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Are essential oils hurting your cat?

Are you diffusing oils in your home? Depending on the kind of oil you use, you could be hurting your cat.{p}{/p}
Are you diffusing oils in your home? Depending on the kind of oil you use, you could be hurting your cat.

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SEATTLE (KOMO) - A home remedy that has become more popular in recent years could be the reason your cat is always sick.

Some warn that pure essential oils can be deadly to cats, but others disagree.

Tina Wismer, a veterinarian with the ASPCA, said that death by essential oils is extremely rare, but can happen if your cat suffers from an underlying respiratory issue, like asthma.

"Most cats aren't going to have an issue, but just like with people your first asthma attack could be your last one," said Wismer.

Wismer is the medical director of the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center, which fields up to 1,000 calls a day from pet owners asking about all kinds of issues and ailments. She is certified by the American Board of Toxicology and the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology.

"We take potential poisoning calls from all across the country," she said.

Delyn Kosbab, a rescue volunteer, has been rescuing cats her whole life and knows all about essential oils and cats. Kosbab recently retired and sold her rescue shelter in West Seattle.

In 2010, she brought in a therapeutic tech to test out oils at her shelter and recalled some cats becoming ill, but thought it was due to other reasons.

"We did notice some cats were getting ill, we thought it was other reasons," said Kosbab.

They treated several cats with essential oils for a variety of reasons, but after noticing that none of them got better, they stopped the treatments.

"I had a feeling it wasn't the right thing to do; you should always trust your instinct," said Kosbab.

Added Wismer, "When we talk about essential oils and toxicity for cats, it is going to really vary depending upon the route of exposure."

Wismer said that topically using oils on cats can also be harmful, especially since they can absorb the oils through grooming. Things can also get worse depending on the percentage of essential oil - some are labeled as 100 percent pure.

"It's almost like putting it into the bloodstream, and depending on the oil we can see animals becoming lethargic, vomiting or in some cases even having liver problems," said Wismer.

Other common symptoms include wheezing, coughing and drooling.

According to Wismer, it is still OK to diffuse oils in your home, but only use products that are labeled as safe for cats.

She also suggests diffusing your oils in a room your cat doesn't have access to and limiting the use of your diffuser. Unlike people and dogs, cats can't break down oils as well due to a lack of enzymes in their livers, making them more sensitive to toxins.

Since 2007, the Animal Poison Control Center has seen a near-steady uptick of calls related to cats and essential oils.

What began with 87 calls 10 years ago has turned into much more in recent years with 316 calls last year, and 45 calls this year. Right now, the center is seeing a spike in calls about eucalyptus oil, which is a popular treatment for humans that the center thinks is linked to the country's recent flu outbreak.

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Click here for the Animal Poison Control website or call 888.426.4435.

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