Boudica, my calico queen of a cat, is fierce, independent and indoors-only.
So when she got fleas, I was confused and dismayed. Watching her hunt my hair ties only to be interrupted by aggressive scratching broke my heart. I had to find a solution, so I did what any millennial would do: I took to the Internet.
I saw recommendations for “all natural” remedies, like cedarwood oil, rosemary oil, peppermint oil, and other essential oils for cats. As I researched, during breaks from watching her suffer and trying to calm her, I wondered, “Is peppermint oil safe for cats?”
If you’re reading this article, good on you for doing your due diligence. We know you care for your beloved pet. Seeing our fluffy friends in turmoil hurts us, too.
Without further ado, let’s get your kitty flea-free and healthy.
Peppermint Essential Oil and Cats: Does it Kill Fleas?
Peppermint is a cross between wintergreen and spearmint. Its essential oil is traditionally used to treat irritable bowels, upset stomach and nausea. Topically, this essential oil can be applied to relieve itch and muscle aches. In aromatherapy, herbalists claim its diffused oils increase energy and open the airways.
And it can kill fleas, since peppermint oil is a natural pesticide. Fleas are repelled by the strong scent of peppermint, and they may die if they come into contact with it. The reason? Peppermint oil attacks fleas’ central nervous system, leading to a slow, possibly painful death.
Well, your heart may not go out to the little bloodsuckers, and that’s fair. But there are faster ways to kill fleas, and total extermination is crucial. After all, one female flea can lay up to fifty eggs per day.
Tina Wismer, DVM, MS, DABVT, DABT and Medical Director with the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, strongly suggests that cat owners take their pet to the vet before trying any at-home treatment. Together with your vet, you can decide on the best treatment and dosage for your cat.
Many commercially-available treatments should be applied to a spot your cat can’t reach with her tongue. Wismer advises monitoring your pet after applying a new medication.
“Be sure to keep all supplies and medication up and out of paws’ reach to avoid any curious noses getting into things they shouldn’t,” she adds.
Is Peppermint Oil Safe For Cats? What Are The Risks?
Peppermint oil is, quite simply, not safe for cats. And if you’ve already tried using peppermint oil on your cat, you’ve learned that cats despise the smell as well.
Your cat’s olfactory receptors are 14 times more powerful than your own. While you may find peppermint refreshing, evoking memories of Christmas, your cat does not share your fond affection for the oil. She’ll be overwhelmed by it.
Peppermint oil, like many essential oils, contains phenols and phenolic compounds. Cats are very sensitive to phenols, whether exposure comes via inhalation or ingestion.
In this respect, cats and dogs are quite different. Unlike dogs (and humans), cats lack important enzymes in their livers which help eliminate toxins like phenols. If your cat ingests peppermint oil, it can upset her stomach, cause liver damage, and adversely affect her nervous system. In cats, ingesting essential oils with phenols can even lead to liver failure and death.
You may think, “But I’m not feeding her peppermint oil!”
Wismer reminds us that the smell of the oil can quickly saturate a cat’s fur. And since cats groom themselves by licking, they may do so more vigorously to get the odor out of their fur. Even small amounts of essential oils applied topically can cause damage when ingested.
Lastly, your cat’s skin is very delicate and thin. Topical application of essential oils can be harmful, because oil can breach the skin and enter the bloodstream.
The takeaway is clear: Avoid using peppermint oil to treat your cat’s fleas.
Signs and Symptoms
Watch out for these symptoms if you’ve applied peppermint oil to your cat. Immediately get her into the fresh air, and take her to the veterinarian as soon as possible if you notice:
- Labored breathing or wheezing
- Coughing or sneezing
- Lack of appetite
- Increased heart rate
- Fever or low body temperature
- Ataxia (wobbliness)
If you can’t reach your vet, call a pet poison helpline. Peppermint essential oil’s toxicity isn’t anything to take lightly because in the worst-case scenario, it can lead to death.
Never apply peppermint oil without consulting your vet first. Odds are high that they will have a safer solution to your problem.
Cats and Essential Oils: What About Other Essential Oils?
Are all essential oils bad for cats? Not quite. But it’s crucial for you to be aware of the most toxic essential oils if you have feline friends living under your roof.
Essential Oils Toxic to Cats
When diffusing essential oils, there are some that pet owners should never use around their cats. That’s because diffusers emit microdroplets of essential oils into the air, and your cat could inhale or ingest them after the droplets land on their fur.
Wismer advises that you only use an essential oil diffuser in a room completely separated from your cat. However, she notes, if your cat has a history of breathing problems, you should avoid using a diffuser at all.
This list contains many common essential oils that are toxic to cats, but it’s not exhaustive. Ask your vet before using any essential oils around your cat.
- clove essential oil
- thyme essential oil
- cinnamon essential oil
- oregano essential oil
- lavender essential oil
- ylang ylang essential oil
- citrus essential oil
- wintergreen essential oil
- pennyroyal essential oil
- peppermint essential oil
- sweet birch essential oil
- eucalyptus oil
- tea tree oil (note: tea tree oil, sometimes called melaleuca oil, is also poisonous to humans if ingested)
One other important note: many of these oils are also used to make liquid potpourri, which should also not be used around cats.
Essential Oils Safe for Cats
If you’re determined to find a natural remedy for your cat’s fleas, consult with your veterinarian about using cedarwood oil. Not all cedarwood oil is pet-safe, but some companies manufacture properly-diluted cedarwood oil. These companies make sure to use oil from non-toxic cedar (namely Juniperus ashei), and take special care to remove harmful phenols.
Like fleas, cats dislike the smell of cedarwood oil.
Wismer adds, “Keep in mind that your pets have a much stronger sense of smell than we do, so something light to us may be overwhelming to them.” Even if you find an essential oil that won’t harm your cat, you may still be putting it through unnecessary discomfort.
If you’re looking for a cat-safe option to use in your diffuser, there’s a little-known one you may want to try: catnip essential oil. It may act as a mild stimulant for your pet, but it’s also used to promote human wellness. It’s believed to help with digestion, fight insomnia, relieve spasms and detoxify the body.
I Consulted My Veterinarian
Let’s get back to the “tail” of Boudica. After doing some online research, I realized that fleas were more difficult to get rid of than I had thought. And I knew I didn’t want to put my precious furball through any more grief. It was bad enough she was suffering from fleas.
As Wismer recommended, I took my cat to the veterinarian, and he gave me a free sample of a prescription flea treatment he assured me would keep her safe and flea-free.
However, I’m glad I did my research first. Now I know that most essential oils, even in a diffuser, may annoy or even harm my cat. Since then, I have set up a designated meditation room in which to enjoy my essential oils.
If your cat is exhibiting breathlessness, ataxia, or any of the symptoms listed above, be sure to get her checked out by a veterinary professional as soon as possible.
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