I remember using tea tree oil as a teenager. That was a time The Body Shop had a super cool range of tea tree oil products to treat acne (teenage woes) and its refreshing smell always perked me up while I was washing my face. I also recalled buying tea tree oil shampoo (brand unknown) for my dog when I later discovered it was available for them. However, it seems that tea tree oil is perhaps not 100% safe for our pets…
So what is tea tree oil? Also known as melaleuca oil, it comes from the tea tree, which is native to Australia and found also in other parts of the world. Basically, the tea tree oil is an essential oil containing concentrated oils extracted from this tree. Sure, it is 100% natural and isn’t natural always good? Some vets advocate using it to combat fleas and mites too. The reason is that pets do not always react well to the high concentration of terpenes in the oil that give it its beneficial properties. Poisoning (otherwise known as tea tree oil toxicosis) can take place via inhalation or ingestion and apparently, it doesn’t take much to poison your furkid. In the course of researching this topic, I came across some forums where some clumsy pet owners had accidentally poured some undiluted tea tree oil onto their pet, causing burns and resulting in permanent black patches on the skin.
Symptoms typically appear 2-12 hours after exposure and can last up to 72 hours. Please take note that permanent liver failure may occur.
- Difficulty breathing
- Slow heart rate
- Decreased body temperature
- Muscle weakness
- Reduced level of consciousness
- Contact dermatitis (redness, itching, swelling)
So if some vets recommend and some totally protest using tea tree oil on your pet, how do you decide? As someone who has used tea tree oil shampoo on my dog, I would have to say it is rather safe, BUT you have to follow the dilution guidelines if any. A recommended safe guideline for the use of tea tree oil in pets is a 0.1% to 1% dilution rate. This means if you have 1 ml of oil, you need to add 100ml of water or 1ml of oil to 1L of water. In fact, I am not sure if I want to make so much if it is likely I won’t be able to finish it in the short-term timeframe. In view of the possible risks, I would probably rather use a different shampoo or essential oil. Remember, even if you have diluted the tea tree oil correctly, but if your cat or dog decides to lick it off its skin after a shower, it might end up poisoning him or her depending on how much they have licked off!