The Animal Doctor

Essential Oils and Cats

DEAR DR. FOX: I recently started using essential oils. When I happened to mention it to my vet in an email, she told me many essential oils are toxic to cats, as there is a liver enzyme necessary to process the oils that cats do not have. I have three rescue cats that I love.

She then sent me to a website that she trusted for research, which had information about essential oils and cats. I have also found information on another website. The two sites differ somewhat in describing the types of the missing enzymes, plant chemicals in the oils, and oils that are toxic to cats.

I would venture to guess that many veterinarians and thousands of cat owners do not know about this. Essential oils are very popular in the U.S. and overseas, and are used as alternative medicine for physical ailments and emotional problems for humans.

There is even an essential oil company that has come out with a line of pet care products, including treats, that contain many of the oils toxic to cats.

I find all of this very scary. Please let your readers know what you think about this potentially deadly problem for their cats. -- J.C., Springfield, Virginia

DEAR J.C.: I appreciate you sending me the information that you have gathered about the risks of most essential oils to cats, because as you said, cats lack a liver enzyme to process these substances and neutralize possible toxic consequences.

Humans and dogs do not have this deficiency, so with cats, a weaker and safer form of various beneficial herbal extracts called hydrosols are used. Veterinarians using essential oils are quite aware of the risks to cats.

I would like to hear from other readers about their experiences with essential oils and their hydrosol alternatives, ideally under veterinary supervision, on their animal companions.

DEAR DR. FOX: Empathy is an emotion, a feeling about distress in another critter. What does the response of the hungry wolf to a distressed rabbit tell us of empathy? The wolf is more concerned about its own needs than the needs of the other.

This is in contrast to compassion, a response required of the intellect, heart and soul of the human being for the other, with no tangible benefit to the one giving compassion.

Humans are animals, of course, but much different from others, I hope you know. That’s why you and I can think and give names to things. Other animals? I’m afraid not.

As Chesterton once wrote, man finds primitive drawings by other ancient men in caves, including a depiction of a deer with a tilted head as it notices the man. Man can go as deep as he wants, but will never find a drawing by the deer of the man. Keep it rational -- thought through, not just what you want to see. -- D.W., Washington D.C.

DEAR D.W.: The French philosopher Pascal wrote, “The heart knows what reason knows not.” It is my contention that we need to integrate heart and mind, empathy and reason, to respond appropriately in any given situation.

I regard empathy not as an emotion, but as a bridge for emotional communication at a very basic level: an openness and receptivity to others’ feelings. Father Matthew Fox (no relation), in his writings, regards compassion as a verb, not a noun -- a call to action, especially with regard to our treatment of animals and the natural environment.

The cry of prey species like a gazelle fawn could well be the empathy-arousing trigger to explain those instances where a lion or leopard is seen to actually care for a helpless creature rather than killing and consuming it.

Without empathy, how can there be compassion? We may step closer to according rights to animals when chauvinism and arrogance give way to humility, and we abandon such ignorant beliefs that only humans can reason and think. Also, check out the art by captive Asian elephants.


-- Court upholds Chicago’s ban on sale of pets from large breeders: “The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Chicago’s ban on pet store sales of animals from large commercial breeders and dismissed a lawsuit initiated by two pet stores and a breeding operation.” -- Chicago Tribune, Sept. 26

-- Maine’s largest city bans display of wild animals: “A unanimous vote by the Portland, Maine, City Council bans the display of big cats, elephants, monkeys, crocodiles and other wild and exotic animals, joining more than 125 other municipalities and four states with similar bans. Domesticated livestock are exempt.” -- Portland (Maine) Press Herald, Sept. 18

This good news gives me hope because it is clear evidence that people who care can make a difference where there is empathy, conviction and commitment.

(Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

Visit Dr. Fox’s website at

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