People love to use tea tree oil for all sorts of purposes for their dogs and themselves … and even to clean their homes. But is it really safe for dogs?
Tea tree oil, aka melaleuca oil, is an essential oil made from the leaves of the Australian tea tree. It has antibacterial and antifungal properties and antiparasitic effects. It includes the active ingredient terpinen-4-ol and has been used medicinally for decades. It’s used in hand sanitizers, insect repellents, natural deodorants, and antiseptic products. It encourages wound healing, fights acne and nail fungus. It can be used as a cleanser or a mouthwash, it can treat athlete’s foot or dandruff, and even relieve psoriasis. There are, of course, more uses and benefits of tea tree oil, but this is just scratching the surface. You can buy it at 100% strength, or in a diluted version.
At first glance, tea tree oil seems like a miracle cure-all – for humans. So you might assume it’s good for dogs too. But that’s not the case.
Is Tea Tree Oil Safe For Dogs?
No, tea tree oil is not safe for dogs. This fact may surprise you … because it’s often in products made for dogs … like shampoos, insect repellents, hot spot or ringworm treatments, and more. People even use it in essential oil diffusers for its antibacterial effects.
But tea tree oil can cause serious side effects in your dog, especially when used at full strength. A 2014 review of toxicity cases by the ASPCA showed that at 100 percent concentration, it leads to common signs of toxic effects in dogs and cats.
“Intentional or accidental use of 100% TTO in dogs or cats caused serious signs of CNS depression, paresis, ataxia, or tremors within hours after exposure and lasting up to 3 days.”
The amounts of tea tree oil used were very small in some cases … as low as 0.1 ml (0.0033 oz) caused toxicity. The oil was used topically, orally, or both. It doesn’t take much tea tree oil to harm your pet. The tea tree oil toxicity cases all used 100% oil.
What Are Signs Of Tea Tree Oil Toxicity In Dogs?
Here are some common symptoms of tea tree oil toxicity you could see in your dog (or cat) …
- Low body temperature
- Low heart rate
- Uncoordinated gait
- Inability to walk
- Elevated liver enzyme levels
- Hind leg paralysis
You’ll notice these signs of tea tree oil toxicity within 2 to 8 hours after exposure. Some of them are severe symptoms of neurological problems
If you see any of the above signs of toxicity, call your veterinarian immediately. (If you can’t get hold of your vet, call an Animal Poison Control Center.)
Your vet may tell you to bathe your pet to decontaminate the skin. And she might advise giving him activated charcoal if he licked or ate tea tree oil. Because of the high risk of liver damage, she may also recommend giving milk thistle or other herbs to protect against liver failure.
When It’s An Emergency
If your dog is vomiting, has seizures or becomes unconscious, head straight to the ER. Fast and aggressive treatment will be required as lifesaving measures. There’s no antidote for tea tree oil toxicity, so they’ll manage the poisoning with IV fluids and medications. Your dog could be hospitalized for as long as 72 hours. Severe poisoning can lead to death.
Why Are There Tree Oil Products For Dogs?
So … tea tree oil is dangerous and potentially deadly. Then why is it in so many dog products – even natural products? There’s tea tree oil shampoo, spray, spritz, skin cream. You can find washes, wipes, topical flea treatments, and other dog skin products.
Mostly, it’s because tea tree oil works, and works well. It may be in the products in very small, diluted amounts so manufacturers believe it’s safe. It’s thought a concentration of tea tree oil of 0.1-1% or even 2% is safe. But do you really want to risk it?
You might decide it’s okay to try it on your dog’s skin. But remember … in the ASPCA review, tea tree oil was toxic even with topical application on the skin. And your dog could easily lick it … he might want to get rid of the strong smell. So even using tea tree oil for paws or skin conditions can be just as risky as taking it orally
Cleaning Products With Tea Tree Oil
Some people use tea tree oil cleaning products at home … but that’s not safe for your dog or cat either. Remember your animals live mainly on the floor, where they can breathe the oil and absorb it through their pads. One reader told us her dog went into liver failure after she diffused tea tree oil while she was at work. Air fresheners can be just as risky for any period of time.
Safe Essential Oils For Dogs
There are many other natural alternatives that are better for your dog. Tea tree oil is natural … but “natural” doesn’t always mean safe. Instead, look into other essential oils or natural remedies. For example, essential oils like lavender, thyme, or frankincense also have antibacterial and antifungal properties. Remember … always dilute any essential oils before using them on your dog.
Read labels and avoid anything with tea tree oil in it for your dog (or cat). Make sure if you use this oil for yourself, it’s not around your pet. It’s just not worth the risks.
Carson CF, Hammer KA, Riley TV. Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006 Jan;19(1):50-62.
Khan SA, McLean MK, Slater MR. Concentrated tea tree oil toxicosis in dogs and cats: 443 cases (2002-2012). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2014 Jan 1;244(1):95-9.
Li WR, Li HL et al. The dynamics and mechanism of the antimicrobial activity of tea tree oil against bacteria and fungi. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2016 Oct;100(20):8865-75.