Eucalyptus and Cats

by Nicholas DeMarino, Demand Media
    The bark of eucalyptus trees, like the pair pictured here in 2007 at San Diego's Balboa Park, is poisonous to cats.

    The bark of eucalyptus trees, like the pair pictured here in 2007 at San Diego's Balboa Park, is poisonous to cats.

    Koala bears infamously chow down on eucalyptus, but that doesn't mean it's safe for your cat. Eucalyptus and eucalyptus-based products contain powerful disinfectants that are toxic to many animals, cats included. Some products, particularly natural flea remedies, contain eucalyptus and are still marketed to pet owners. They're still probably poisonous.

    Eucalyptus Toxicity

    Eucalyptus is a genus of flowering trees and shrubs largely native to Australia. Its essential oil is often extracted for use as a disinfectant. Most animals that eat a lot of it could get quite sick -- cats, dogs and horses included -- but koala bears and certain possums can eat it without much worry.
    Cats are particularly prone to eucalyptus poisoning. In addition to the plant's direct toxicity, cats lack the ability to process most essential oils -- the form of eucalyptus cats are most likely to encounter indoors -- so it's doubly destructive once consumed.

    Uses With Cats

    Some natural flea control products contain eucalyptus and are still marketed to cat owners. They may be effective, but they're probably also toxic. Naturopaths and others who advocate eucalyptus' essential oil as medicine sometimes acknowledge these risks and admonish its use for felines.
    Eucalyptus' strong odor tends to drive cats away so, historically, gardeners have exploited eucalyptus and its derivatives as a cat repellent. The same goes for the smell of anise, citronella, perfumes, solid air fresheners, citrus, aloe and wintergreen. You can use this information to train cats, but the risk of poisoning probably outweighs the potential behavior alterations.

    Poisoning Symptoms

    Early symptoms of eucalyptus poisoning in cats include salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, depression and weakness. Advanced symptoms run a gamut and sometimes include neurological episodes, including seizures.
    Exposure comes from eucalyptus plants themselves and a variety of medicines, creams, ointments and even mouthwashes.
    Most poisoning symptoms overlap with a litany of other conditions, some banal, some serious. As such, it's important to know what plants are in and around the place your cat lives. Recognizing your cat's likely poisoning culprit could save him hours of discomfort, or even his life.

    A Note on Eucalyptus Poisoning

    If your cat shows eucalyptus poisoning symptoms, call a veterinarian or an animal poison control hotline.
    Toxicity has variable manifestations in cats and is sometimes delayed by hours or even days. Therefore, it's important to call for help as soon as possible, even if your cat ate eucalyptus but isn't showing poisoning symptoms.
    If your cat ingested eucalyptus recently -- say, within the last hour or two -- a veterinarian or hotline specialist may recommend that you induce vomiting. Only do this when advised to do so and closely follow directions.

    About the Author

    Nicholas DeMarino is a journalist and former newspaper associate editor and reporter. His work has appeared in "The Arizona Republic," "The Billings Gazette," "San Antonio Current" and in other publications. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon.

    Photo Credits

    • Stephen Dunn/Getty Images News/Getty Images