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Tea tree oil exposure in cats and dogs

02 November 2018
9 mins read
Volume 9 · Issue 9


Tea tree oil is an essential oil from the Australian tea tree Melaleuca alternifolia and is sometimes promoted as a natural or herbal treatment for fleas in pets. Although products containing low concentrations of tea tree oil are not expected to be a problem in pets, the use of pure tea tree oil directly on the skin is potentially very serious in pets and should never be used. Exposure may cause ataxia, salivation, lethargy, coma and tremor. Dermal exposure to tea tree oil may also result in dermatitis as the oil is irritant to skin. Even a few drops of pure tea tree oil applied dermally can cause clinical signs, and deaths have occurred in pets treated with pure tea tree oil. Treatment includes dermal decontamination and supportive care.

Tea tree oil is sometimes used by owners as a ‘herbal’ or ‘natural’ treatment for fleas, but it is potentially hazardous, particularly when used undiluted. Poisoning has even occurred when pure tea tree oil has been added to water and sprayed on pets.

Tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca oil, is an essential oil obtained by steam distillation from the leaves and terminal branches of the Australian tea tree, Melaleuca alternifolia (Carson et al, 2006). Essential oils are produced by plants and give the plant their characteristic odour. Some people find the camphor-like odour of tea tree oil unpleasant. Essential oils are volatile oils that evaporate at room temperature (compared with fixed oils which do not). Tea tree oil is a colourless to pale yellow liquid containing a complex mixture of compounds including terpene hydrocarbons; more than 100 individual compounds have been identified in tea tree oil (Hammer et al, 2006).

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