Susan Murray may be able to answer the question in the title. She wrote a post on Facebook about how she inadvertently poisoned her daughter’s cat, Ernie, with eucalyptus oil. I searched for her post without success. I have since discovered that she has deleted it. This may be because it went viral with over 700,000 views which may have bothered her as it may have innocently misled people. But clearly it caught the eye of social media fans. Ernie appears to have fully recovered but he is a geriatric cat at 16 years of age.
Fortunately, a couple of people cut and pasted her post which is reproduced below. It provides her full story. Her husband did some research on this which she refers to.
“This is my daughter’s cat, Ernie. He has lived with us most of his 16 years. I unknowingly have been poisoning him since Christmas and feel the need to warn everyone who might be unaware of the toxicity of essential oils. I bought a diffuser and a set of essential oils from Amazon. I gave it to my husband as a gift and also one to my daughter and daughter-in-law. We started using ours soon after the holiday and loved how the different oils made the house smell, trying a different one each day.
I came down with a head cold. On the package with the oils, it said that eucalyptus oil was good for congestion, so we had the diffuser going several hours for several days in a row and close to where I was sleeping. Ernie loves sleeping with me. The first couple days I didn’t notice any symptoms with Ernie, but on the fourth day, he was lethargic, unstable on his feet and was drooling excessively. My husband instinctively Googled eucalyptus oil.
It stated that it can be toxic to cats and they can’t metabolize it and stated all of Ernie’s symptoms. It also said that without medical attention, it could be fatal! So I took him to the Vet right away! The Vet gave him a shot of antibiotics and another shot of vitamins to boost him and instructions to watch him over the weekend. Ernie hasn’t been himself. He is eating and drinking a little, walking a little better, has some diarrhea, but is still not out of the woods.
We also learned that out of the 8 oils in our set, only 2 are NOT toxic. Rosemary and Frankincense. Orange, Lemon, Tea Tree, Eucalyptus and Lavender ARE toxic to cats and small animals. There is no warning anywhere on these essential oils, which I feel is shocking! We have also learned that the candles we love to burn are scented with essential oils. Sorry this post is so long, but if this helps to keep any of your animals safe, it was worth the rant!!!”
An American Veterinary Medical Association spokesperson in response to a question from BuzzFeed stated “it appears that these products are potentially toxic to pets (cats in particular) and we’d advise pet owners to be cautious in using them around the house”.
This is not a very conclusive statement. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals warns owners against the dangers of using essential oils when there are animals about. They say on their website that essential oils can cause gastrointestinal upset, liver damage and central nervous system issues in cats. The toxicity varies depending on the oil. Inhaling a diffuser can cause aspiration pneumonia.
However, essential oil sellers pushed back in defending their product and took to Facebook to declare that their products are safe to use around pets. An essential oil Vet – Janet Roark, DVM created a Facebook video (see below) in which she claims that Ernie’s symptoms might be due to many other causes including the possibility that the oils used were cheap as they were bought on Amazon. These oils may contain chemicals which are not present in higher quality oils and it is possible that these chemicals may have harmed Ernie.
This veterinarian said that if cat owners are worried about essential oils being toxic to their cat they should use a water-based diffuser and make sure that they source their oils from a reputable company. The well-known website BuzzFeed News were unable to obtain a comment from Dr Roark. That may or may not be significant.
A producer of essential oils Young Living state that pet owners should start with they diluted oils and see how their pets react. They even suggest that dog and cat owners can rub oils on the paws of their pets to see what happens. I a not sure about that. They claim that every animal is different and reacts differently to essential oils. They do, however, state that cat owners should be especially cautious when using essential oils around cats because they are averse to high phenol and citrus oils.
They also recommend that you seek the advice of a competent well-trained veterinarian with the requisite knowledge and experience of how essential oils interact with cats and dogs.
It seems then, in conclusion, that essential oils including eucalyptus oil is a potential hazard to domestic cats in the home. Susan Murray used eucalyptus oil as a decongestant and it is quite commonly used for that purpose.
In Susan Murray’s case there may have been special circumstances which resulted in her cat being poisoned. She describes her cat sleeping with her and the eucalyptus oil was by her bedside. If there was exposure it was long exposure which may have been a defining factor.