TEA TREE OIL ON YOUR DOG: SAFE OR TOXIC? OR BOTH?
“Natural”, “chemical free”, “plant based” — there are a lot of buzzwords floating around out there right now. Along with those buzzwords there are some pretty trendy natural/chemical free/plant based ingredients out there that are making the rounds.
Coconut oil, argan oil, neem, tea tree oil — more on tea tree oil in a moment — these are just a few of the “hot” naturals that you can’t turn a corner in your local market or health store without seeing in some form or another. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like and use all of these products either on myself, or my pets, or both. I think they have a place in products that have been carefully created by people or companies that understand how to use them safely and properly in pet or human products.
The phrase that I sometimes hear that worries me is, “Well, if it’s natural, it must be safe. I use (fill in plant derived oil or substance here) that I buy from the health food store on my dog.”
Natural does not always mean safe. Natural does not mean chemical free. Let’s be clear, chemicals are found in nature. Vinegar, for example, is a chemical. But so is arsenic, so is lead. They are both natural, but they are both far from safe.
Which brings me to tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is everywhere lately.
From human body care products to pet body care products, tea tree is one of those natural oils that it seems like companies are just throwing into their products because consumers will buy them — whether they know why they’re buying it or not.
So what is tea tree oil?
Pet MD describes tea tree oil as:
Tea tree oil is extracted from the leaves of a tree native to Australia that is similar to the myrtle tree. The tree has been introduced to America and is grown in the southern states, particularly Florida. The clear to pale yellow oil has a camphor-like smell and has bactericidal and fungicidal properties.
It is used topically to treat acne, boils, burns and insect bites in humans and pets. It is also used for treating athlete’s foot, gingivitis, impetigo, tonsillitis, and vaginal infections in humans. It is sometimes added to vaporizers to treat respiratory infections. The oil can also be found in soaps, toothpaste, lotions, and skin creams.
So yes, tea tree oil is naturally occurring, and yes, tea tree oil can be great (I love putting a drop of it — literally 1 drop — into a dollop of shampoo to help with itchy scalp, and it makes a great additive to homemade deodorant), but it’s all in how you use it.
It’s a wonderful oil to use in an anti microbial or anti bacterial capacity. Heavily diluted, it does wonders for dandruff, flaky skin, minor scrapes or cuts, or bacterial/fungal skin issues. It’s also great for oily skin, as it’s a natural astringent — just make sure it’s diluted with water!
But you always need to be careful when using tea tree oil.
You see, tea tree oil is also very toxic. In it’s 100% pure form, as it is often sold in health food stores, it can be very dangerous if absorbed undiluted through the skin or ingested by you or your dog. Even diluted, it’s safest if it’s only .1% to 1% of the solution. Any more could lead to toxic exposure, especially over time.
What are the symptoms of tea tree toxicity in your dog?
Symptoms can range from excessive drooling or vomiting, to stiffness, all the way to seizures and loss of consciousness. Severity of symptoms depends on the amount of exposure. At high doses, symptoms can be life threatening.
How does toxic exposure in dogs occur?
Through the skin or ingested orally. Either way, it is absorbed readily into the body.
If you only pay attention to one sentence in this entire blog post, pay attention to this one:
NEVER PUT UNDILUTED TEA TREE OIL ON YOUR DOG OR YOUR CAT*.
(*NOTE: While some specially formulated cat products have tea tree oil in them, we highly recommend against ever using “homemade” or “do it yourself” tea tree oil formulations on your cat. Cat’s are so sensitive to essential oils, it’s best not to take any chances. Always keep essential oils out of reach of your cat. You could kill your cat with tea tree oil.)
Application of undiluted tea tree oil can can present toxicity symptoms in your dog in as little as two hours. Severity of symptoms will vary, depending on how much your dog was exposed to. Long term exposure — or even just one heavy dose — could have dire results. If you suspect your dog has been poisoned by tea tree oil — or really any essential oil — GO TO THE VET.
I repeat: just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s safe.
So should you be worried about using products on your dog that contain tea tree oil?
Some of my favorite tea tree shampoos.
Mostly, no. In most commercial products, the tea tree is used in very small amounts, and is mixed with many other ingredients. Plus most commercial products are made in a lab, under the supervision of people who identify themselves as “chemists”. Even if products are not made under laboratory supervision, most reputable small companies put a lot of time and research into creating their products. Nobody with any good reputation is just grabbing a bottle of tea tree oil and olive oil, dumping it in a lotion bottle and calling it “salve”. (I hope.)
Unless your dog were to drink, say, a bottle of undiluted tea tree shampoo, the odds of your dog suffering from toxic exposure are extremely small. If you have an extra sensitive dog, I always suggest doing a “patch test” apply a small amount, as directed on the label, to small patch of your dog’s skin and observe for reaction for about 24 hours. You should be good to go if nothing happens.
If you want to use tea tree oil on your dog — and the benefits can be many — I’d highly recommend a professionally made, reputable product. It’s safer and easier. While making your own products can be appealing, and seem simple enough, getting the balance wrong while using such strong ingredients like tea tree oil, can be dangerous to your dog’s health.
I really don’t mean to scare you away from tea tree oil. It’s really one of my favorite oils!
I suppose I just hope the lesson to be learned here, is that NATURAL DOES NOT ALWAYS EQUAL SAFE, and if you aren’t 100% sure how your dog will react to a “natural” substance, don’t use it.
You have so many proven products out there to chose from! Why take a chance?
Take care of yourselves!
~Your Loyal Calvin & Susie Blogger
Always check with your vet before making any changes to your pet’s diet or body care. The Calvin & Susie Blogger always researches to the best of her ability, but she is not a vet. This blog is not in any way meant to replace veterinary advice or care. When in doubt always ask a vet.