If you’re considering using tea tree oil on your dog, the first thing you should do is to ask your veterinarian, "Is tea tree oil safe for dogs?" While diluted tea tree oil has been used on dogs to treat skin conditions like yeast infections or hot spots, its use requires extra caution as it is toxic to pets.
Tea tree oil is safe for dogs only in very small concentrations (0.1% to 1%), but the wrong dilution ratio can be harmful. So it’s important to know the risks of tea tree oil toxicity before using it on your pet.
According to a report published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, there have been hundreds of instances of tea tree oil toxicity in pets (including a staggering 77% of dogs tested). The reports come from a decade of data collected from the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.
As herbal, natural, and alternative health solutions rise in popularity, you should know what you're getting into. Sometimes "natural" products aren't worth the risk. Read on to learn what tea tree oil is all about, what the symptoms of tea tree oil poisoning are, and how to use tea tree oil safely.
What Is Tea Tree Oil?
Tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca oil, comes from the steam distillation of the leaves and terminal branches of the Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia). The tree also grows in Portugal, Spain, and the southern United States.
This essential oil has been used for almost 100 years in Australia. It’s available worldwide both as plain oil and as an active component in an array of products. In Australia, the government requires child-resistant packaging and safety warnings appear on all bottles of tea tree oil. We don't see this in the United States because it’s not a requirement of the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). The safety warning omission in the US brings about a false sense of security, so we overlook the potential hazards of the product.
Tea tree oil is a volatile essential oil widely used to make homemade cleaning solution or treat skin maladies such as acne, insect bites, fungal infections, and boils. It’s even used in bug sprays to repel mosquitos. Tea tree oil is an ingredient in many skin care products and is also sold over-the-counter in an undiluted, 100% concentration. This percent tea tree oil is extremely potent and must be heavily diluted before use on people and animals.
Tea tree oil is made up of terpene hydrocarbons, including monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes. These active ingredients give tea tree oil its antiviral, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. But the terpenes are a bit of a double-edged sword as they also cause toxicity in dogs if used improperly.
Tea Tree Oil Toxicity in Dogs
Tea tree oil is toxic to both humans and pets if ingested orally. But a dog might lick the tea tree oil solution when applied, making ingestion more likely.
Dogs tend to groom themselves, especially after a product has been applied to their wounds. As a result, topically applying 100% concentrated tea tree oil is dangerous and can lead to the exact same toxicity as oral ingestion. It’s best not to risk your dog licking the toxin off and getting sick.
If you choose to topically apply tea tree oil to your dog, it must be properly diluted. When applied to the skin, 100% tea tree oil can leave a rash, irritate the skin, and cause an overall adverse reaction.
There are also more worrisome symptoms that come with topical application of tea tree oil. Keep reading for a full list of symptoms and treatment options.
Symptoms and Treatment of Tea Tree Oil Poisoning in DogsDepending on how large a dose of tea tree oil terpenes were ingested, symptoms of toxicity may vary. According to the ASPCA study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, your dog will show symptoms 2-12 hours following exposure. Mild to severe symptoms of tea tree oil toxicity include:
- hypersalivation (excessive drooling)
- difficulty walking
- shaking and muscle tremors
- increased liver enzymes
- low body temperature
- loss of consciousness
- loss of coordination;
- muscle weakness;
- depression, and;
- possibly even a severe drop in body temperature, collapse, and liver damage."
Unfortunately, there is no antidote for terpene poisoning. Dr. Ken Tudor of PetMD, says treatment is dependent on the level of toxicity. Mild illness may only require you wash your dog in the bath with dish soap to decontaminate the skin. If higher levels of concentrated tea tree oil are ingested by your dog, other treatments include medication and fluid therapy, using intravenous fluids. Because terpenes are especially toxic to the liver, liver protectants like SAM-e or milk thistle may be prescribed.
If you suspect your dog has ingested large amounts of tea tree oil and develops the more severe symptoms like loss of consciousness, seizures, and sudden weakness, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 for immediate guidance, and take your dog to the nearest veterinary hospital.
How to Use Tea Tree Oil Safely
Natural remedies can be great alternatives to more advanced medicine, but just because something is labeled "natural" or "organic," doesn't mean it's the safest or most effective treatment for your pet. Tea tree oil is a perfect example and needs to be handled with caution around pets.
Before testing the waters of tea tree oil for dogs, get the green light from your veterinarian. It’s important to consult a professional before experimenting with at-home treatments.
If you choose to use it, remember to never administer tea tree oil orally. When you use tea tree oil on your dog's skin, dilute it with a lot of water. Take caution with the amount of oil used. As mentioned earlier, the recommended and safest ratio is 0.1-1% strength. At these levels, the weakened concentrate is no longer considered toxic.
Again, never use undiluted tea tree oil as it is very harmful.
A few of the most common conditions that pet owners use tea tree oil to treat include hot spots, flea infestations, and ear infections. Mix it to the right dilution and only use under your veterinarian's consent and instruction, otherwise, it’s best to opt for prescription and over-the-counter treatments for these conditions.
You may also purchase a dog-specific product that contains tea tree oil in it already. Pet products with tea tree oil are pre-diluted to a safe amount and have been professionally tested to ensure their safety, so this may be a better way to go than diluting your own mix at home.
Better Safe Than Sorry
Play it safe. Tea tree oil is one of those "natural remedy" fads that needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Ultimately, using tea tree oil on your dog may cause more harm than good.
There are much safer natural remedies out there for your dog's condition, whether it be skin allergies, fleas, or hot spots. When it comes to your dog's health, always consult with a veterinarian before trying a do-it-yourself treatment using products like tea tree oil.