Tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca oil, is used to help with certain skin conditions in humans and may also be used in aromatherapy.
With its antibacterial and antifungal properties, tea tree oil is also sometimes touted as a remedy for certain health problems that dogs and other animals face; unfortunately, though, it can have some very toxic effects on pets.
The popularity of natural remedies and a growing interest in essential oils have led some to want to try these out on their dogs. While some of these products can be benign or useful, many others have the potential to be quite harmful. Undiluted tea tree oil is a good example of a product that is potentially harmful to animals, especially in its concentrated form.
If Tea Tree Oil Is Toxic to Dogs, Why Is It Used?
The primary reason why tea tree oil is used (or suggested for use) for dogs is because it is considered a remedy for certain health problems dogs face, including skin allergies, hot spots, fleas, and ear yeast infections.
However, it is not a good idea to use tea tree oil products intended for humans to address these canine health concerns. Even if some sources recommend diluting the oil to make it canine-safe, this is not exact and may still cause harm to your pet (or may be ineffective, making the effort pointless). That said, tea tree oil products made specifically for dogs should not cause harm to your pet.
Concentrated tea tree oil—sometimes called “100% pure”—can be used by humans, but this formulation can be very harmful to dogs. In contrast, most products containing tea tree oil that are made for dogs have a very small amount of tea tree oil in them (usually 0.1-1% concentration).
While a product like a tea tree oil shampoo made for dogs is unlikely to cause your pup any harm, it is a good idea to consult with your veterinarian before trying to fix a health problem at home with a natural remedy. This oil may not be the best solution for your dog, and a vet would be able to direct you to the most effective product to help your pooch.
Symptoms of Tea Tree Oil Poisoning
Symptoms of poisoning that a dog may experience when they have been exposed to a dangerous amount of tea tree oil include:
- Depression, sleepiness, or listlessness
- Temporary paralysis or weakness
- Muscle twitches or other loss of muscle control
- Rashes or itchy skin
- Low body temperature
- Vomiting or increased salivation
- Coma or collapse
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2014, when canine and feline responses to tea tree oil toxicity were compared, cats tended to experience either mild or major illness, while dogs were more likely to have moderate illness.
That being said, the severity of the poisoning may depend on additional factors like how much tea tree oil was used or ingested. It is important to note that fewer than 10 drops of 100% pure oil can be deadly, and in the case of very small dogs, even a miniscule amount may be lethal.
The type of symptoms a dog shows when experiencing tea tree oil toxicity may depend on the route of exposure, i.e., whether the oil was applied to the dog’s skin or consumed orally. While there are appropriate products to use topically on dogs, dogs should never ingest tea tree oil (and neither should humans, for that matter).
Although cats may be more likely than dogs to ingest tea tree oil due to their grooming behavior, dogs also groom and are at increased risk when tea tree oil is placed on an area that they can reach with their tongues.
My Dog Licked Some Tea Tree Oil! What Do I Do?
If your dog has ingested tea tree oil—whether by getting into something that they shouldn’t have or by licking a spot that had topical oil on it—how you should react will depend on how much was ingested and how severe the symptoms appear.
If your dog ingested tea tree oil of any kind, you should monitor them; if or when they begin to show symptoms, call your vet or a poison control helpline (ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center—(888)426-4425—and the Pet Poison Helpline—(855)764-7661—both cost $75 for a consult and are available 24/7).
If the dog briefly licked an area that had topical oil on it, they may not have ingested much. This scenario is significantly less risky if the dog licked a spot treated with a canine-safe tea tree oil product rather than 100% pure oil; either way, they should be closely watched for any changes and be prevented from licking the spot again.
If the oil was applied topically and your dog begins to show mild symptoms without having ingested or licked it, you should wash the area with dishwashing detergent or soap. Since tea tree oil absorbs into the skin very quickly, though, you will still need to keep an eye on your dog. If symptoms worsen, contact your vet or a poison control helpline.
How Tea Tree Oil Poisoning Is Treated
At-home care for tea tree oil poisoning consists of washing the exposed spot and monitoring the dog for worsening (or improving) symptoms.
If your dog is experiencing symptoms such as increased salivation or mild vomiting, they may be safe to monitor at home. However, if the symptoms worsen or if they are experiencing paralysis, muscle weakness or twitching, seizures, or a coma, they should be taken immediately to the vet.
Vets generally care for dogs with tea tree oil poisoning by washing affected spots, administering IV fluids, and monitoring the dog for a period of time. Medications may also help address symptoms such as muscle twitches.
Tea tree oil contains compounds called terpenes that metabolize in the liver and may cause liver damage; for this reason, the vet is likely to also keep an eye on your dog’s liver function. Dogs with preexisting liver problems may have a more difficult recovery.
In some cases, dogs have died from the poisoning even after going to the vet; for this reason, it is important to keep a close eye on a dog who is experiencing symptoms of tea tree oil poisoning and try to keep them away from the oil in the first place.
If your dog has a health problem that you think could be addressed with the use of tea tree oil, it would be best to talk it over with your vet before trying a new product out. Your vet would be able to direct you to the most effective, least harmful options.
While tea tree oil provides certain benefits to humans and may be able to treat certain dog problems, the health of your pup is too precious to risk by using products that aren’t intended for dogs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are essential oil diffusers safe to use around dogs?
That would depend on what type of essential oil is being diffused. In many cases, oils that are considered 100% pure can be harmful to pets even when not applied topically or given with food. It is important to be especially careful around dogs with breathing problems.
So, generally, it would not be a great idea to use essential oil diffusers around dogs, especially when you aren’t sure how your dog would react to it. Dogs’ noses are much more sensitive than human noses, and even if the oil does not pose a health risk, your dog may not like the smell.
It is safe to use an essential oil diffuser in a room the dog doesn’t go into if it is closed off. If you are using an essential oil diffuser in a room the dog does go into, it would be wise to keep the dog out during use and ventilate the room before letting the dog back in.
Q: Is tea tree oil safe for dog’s ears?
Products containing tea tree oil that are specifically formulated to be used in dog’s ears are safe to use, though care should be taken to ensure that it does not drip out of the ears to a place where the dog could lick it. You might also want to consider talking to your vet or trying other home remedy options for yeast infections that do not include the oil.