Tea tree oil is a  popular alternative treatment for many skin conditions affecting humans and its popularity has resulted in veterinary skin care products that contain the product. In small concentrations (.1% to 1%), tea tree oil is tolerated and safe for cats and dogs, however, it is available as a 100 percent extract which, if accidentally ingested or topically applied, is harmful to pets.

Tea tree oil contains chemicals called terpenes, which are rapidly absorbed into the body if taken orally or applied to the skin. This means topical application of concentrated oil can result in toxicity just as an accidental oral ingestion. Given the tendency to groom, the risk of toxicity is especially amplified in cats.

Symptoms of tea tree oil poisoning varies depending upon the exposure. Small doses may only result in minor symptoms, like drooling or vomiting. Pets exposed to moderate doses may appear weak, have difficulty walking, or demonstrate paralysis. However, those pets exposed to higher doses can suffer life-threatening symptoms like seizures, reduced consciousness, or coma. Symptoms are generally seen 2 to 12 hours following exposure.

Use Tea Tree Oil With Care

It is extremely important to be cautious when treating your pet with tea tree oil (or, for that matter, any over-the-counter medication). To be safe, please follow these precautions:

  • Check with your vet to insure that tea tree oil is recommended for your pet.
  • Never administer tea tree oil orally.
  • Only use dilute tea tree oil that is LESS THAN 1% STRENGTH. Most over-the-counter tea tree oil is sold as an undiluted, 100 percent concentration. In Australia, 100 percent tea tree oil requires child-resistant packaging with a safety warning. No such precautions are required in the United States or Canada.
  • If you treat one of your pets with tea tree oil and suspect an adverse reaction, contact us or a 24-hour pet emergency hospital immediately. As with all poisonings, the sooner your pet is treated, the better the outcome.