Australian Tea Tree Oil: Good or Bad for Pets?

August 29, 2013

Tea tree oil is a popular “fad” right now with many suggested uses.  It’s found in shampoos, lotions and other products for humans and is said to have antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Tea tree oil has many suggested uses for pets, from antiseptics, shampoos, healing and soothing abrasions and burns to use as a parasite repellant.  While it may work well for humans (and that is a debatable subject), tea tree oil can be toxic to dogs and cats.

There have been cases reported where tea tree oil was used on dogs as a flea repellent, and it resulted in paralysis of the back legs or worse.  It only takes a few drops of pure oil to cause problems with cats and dogs.

It is not known why some animals react badly to the oil and others do not.  One thought is that cats tend to lick off the oil and the amount ingested could be huge.  Perhaps, dogs do so, as well.  If the oil is applied directly to an animal’s skin, it is likely to be absorbed into the system and affect vital organs.

According to Cynthia Juday, DVM,  “Tea tree oil is found in small amounts in some veterinary products, particularly shampoos and ear preparations.  It has been promoted for flea repelling properties for small animals.  However, pet owners should realize that this oil can be toxic and even fatal for pets, especially if it is ingested.  The Pet Poison Helpline gives the following caution:  ‘Tea tree oil is often found in varying concentrations and should never be used on pets.  As little as 7 drops of 100% oil has resulted in severe poisoning, and applications of 10-20 mls of 100% oil have resulted in poisoning and death in both dogs and cats.’”

This essential oil that comes from the Australian Tea Tree, or Melaleuca Alternifolia is found in different concentrations in different products.  A pet that has been poisoned by tea tree oil displays such symptoms as inability to walk, paralysis, coma, tremors and even death.

Before you use any product containing tea tree oil on your dog or cat, talk to your veterinarian.   Dr. Juday adds, “Please be informed and do not assume that products, even those considered ‘natural,’ that are sold for use in humans can also be used safely on pets.”

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