Tea Tree Oil Warning

Published August 2002

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A Maine Coon owner took her 2 cats to a professional pet groomer to have a summer clip and bath. When the cats returned home, they seemed "off". By the next day the owner was so concerned that she rushed them both to her vet where their temperatures were 105+ and they seemed to be in pain. Cool baths were given immediately which temporarily lowered the fevers. During one cat's bath a large patch of hair fell out at the scuff of his neck and the skin underneath looked like it had been blowtorched. He was given subQ fluids and sent home on Prednisolone 5 mg. The other cat was bathed and given subQ fluids. Over the next 24 hours they ate and drank a small amount, were restless and obviously felt bad. Despite veterinary attention one cat died and the other was very ill.

When the groomer was questioned it was discovered that the cats were shampooed using a product containing Tea Tree Oil. It is the suspected that both cats were reacting to the Tea Tree Oil in the shampoo.

What is Tea Tree Oil?

Tea Tree Oil is a pale yellow almost colorless liquid also called Melaleuca oil because it is obtained from the Australian Tea-tree, scientific name Melaleuca alternifolia.

The oil is is rapidly absorbed both through the skin or when eaten and can be toxic to cats and other animals in higher dosages.

Symptoms of Tea Tree Oil Poisoning

Tea Tree Oil poisoning have been reported in both cats and dogs when applied to the skin at too high a dose. If your cat is going to have a reaction to tea tree oil, you will usually see it within 2 to 8 hours following application. Symptoms include:

  • loss of muscular coordination
  • lethargy
  • weakness
  • shaking and tremors
  • a change in behavior
The toxicity of tea tree oil (and many other things that are poisonous to cats)
is usually dependent on the AMOUNT of the product in the shampoo.
Not ALL shampoos containing tea tree oil are toxic to cats.


If you suspect your cat is having a reaction to Tea Tree Oil, you should immediately take the cat to your vet.

  • Bath your cat to remove any residual amounts of oil from the skin as soon as possible.
  • Give intravenous fluids and glucose.
  • Feed the cat activated charcoal if the oil has been taken internally. Typically, cats ingest Tea Tree Oil when licking and grooming themselves.

Recovery following treatment usually takes only 2 to 3 days. However, higher levels of toxins can result in death.

Why do products contain Tea tree Oil if it is poisonous?

Tea Tree Oil has proven antibacterial and fungicidal properties, so it is a popular additive to pet shampoos. Is also thought to act as a deodorizer, detangler and external parasite repellent. Tea Tree Oil is often used in skin-care products because it helps clean, heals minor abrasions and relieves itching due to allergies, minor rashes and insect bites.


  • Follow the directions when using a product containing Tea Tree Oil. MORE IS NOT BETTER.
  • Watch your cat for excessive grooming or licking following a shampoo. You may need to re-shampoo in a different product.
  • RINSE. Rinse again... and again!
  • Do not leave the shampoo on longer than recommended
  • Do not use the shampoo at higher concentrations than recommended.
  • Individual animals may react much more sensitively to drugs and products.


Read the labels on all the products you are considering using on your cat. Because cats groom themselves, they may be particularly susceptible to ingestion of any residues left behind by grooming products.

While you need not reject all shampoos containing tea tree oil, you should exercise good judgment, both in choosing the shampoo and in its application. Follow the directions on the label. More is not necessarily better.

There are many pet shampoos containing Tea Tree Oil that have been used safely for years. However, if you have any reservations, choose a shampoo without Tea tree Oil.

NOTE: The same care you use in choosing your cat's grooming products should be used in deciding on your cattery cleaning products. Read LABELS and use according to directions as they too can be dangerous to your cat's health.

More Info on Tea Tree Oil

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