsense.  Sometimes, what is deemed high quality by certified aromatherapists and human medical aromatherapists is greatly lacking in my opinion, and especially where animals are concerned.  What I have noticed while training in the “human aromatherapy” world – is that they are quite a bit more limited in their use of a variety of well known essential oils in the “corporate” market.  When I state that I love a certain oil for its properties – they stare blankly into space – often never hearing of the oil that I am speaking about.

But while the corporate essential oil industry is great at creating popularity a “new” essential oil and inducing a viral spread of its virtues…they are not equally great in maintaining high quality of this oil, once demand picks up.  Essential oils are a limited supply and demand commodity.  Especially when it comes to those that are deemed “medical” in grade and nature.  Essential oils for the “therapeutic” side of the industry are a very small fraction of production in the marketplace.  Much less than 10% of the essential oils on the market, are worthy of this description.  However, with millions and millions of people being introduced to essential oils – supply of the highest quality oils will simply not be available in large enough quantity.  And there in lies a snag.

There is no question – that I would not want you to burn scented candles, use air fresheners, or perfumes on or near your parrot.  This is well known in the avian world as a huge caution for this delicate species.  Same for cats – when certain cats came to our veterinary hospital – and absolutely reeked of perfume or cigarette smoke – there is no question that this is likely to be a health hazard.  I have even had dog, cat, and bird patients who emitted the clear smell of fabric softeners from their fur or feathers.  These chemical fragrances (which by the way, often include essential oils) – are toxic as heck.  And yet, we do not go campaigning for fabric softener to never be used in a cat home.  Yet, this is where essential oils have been categorized.

While some essential oils, especially when of the grade or synthetic nature of those used in cleaners and air fresheners, could be harmful to an animal – it should not elicit the rule of “no essential oils for cats”.  The safety of essential oils lies within the quality level of the essential oil, and in the way in which it is used for that species.  In truth “it is all about the dose”.

When you are confronted by someone who tells you that essential oils are toxic or dangerous for cats.  Please ask them the following questions.  First, what are their qualifications, and what animal training have they had?  Next, ask them to please produce the studies and evidence showing that cats are harmed from “normal” use of essential oils.  Those studies just seem to not exist currently – and any reports of toxicity that I have evaluated have distinct flaws.  Most noteworthy – often there is gross mis-use or over-dosage of the essential oils used.  But in a close second to that – is that there is often extremely poor quality or no quality evaluation available.  One veterinarian reporting issues, was able to ask the cat caretaker which essential oil was used based on my prompting.  And indeed this essential oil was a Lavender available from Amazon for less than $15 for 4 ounces of essential oil.  I can guarantee you – this is not true Lavender oil in any sense of the word.  Not only was this Lavender applied in excessive amounts, but it most clearly was not of any sort of medical grade…ever.

In short – there are scary reports out there.  But when we actually explore them further – they are fraught with mis-information.  We need to evaluate toxicity reports fully, truthfully, and accurately.  And so we hope to create a data base for animal information in the near future.

I can assure you, that we have treated thousands (likely tens of thousands) of cats with essential oils, as well as all animal species.  I can definitely guarantee that there is veterinary evidence of safety, and blood work to follow long term cases.  Publishing this data, takes a while – so you do need to be patient.  However, when anyone asks me to produce proof of safety – I indeed can do so.  We just need to require the naysayers to produce the same on their side of things.  There is no way a veterinarian (myself) would risk my name and reputation (and indeed veterinary license) for a “sale” or would risk animal safety for any reason on this Earth.

Melissa Shelton DVM
The Oily Vet