Tea tree oil is an ingredient that can be found in many topical products sold in pet shops nowadays. While there is a growing popularity in using “all natural” remedies, we must also be aware of the risks involved. Many natural ingredients and plants can be toxic to both humans and animals when ingested.
While Tea Tree Oil may indeed have some antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, it is also poisonous when ingested in high concentrations. The poisonous compounds that tea tree oils contains are called terpenes. Due to the grooming and licking behaviour of pets, there is a high chance of poisoning when tea tree oil is applied to the skin and fur of animals. Concentrated Tea Tree Oil that is self diluted is especially dangerous as the dilution may not be correct.
Tea Tree Oil poisoning can occur from skin exposure, oral ingestion or a combination of the two.
Signs of poisoning can occur within 2-12 hours of ingestion and can include:
- Vomiting and drooling
- Lethargy and weakness
- Loss of muscular control and seizures
- Coma and even death
If you suspect poisoning in your pet, please seek veterinary attention immediately. There is no direct antidote for terpene and only supportive treatment can be given. Terpene is also toxic to the liver and liver supplements are needed for at least 2 weeks post exposure.
If you absolutely feel the need to use tea tree oil, please take the following precautions:
- NEVER use it on cats
- For dogs, apply only small amounts and make sure it is well diluted
- Use an e-collar to prevent ingestion
- Use only on focal areas and do not apply excessive amounts (Eg to the whole body)
- If the tea tree oil is for your own personal use, store it safely away from both pets and children
- Clean up any spillage promptly and do not allow your pets to lick it
(Reference: Concentrated tea tree oil toxic in dogs and cats: 443 cases (2002-2012). J Am Vet Med Assoc. January 1, 2014;244(1):95-9 )