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Is Tea Tree Oil a Safe and Effective Flea Treatment for Cats?

Tea tree oil is dangerous for cats.

Essential oils are used by many for far-reaching applications, from cleaning to healthcare. Some people would like to expand their use to treating and preventing flea infestations on their cat. But is that safe?

Tea Tree Oil and Fleas in Cats

One essential oil that often comes up in discussions of fleas is tea tree oil. People recommend using it in various formulations to repel and kill fleas.

Tea tree oil can kill fleas. The problem is that it is only safe for cats in extremely low concentrations; lower than what would be needed to repel and kill fleas.

Tea Tree Oil Toxicity in Cats

Tea tree oil can be safe for topical application in cats at extremely low concentrations, from 0.1 - 1%. It is extremely difficult to accurately dilute 100% tea tree oil to that level at home.

If undiluted tea tree oil or diluted tea tree that is still too concentrated is applied topically to a cat, it is absorbed through the skin into the blood stream where it can cause toxicity. Cats also tend to groom themselves when something is applied to their skin, making them prone to ingesting the tea tree oil, causing even more rapid toxicity.

A review of pet poison control calls between 2002 and 2012 revealed that extremely serious reactions can occur when cats are exposed to tea tree oil either topically, orally, or both (Safdar A. Khan, Mary Kay McLean, & Margaret R. Slater, 2014).

Signs of tea tree oil toxicity in cats can include:

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Muscle tremors
  • Coma
  • Death

Note: Tea tree oil is also toxic to humans when it is ingested.

Tea Tree Oil Should Not Be Used on Cats

With regards to tea tree oil and cats, we recommend avoiding its use unless your veterinarian has recommended a specific product that is properly diluted.

For prevention or treatment of fleas, we recommend you talk to your veterinarian and obtain a recommendation for a product that has been extensively tested for safety and efficacy in cats.

Works Cited

  1. Safdar A. Khan, D. P., Mary Kay McLean, M., & Margaret R. Slater, D. P. (2014, Jan. 1). Concentrated tea tree oil toxicosis in dogs and cats: 443 cases (2002-2012). Retrieved from DOI: 10.2460/javma.244.1.95.

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