There has been a large shift in the past decade or so towards natural living. People are trying to move away from artificial and processed products and this trend has extended to their pets as well. Many people have begun feeding their cats grain-free foods, declawing is becoming more and more uncommon and people are trying to reduce the number of synthetic chemicals they put on their furry friends.
While on the lookout for natural and effective flea treatments for cats, you may have heard that peppermint oil can kill fleas, or maybe you’ve even seen that there are a few commercially available essential oil cat treatments that use peppermint oil as the main ingredient.
You may want to think twice before buying it for your cat, though!
It’s very important to keep cats flea and tick-free, especially if you have outdoor/indoor kitties. Not only are fleas a nuisance that are incredibly hard to get rid of once established, fleas and ticks can also carry blood-borne diseases that can affect both our cats and ourselves. That’s why there’s such a large demand for topical flea treatments for our pets, but these medications are not exactly free of their own problems.
Conventional flea treatments for cats are made with insecticides such as pyriproxyfen that disrupt the growth cycle of fleas. While these flea treatments are usually safe for your cat when used as directed, accidental ingestion or hypersensitivity to the chemicals can cause negative side effects, ranging from hyper-salivating, agitation and vomiting. In extreme cases, such as when flea treatments intended for dogs are applied to cats, seizures and death can occur.
Are Essential Oils Effective Against Fleas?
So it’s perfectly understandable that people are looking for a natural alternative to the synthetic chemicals that are often used in these conventional flea medications. Since essential oils have gained so much popularity with people due to their medicinal and wellness-promoting effects, they seem like the perfect alternative to artificial flea medication for our cats.
It seems like the active ingredients in the majority of these natural flea treatments are peppermint oil, clove oil and lemongrass oil. These are usually diluted into another carrier oil, like canola oil. We decided to look at the effectiveness of each of these oils at killing or repelling fleas before trying it on our cats. Here’s what we found:
Peppermint oil is a very effective insecticide that has shown promise at repelling fleas and ticks. The strong odor of menthol, the main naturally-occurring chemicals in peppermint, interferes with a flea’s sense of smell, confusing them and leading to them avoid the area with the smell. Just planting peppermint around your yard can help reduce how many fleas get into your property.
Clove oil and its constituent compound eugenol have also been researched and shown to be a powerful natural insecticide capable of quickly killing fleas and other insects. While its mechanism of action isn’t fully understood, it is thought to be an insect neurotoxin and has shown to be capable of producing cardiac hyperactivity followed by death in many insect species, meaning it pretty much gives bugs heart attacks.
Lemongrass, a deliciously smelling ornamental grass native to India, has also been shown to have natural insect repelling properties as well. It can harm and kill insects without having any dangerous effects on people. It’s believed that the volatile compounds that make it smell so strong have a neurotoxic effect on many insect species, including fleas.
Are Essential Oils Safe For Cats?
These three essential oils sound like an all-natural powerhouse of flea destroying goodness. No wonder so many companies are using it in their products. Essential oil flea treatments for cats seem to be springing up everywhere; there’s even a dollar store brand available now. This all sounds great, right? Not at all.
Peppermint Oil & Clove Oil Are Highly Toxic to Cats!!
Yes, you read that right. These two oils, the very same ones that are used as the main ingredients in a majority of all-natural flea treatments for cats, are incredibly dangerous and not recommended for use on cats! Not only does the ASPCA list Mint (Mentha sp.), which includes peppermint, as a toxic plant to cats, but there have also been plenty of studies that have shown that peppermint oil is dangerous to our feline companions. One study even described how cats are more likely than dogs to have adverse reactions to these essential oil-based flea treatments, even when used as directed.
Peppermint oil and clove oil can cause tremors and muscle spasms, vomiting, drooling and even respiratory problems in cats. Lemongrass isn’t as dangerous for cats, but it should still not be applied directly to their fur or skin.
While essential oils can be perfectly safe for humans and can even be used on other pets such as dogs, cats have a much smaller liver and are more sensitive to concentrated compounds such as those found in essential oils. A cat’s liver also lacks an important enzyme(glucuronyl transferase) that helps us break down certain compounds in peppermint, clove and other essential oils: phenols, ketones and monoterpene hydrocarbons.
These compounds aren’t only dangerous when ingested, which a cat is likely to do with anything you put on their fur as they meticulously groom themselves, but they can also easily pass through a cat’s skin and into their bloodstream.
This means that you should never put essential oils, no matter how diluted, on your cat’s skin or fur. The results could be deadly.
Here’s what a reviewer had to say about one of these products:
And they weren’t the only ones whose cat had some kind of bad reaction. Even if it doesn’t happen to every cat, putting essential oils on your kitty is like playing Russian roulette with their health.
You should not only refuse to use essential oil flea medications on your cat but should also be very careful about what you keep in your home. It’s not recommended to use diffusers with potentially dangerous essential oils in a house with cats, as even inhaling the diffused compounds can cause disorientation, vomiting and muscle spasms in some sensitive kitties.
Peppermint and clove oil aren’t the only oils that are dangerous for cats. They’re just the ones being commonly sold as “safe and natural” flea treatments and are being put on thousands of cats across the country.
Although you should never put ANY essential oil directly on your cat, that doesn’t mean you can’t diffuse or use other oils in your home.
We’ve put together a handy list of dangerous essential oils you should keep away from your kitty, which you can download here: