Web Only Article April 1, 2019

Tea Tree Oil Diffusers Are Toxic to Dogs

A popular essential oil used in aromatherapy, tea tree oil is toxic to dogs when ingested. Here's why you must use plenty of caution when using essential oils for pets.

While some essential oils can benefit dogs, others are extremely dangerous – especially when used in concentrated forms. Tea tree oil demands extra caution around dogs, cats and small children. Although exposure to any essential oil is generally most concentrated when it directly contacts skin, tea tree oil diffusers and liquid potpourri present specific health concerns to dogs. These items release essential oils like tea tree continually into the air, risking exposure by inhalation.

tea tree oil apothecary

Getty Images / amesy

So Tea Tree Oil is Completely Dangerous to Dogs?

Some dogs are safely treated topically with tea tree oil for skin conditions. The toxin found in tea tree oil is metabolized by the liver, making diluted tea tree oil safe for topical use on most dogs – but always consult your veterinarian before exposing your dog to it. Cats, on the other hand, have less of the liver enzyme necessary to metabolizing tea tree and should never be exposed to the oil in any form. (Birds are especially sensitive and should never be exposed to essential oils; these toxic effects extend even to fish, reptiles and rodents.)

According to a recent report published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, there have been numerous instances of tea tree oil toxicity in dogs and cats from a decade of data collected from the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.

tea tree essential oil

Getty Images / Amy_Lv

Owners should always exercise caution when using 100 percent essential oils either on themselves or in the home. Essential oils should never be left out or open when there are pets in the house. If used on dogs topically, essential oils must be diluted to be safe.

If you choose to diffuse essential oils with dogs in the house, do so only for short periods of time and in a room where the dogs do not have direct exposure. Be sure to keep the oils and diffusers out of reach even when they’re not in use. Open windows when you’re done and take your dog outside frequently during and after diffusing tea tree oil. Never leave your dog in the house unattended with an essential oil diffuser on. Different dogs may have different reactions to inhaling any concentrated oil. Monitor your dog closely.

Topical Tea Tree Oil Uses for Dogs

Because tea tree oil is effective in treating certain human skin conditions, some dog owners have used it to treat similar maladies in their dogs. Skin allergies and hot spots are two of the more common conditions, as are ear infections and yeast infections. Tea tree oil shampoo for dogs is believed to provide a variety of benefits for coat and skin health, as well.

However, you should never apply essential oils to your dog without the advice and direction of your veterinarian, and be sure to inform your veterinarian of any other pets living in your home. It’s important to purchase a high quality essential oil and not look for a bargain, which will likely be an inferior (and perhaps dangerous) product.

Signs of essential-oil poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, depression, lethargy, weakness, wobbliness, tremors and abnormal behavior. There’s a direct correlation between the severity of illness and the dog’s weight and age. The smaller and younger a dog is, the sicker they are likely to get. The same applies to dogs with liver disease.

tee tree plant

Getty Images / Dewin' Indew

Essential Oils Most Toxic to Dogs

  • Tea tree oil
  • Citrus
  • Oil of cinnamon
  • Peppermint
  • Pennyroyal oil
  • Sweet birch
  • Ylang ylang
  • Wintergreen
  • Pine oils

If you suspect that your dog may have ingested or inhaled a toxic essential oil, promptly call your veterinarian, a veterinary emergency room or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435.

Comments (6)

I am also a follower and student of Dr Melissa Shelton, DVM and have taken her course on essential oils for animals. I regularly use her blends from "animalEO" for my dog and cat both for general health and for specific needs. EOs may be used for birds also with good results providing one knows what they are doing. Tea Tree Oil can be tricky, so you are correct to caution your readers, but blanketed statements that all essential oils are harmful to our animals does not help anyone.

Posted by: Becky and Buddy | April 12, 2019 2:59 PM    Report this comment

Got into essential oils through Dr. Melissa Shelton of animaleo.net. Great resource and a big believer in essential oils. I use Kittyboost on my cats, dog, and myself! I appreciate this caution and will keep it in mind, although I have seen benefits and good results with animaleo blends, Young Living, and proper use of high quality essential oils ONLY for health benefits for anyone in my household.

Posted by: MStevens | April 8, 2019 1:55 PM    Report this comment

Essential oils are a tricky thing with animals. I have gotten much valued information from Melissa Shelton, DVM. Her practice and her expertise is integrative and essential oils are a big part of her treatments. She has a very informative website on just these subjects and offers recipes and solutions. Her website is animaleo.info. I have used her suggestions and products on my cats and dogs for various problems with good results.

Posted by: dixiesmama | April 6, 2019 12:42 PM    Report this comment

years ago my landlady began applying Undiluted tea tree oil to an elbow area of my Alaskan husky...it was a very good quality brand. (His elbow had one of those inflamed callouses from lying on the carpet......he was an Alaskan Husky.) She apparently massaged this oil into his outer elbow area daily, for weeks, when I was at work. My dog would spend his daytime with her and her children.
Well, abruptly, my dog began to show signs of SEVERE abdominal discomfort and I got him into the vet immediately. After his workup the vet noted the area on his elbow and decided to aspirate the contents....it was looking like a small water balloon or large blister. The contents of the aspirate were OIL, and when smelled were tea tree oil. She was astounded, as was I.
When I got home I called poison control about the elbow aspirate substance and my dogs severe abdominal symptoms. They stated, without hesitation, that the tee tree oil was very likely the cause of his abdominal pain and that NO OIL SHOULD BE APPLIED....PERIOD.
So, I went downstairs to discuss this with her because I thought she would certainly want to know if she was causing harm to him. She loved him immensely but the appliv

Posted by: 24dogs1cat | April 6, 2019 12:04 PM    Report this comment

The industrial hygienist working with my painters' union addressed safe industrial exposure to turpentine, which could be called "pine tree oil". She noted that humans should take care with tea tree oil, in shampoos, etc. Even though you can buy it at the health food store, it is still a chemical.

Posted by: susan in sf | April 6, 2019 11:52 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for the article on Tea Tree Oil. I have not used it on my dogs, but found it (diluted) to be helpful for thrush in a horse's hoof and also for personal skin problems. I have treated a large dog with Manuka Honey. Manuka honey is effective for skin trouble because the bees that create it feed on tea tree blossoms. Do you know if it has negative affects on canine health? It can be given internally in small amounts or placed on skin externally, covered with a cloth.

Posted by: TimberScout | April 6, 2019 11:39 AM    Report this comment

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