If used incorrectly, tea tree oil can cause severe poisoning and death in both dogs and cats.
Severe poisoning has resulted from less than 10 drops of 100% tea tree oil. One tablespoon applied to the skin of a dog or cat can be fatal.
In 2016, I saw my first case of lethal tea tree oil poisoning in a dog. A caring and loving owner had applied 100% tea tree oil extract to a skin rash on her little dog’s back after she read on several websites that tea tree oil is safe for use in pets. Sadly, the information she found on the internet was wrong. Her dog had been massively overdosed and was beyond the possibility of being saved. I promised the owner that I would write this post to help prevent others from making the same mistake.
Natural remedies and essential oils are gaining popularity in pet and human health. Tea tree oil is a natural essential oil made from the leaves of the Australian tea tree plant. It is most often applied to the skin to treat conditions such as rashes, bacterial infections, fungal/yeast overgrowth.
Before you consider using tea tree oil on your pet, make sure you read this:
- To be safe, the highly-concentrated, pure 100% oil should never be used on pets.
- Only products containing diluted tea tree oil (less than 1-2%) should be considered for topical use. Follow the label instructions and double check with your vet.
- Very small dogs, puppies, cats and kittens are the most sensitive to tea tree oil poisoning. It is probably best to avoid it altogether for these little guys.
- Tea tree oil is even more poisonous if ingested and should not be eaten.
Symptoms of poisoning can start 2-12 hours after exposure and can last for 2-3 days.
The signs can include lethargy, “drunkenness,” tremors, vomiting, drooling, skin rashes, seizures, low body temperature, laboured breathing, coma and death.
If your pet is acting strangely or is showing any of the symptoms above, you should contact your vet immediately. Loss of balance and disorientation are often symptoms of other life-threatening problems that can look similar to tea tree oil intoxication, including diseases of the brain (like meningitis or encephalitis) and other deadly toxins (like antifreeze, ivermectin, and other drugs).
If you suspect that your pet been exposed to tea tree oil, it is advisable to contact your veterinarian or an animal poison control centre right away. These centres are staffed by veterinary toxicologists 24-hours per day. The poison hotline is well worth the $65 (USD).