Natural doesn’t mean safe – Tea tree oil is toxic to pets

Tea tree oil (melaleuca oil) is an essential oil used by many people to treat their own skin problems and other health issues, it is also found in some cleaning products.

Although considered by many to be a “wonder” oil as its “natural” and has antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-itch properties it is actually toxic to humans when ingested. Due to its potential toxicity, pure (100%) tea tree oil is labelled as a schedule 6 poison – it is sold in child proof containers and normally has an insert in the top of the bottle restricting it to come out in drops to reduce risk of ingestion.

Toxicity problems most commonly occur in our pets when an owner directly applies pure tea tree oil to the skin of their pet unaware of the potential danger.

Tea tree oil in its pure form (100% oil) is toxic to pets both when ingested and when applied to the skin. Being an essential oil it is rapidly absorbed through the skin especially if the skin is inflamed. The risk of toxicity is increased due to pets grooming (licking) habits.

Signs of toxicity can develop in 2-12 hours after exposure and last for several days. The severity of illness depends on the amount absorbed. Signs may include drooling, vomiting, depression, lethargy, weakness, difficulty walking, a low body temperature, liver damage, muscle tremors, seizures and coma. There is no antidote but thankfully with hospitalisation and supportive treatment most pets survive.

Registered veterinary products containing tea tree oil have a very small concentrations (0.1-1%) of tea tree oil which makes them safe.

If you have pure tea tree oil concentrate at home please
1) store it out of reach in a locked cupboard away from curious pets and children
2) never be tempted to apply pure tea tree oil to the skin of a dog or cat – there are lots of safer products on the market .