Can You Use Essential Oils on Cats for Fleas and Ticks?

Barri J. Morrison, DVM
By Barri J. Morrison, DVM on Jul. 27, 2022
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People use essential oils for a wide variety of reasons, including aromatherapy, beauty care, and natural medicine alternatives. Some manufacturers recommend using essential oils as antibiotics, antiseptics, and even pesticides to help with flea and tick infestations in pets. But while they may seem like a mostly natural alternative to traditional medicinal products, essential oils are in fact very harmful and potentially toxic to your cat.

Treating Fleas and Ticks on Cats

Fleas are tiny but powerful. They use their strong back legs to jump onto passing pets—and humans. They also multiply rapidly; when feeding on a host animal, a single flea can lay up to 50 eggs a day.

Unfortunately, fleas and ticks can get to your cat inside your home, not just outdoors. Indoor cats can get fleas and ticks in more ways than you might think from you, the family dog, from neighbor pets, and even from local wildlife such as birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, and skunks.

Fleas cause intense itching, skin irritation, and infections, and they can also transmit diseases like tapeworms and anemia. Ticks can also attach to your cat and cause a wide variety of serious illnesses, such as Ehrlichiosis and babesiosis. For these reasons and more, it’s highly recommended that your cat is on medicinal flea and tick preventives consistently, year-round.

What Are Essential Oils for Fleas and Ticks?

Essential oils are potent, concentrated plant extracts. They come from flowers, leaves, seeds, fruits, and even the wood and bark of certain plants. Lavender, mint, orange, clove, pine, fennel, cinnamon, and sandalwood are commonly used to make essential oils.

The manufacturing process starts with a large amount of the plant and extracts the most useful compounds, which are placed in a powerful solution that contains high levels of the desired active ingredient.

Some manufacturers add carrier oils, which means that the oil is no longer pure and is a potentially toxic mixture. A carrier oil is the method used to dilute the essential oil to make it safer to be applied to the body or put into a solution. This helps cats from being overexposed to potent oils and their powerful effects. Some oils used as carriers include coconut oil, almond oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, and many more. These carrier oils can cause issues with cats in addition to the essential oil. If ingested these oils can cause serious stomach issues and if inhaled, they can be very harmful to the lungs. 

Some flea and tick preventives on the market contain dangerous chemicals, so while it may be tempting to use a more natural product like an essential oil, these strategies have proven to be ineffective. It is a misconception that if a product is “all-natural,” it is necessarily safe. These products are not actually all natural since carrier oils are often introduced causing potential harm to your cat.

How Do Essential Oils for Fleas and Ticks Work on Cats?

Essential oils have not been scientifically tested to determine if they are safe for use on cats. Therefore, their effectiveness with flea and tick infestations has not been determined. An undiluted essential oil can be extremely potent and should never be used on or around your pets. Even diluted oils can be dangerous, as neither option has been FDA or EPA approved.

Essential oils, when placed on the skin, have a very robust smell, and may entice your cat to lick or sniff the area. This leads to gagging, drooling, and foaming at the mouth, along with skin irritation, lethargy, tremors, vomiting, ataxia (wobbliness), trouble breathing, coughing, and even liver problems.

A cat’s liver does not have the ability to properly metabolize many of the compounds in essential oils. The liver facilitates the elimination of toxins from the body. When an essential oil cannot be metabolized, it causes toxicity after external or internal application.

Common Essential Oils for Fleas and Ticks on Cats

  • Lemongrass oil: Considered a powerful insecticide

  • Peppermint oil: Used as a flea and tick repellant only, as it will not kill the insects

  • Citronella oil: A highly effective repellant for fleas, ticks, mosquitos, and other bugs

  • Cedarwood, cinnamon, and rose oil: Can be used as an insect repellant

Wondercide sprays are a line of products that use high-quality, pure, all-natural essential oils as flea and tick preventives, mostly as repellants. It uses essential oils in acceptable concentrations for use around or on cats, but you will still need to take the proper precautions to ensure your cat does not develop a toxicity.

What Essential Oils Are Toxic to Cats?

Many essential oils that are advertised as flea and tick preventives for cats are known to be toxic and cause poisoning. These oils commonly include but are not limited to ingredients such as:

  • Wintergreen

  • Sweet birch

  • Citrus

  • Pine

  • Ylang Ylang

  • Pennyroyal

  • Clove

  • Eucalyptus

  • Lavender

  • Tea tree

  • Oregano

  • Thyme oil

How to Use Essential Oils for Fleas and Ticks on Cats

When applying essential oils, it’s important to ensure that the specific ingredient is deemed safe for use in cats. It’s much safer to use a commercial product than mixing and diluting your own oils and it’s equally important to follow the directions on the package to ensure your cat has the least chance of developing a toxicity from the essentials oils it contains. But be aware that even with the safest application, toxicity can occur.

There are a few different ways to use essential oils in cats as a flea and tick preventive/repellant. Most common ways include a diffuser to vaporize the oil into the air and the direct placement of oils onto your cat’s skin. Both ways can cause serious health problems and even death for your cat if not used correctly.

If you are going to use an essential oil for flea and tick prevention, it is always recommended that the oil be used along with traditional medicinal flea and tick preventives. Please consult your veterinarian before using any oils or preventives on your cat, especially in combination.

Consistent and effective prevention is the best way to prevent fleas and ticks in cats. It always best to chat with your veterinarian if you have any questions when it comes to fleas and ticks, and to help choose the best prevention or combination of preventions for your cats.

Featured Image: Kurylo

Barri J. Morrison, DVM


Barri J. Morrison, DVM


Barri Morrison was born and raised and currently resides in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She went to University of Florida for her...

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