Tea Tree Oil for Pets? Better Think Twice.
Tea tree oil is extracted from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia plant native to Australia, and has a long history of medical use by its indigenous people. Currently, it is often used topically in people for its antiviral, antiseptic, antifungal and antibacterial properties, but has been used for a variety of conditions including gum disease, and skin conditions such as acne and dandruff.
Although recent scientific studies have found that tea tree oil may be extremely beneficial for treating a variety of conditions in people it is NEVER appropriate to use on your pet. Even though tea tree oil is very toxic to cats and dogs it can still be found in a variety of pet products. Claims that it repels fleas and ticks, cures allergies and soothes skin are very common. As little as 7 drops of 100% tea tree oil have been known to cause severe toxicity, and 10-20ml can easily cause death. Many products contain very small amounts of tea tree oil, but it is important to remember that each pet is an individual and some may be affected by even a small amount of the toxin. Although the potential benefits of using tea tree oil are touted by many, there are a variety of veterinary approved products that are equally effective and much safer.
Tea tree oil can cause toxicity by being absorbed through the skin or ingested. Symptoms of toxicity include elevations in liver enzymes, weakness, low body temperature, incoordination, inability to walk, hind leg paralysis, tremors, coma and death. These symptoms often appear 2-8 hours after exposure. If you suspect tea tree oil toxicity in your pet please contact your veterinarian immediately. Although there is no cure for tea tree oil toxicity, supportive care is very important. Bathing to remove all traces of tea tree oil, administration of activated charcoal in the case of ingestion (in order to bind the toxin), IV catheterization and fluid administration, and heat therapy are all very important in helping your pet overcome this toxicity.
Please remember that just because something is “natural” does not mean that it is non-toxic. Many compounds found in nature can be very toxic to both animals and people. Similarly, many compounds that have extremely beneficial properties in people can be very harmful to your pet. Please contact your veterinarian prior to giving your dog or cat any supplement/medication.