Is orange oil safe for cats?

America’s respected Pet Poison Helpline tells me that orange oil can cause poisoning in cats and therefore it is clearly unsafe. They list it as “citrus oil”. It is also listed as d-limonene because orange oil is mostly composed of d-limonene and is apparently often used in place of pure d-limonene.

Orange oil
Orange oil. A homemade version: Photo:
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For the technically minded, d-limonene is a colourless, liquid aliphatic hydrocarbon and is the major component in the oil of citrus fruit peels. It is used as a dietary supplement and to add fragrance to cosmetic products. It is also used as a botanical insecticide. When I read ‘insecticide’ I see danger for cats. ‘Botanical insecticide’ means natural insecticide. They don’t realise toxins and they decompose.

It has many uses, I have discovered, because it is also used as a solvent for cleaning purposes and as a paint stripper (as an alternative to turpentine). That sounds as if it is poisonous to animals!

List of essential oils poisonous to cats

The Pet Poisons Helpline states that, in general, essential oils are poisonous to cats. They include in a long list: tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, clove oil, pennyroyal oil, cinnamon oil, peppermint oil, Ylang Ylang oil, pine oils, sweet birch oil and oil of wintergreen in addition to orange oil.

I wrote about eucalyptus oil a while ago in which a first-hand account is provided by the person who experienced accidentally poisoning her cat with eucalyptus oil. She said that it could have been fatal.


Essential oils are absorbed through the skin or through the mouth. Domestic cats lack an essential enzyme in their liver and therefore have difficulty in metabolising and eliminating an essential oil which is a toxin in part because phenols and phenolic compounds are found in some essential oils. Phenols can be absorbed through the cat’s skin. I don’t believe that orange oil contains phenols. At this time, I am unsure why it is toxic to cats.


The symptoms of being poisoned by an essential oil according to the Pet Poison Helpline depends upon the type of oil and the amount of exposure but it can include liver failure, low heart rate, low body temperature, breathing problems, ataxia (lack of coordination) tremors, vomiting and drooling.

Human benefit

Orange oil is of interest to people because it is meant to have benefits on inhalation. It is said to help fight hypertension and stimulate the immune system. You can inhale through the diffusion of steam which is called wet inhalation or acquire the benefits by dry inhalation which entails applying a few drops of the orange essential oil on a cloth and breathing the scent from it. Although my research indicates that orange oil can be toxic to humans too. It must depend on the person’s sensitivity. Orange oil should be used by people with care. It can be a skin sensitizer and be phototoxic. Old or oxidized orange essential oil can cause dermal sensitization.

I find it strange that essential oils are allegedly beneficial to humans and poisonous to cats when we have a similar anatomy and are both mammals. It must be parlty to do with the liver enzyme but as can be seen there are potential hazards to people in using this product.


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