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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tea Tree Oil Toxicity

Today's blog was sparked by a comment a friend of mine made on Facebook (we'll call him "Bob").  A mutual friend had said that his dog had some irritation on her skin that she was scratching at.  "Bob" suggested applying tea tree oil to soothe the skin.  I had to step in and caution that this substance was actually potentially toxic to pets and shouldn't be used.

"Bob" was likely thinking of the benefits that tea tree oil has in humans.  It is known for having antifungal and antibacterial properties, as well as potentially decreasing inflammation and itchiness.  Sounds great, right?  Well, in humans that's okay.  But this is a situation where we can't make extrapolations across species, as pets can actually die from tea tree oil.  Yes, it can be fatal.

Using as little as seven drops of the 100% oil has caused severe poisonings, and using 10-20 mls (2-4 tsp) has caused death.  Symptoms can include a low body temperature, weakness, walking as if they were drunk, not being able to walk, tremors, increased liver enzymes, coma, and sometimes death.

Once again, people should not use any treatments at all unless they first talk to a vet.  While many over-the-counter medicatons are perfectly safe for pets as they are in humans, others are not.  Avoid a tragic situation and talk to your vet before doing anything to treat your pet at home.  If you do use a human drug or supplement and see potential side effects, immediately call a veterinarian, or if you're in the US you can also call the Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680....no, they're not advertising and I'm not associated with them...you can also find their link in the sidebar).

16 comments:

  1. Many products marketed for use in horses contain tea tree oil and shouldn't be used in dogs or cats, either.

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  2. Dr. Bern -

    I had a call about a month ago from a lady who put tea tree oil on her dogs as a "flea treatment." She called me to say that both of her boxers were paralyzed in both hind limbs. She couldn't afford to bring the dogs in, but I told her to bathe the dogs in dawn dish soap several times and wait and see what happened. In just three hours, they were up and walking around. That was my first and *hopefully* last experience with tea tree oil toxicity! Next time I will remember to have her call poison control.

    If she had come into the clinic, what would you have done? IV fluids, Chemistry...?

    Thanks!
    -Katie Johnson, DVM

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  3. Hi, I recently bought an anti-itch product for our dog that has tea tree oil in it. It was at PetsMart and was specifically marketed for dogs. I bought it because we used a product previously for horses that had tea tree oil and it worked really well. Is this product not safe to use? Is it safe to use products with tea tree oil in it on horses? Thanks!

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  4. Sorry, PetCo, this is the specific product:

    http://www.petco.com/product/7149/Vets-Best-Hot-Spot-Itch-Relief-Spray-for-Dogs.aspx?CoreCat=certona-_-ProductDetail_3-_-Vet%27s%20Best%20Hot%20Spot%20Itch%20Relief%20Spray%20for%20Dogs-7149

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  5. I saw one case of tea tree oil several years ago. The dog recovered uneventfully but it took some effort to figure out the cause of the illness and I had not heard of this previously. The odor was quite strong though!

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  6. Truthfully I've never seen a case of tea tree oil toxicity. I am aware of it through presentations and discussions on pet toxicities. As far as treatment, I'd want to do routine lab tests (chemistry, cbc, urinalysis) and supportive care (IV fluids, hospitalization, treatment for seizures, etc.). However, since it's not a common toxicity it would possibly be a bit tricky to figure out exactly what was causing it unless the odor was strong or the owner mentioned using it. The symptoms are not specific to this toxicity and can include many other disorders and toxicities.

    Valerie, I looked at that link, and unfortunately can't see how much tea tree oil is in the product. The toxicity reports I've see are based on using the 100% oil solutions, so something with trace amounts may not be a problem. However, I would not be comfortable recommending it to my clients.

    The fact that it's apparently safe for horses (I'm deferring to my equine colleagues here as I haven't looked at anything horse-related in over 15 years) is yet another illustration of how different species can be, and how what is fine for one can be dangerous for another (look at pyrethrins in dogs versus cats).

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  7. I had absolutely no idea that TTO could be toxic/fatal to dogs! I come from the horse world where it certainly had many uses and I've considered using it on my dogs for various reasons. I'm certainly glad I didn't and I will keep this in mind. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. Thanks Dr. Bern! I'll let you know if I see some other cases and what works. :-) -Katie Johnson

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  9. According to http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8197716, the cases in which toxicity was found were cases in which doses were "inappropriate high doses". My question is, would this be the case? The above mentioned vet's best spray is why I ask. I've contacted the company to find out how high the concentration is, as I have fellow dog owners who swear by this product as the "best spray available" and "only one that works". My doggie bites at her paws until they bleed during allergy season, and I am at my wits end attempting to find a product that works. My predominate worry with the vet's best spray is she is always licking at her paws as well, and I am afraid of her ingesting something that could even be considered safe topically. Unfortunately the vets around here don't seem very interested in helping me with my issue- they are more interested in selling me overpriced products that do not work. Any ideas?

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  10. In addendum to my previous comment, I contacted the company and they replied that the spray is 1% tea tree oil. Don't know if that may make a difference...

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  11. The main concerns about toxicity are from using the human products, which are much more concentrated than the veterinary ones, and are not designed to be ingested.

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  12. I read an article about using tea tree oil for skin disorders. I did, and my Bella is laying in an emergency animal hospital right now, hooked up to an iv with medicine to flush the toxins out of her liver. She was comatose and was literally in a coma by the time I got her to the E.R. The vet said it was a shot in the dark to bring her back from this. NEVER USE TEA TREE OIL ON YOUR PETS!!!

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  13. i just put tea tree on my kitten for scabies and it had avery bad reaction almost immediately within a minute, it was diluted but i had no idea that it was toxic for cats. the natural vet here told me to do this and so i washed it off right away, the kitten had tremors for about 15 min then seemed to have recovered. im in indonesia btw.

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  14. I have a dog (about 85 lbs.) who ate what fell on the ground when my husband was cleaning our gelding's (horse's) sheath. (He loves to eat hoof clippings, so I guess he figured whatever else came off the horse would be just as tasty.) The sheath cleaner was primarily tea tree oil. The poor dog was vomiting a few hours later and trembling most of the following day. The day after, I took him in to the vet and the vet did a blood panel. The liver enzymes were so high, the vets couldn't believe he was still alive. I don't know how much he swallowed, but Tea tree oil is definitely something to be wary of.

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  15. Unfortunately, I've used 100% TTO on my dog. She was very weak, I've noticed her not being herself after a few hours. I washed her and the next day she was fine. However, about a month have passed since the incident and I've started noticing that she's always behind me when we go for walks, I almost have to drag her. Is there anything that I can buy over the counter to help her get back to normal?

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