"Tea tree oil in a product for pets? I'm mortified! Or not ... "
Last week I received a brow beating in the form of an email from a would-be customer named Laurie. She had been referred to our website by the good Dr. Andrew Jones, DVM, who recommended that she look into our all-natural, non-toxic flea and tick spray, TripleSure.
But while exploring the site further, she found something that concerned her, and wrote, "I then came across your Tidy Tears remedy for tear stains and was concerned to note that it contains tea tree oil, which Dr. Jones specifically warns against as toxic to cats and small dogs. Why would you put tea tree oil in a product for pets?" Here is my reply:
Thank you for your question about our use of Tea Tree Oil (TTO) in our Primalix Tidy Tears herbal extract for pet tear stains. Your concern is shared by many others, but understood by very few. This gives me an opportunity to explain how this valuable herb can be used safely on pets and why the benefits outweigh the risk.
When Dr Jones specifically warned against using TTO on cats and small dogs he was speaking on a different subject and justifiably did not stop and go off-topic to explain just how TTO can be used effectively and safely. The doctor may or may not be aware of the necessary preparation that makes for safe use of this effective herbal remedy. Many of today's most effective medicines start out as common toxins before undergoing a series of extractions, chemical reactions, etc. Doctors don't need to explain how penicillin gets to be penicillin or that it begins as a rotten moldy mess. Instead, they place their trust in the science, research, development and manufacturing processes of highly regulated suppliers. Even then, they can't be completely sure of the medicine's effects on any given patient.
But if I may, as a medical herbalist, let me provide some answers from this perspective. I begin with three caveats: First, never give or apply 100% (undiluted) Tea Tree Oil or any other essential oil to a human or animal. Second, buy only pure product from a trusted source. Third, know what you're doing, and follow a calibrated, proven formula for making and dosing the medicine.
The therapeutic justification for using TTO is found in its highly
effective, broad spectrum antimicrobial power even when diluted to very
small amounts. Veterinarians have successfully treated for bacterial and
fungal infections using concentrations of 0.1 to 1.0% TTO. Our Tidy
Tears formula uses 0.55% TTO which clinical experience has found to be
well tolerated in dogs and cats. Like you, our customers are responsible
dog and cat lovers who question everything, as they should, including why we put tea tree oil in a product for pets. But their
pets are healthy and happy, and the results of our products speak for
We buy only virgin, lab-tested pure (no carrier oils, synthetics or adulterants) whole herb TTO only from a well-known and trusted US broker who buys only from ethical Australian farmers. The job of regulating and inspecting these qualifying farms and distillers goes to the Australian government's counterpart to our own USDA "Certified Organic" program; then controlled further by the Australian Tea Tree Industry Association's Code of Practice "to ensure that quality standards as well as sound environmental practices are adhered to throughout the supply chain."
The formulation process is where the medical herbalist needs complete truth and understanding instead of half-truths and hearsay. Our job now is to use nature's bounty, proceeding with caution, relying on credible studies and current science, to find the best balance of efficacy and safety.
addition to TTO, our Tidy Tears uses Grapefruit Seed Extract made from
USDA Certified Organic grapefruit as the co-disinfectant, also diluted
to 0.55%. We combine these with our full-spectrum herbal extracts of
Astragalus membranaceus, Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion Root), Arctium
lappa (Burdock root) and Echinacea angustifolia, all USDA Certified
Organic, in an alcohol-free glycerite. The end product these 6
phytonutrients provide is dose calibrated and effective against epiphora
(dog tear stains). It also includes the added benefits of 1)
stimulating the "germ-eating" white blood cells known as macrophages,
activating T-cells and natural killer (NIK) cells, and increasing the
production of immune globulins; 2) detoxifying the liver, decongesting
the gallbladder, promoting bile production, and stimulating cell
metabolism in the body; 3) working through the liver and kidneys to
correct and guard against the build-up of waste products; 4) acting as
an Immune Stimulant by increasing the body’s resistance to infection
I hope this answers your question as to my reasons for including tea tree oil in a product for pets. TTO, when used correctly, is an excellent natural remedy that has been unfairly labeled. Even the persnickety FDA designates TTO as having no adverse side effects, or GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe). This alone doesn't make it safe for dogs and cats, but it should at least warrant a closer look into the accusations.
My research uncovered an abundance of
"echos" against using TTO according to "recent studies," but never any
first-hand experience or even a reference to the studies. I found one
professional theory about how Felis Catus as a species lacks the enzyme
glucuronyl tranferases, which is necessary to metabolize certain plant
constituents, namely terpenoids, found in certain essential oils,
leading to a buildup in the liver, and symptoms of toxicity. Although
there was no testing or clinical or anecdotal evidence to support this
theory, it sounded logical to me. I even cited the theory in our web
page for TripleSure NEO (No Essential Oils) Flea and Tick Spray for Cats
In the end we pet lovers have the responsibility to our animal companions to not only make a decision but also to know why we made it. A person may have a reason not to buy our Tidy Tears, but I hope that reason is not based on a lack of searching for, and finding, the rest of the story.
It is interesting to note that directly after Dr. Jones made his statement about TTO, he went on to say, "My point is that many members of the public are unhappy with conventional animal health care, and they WANT to use Alternative Care, BUT you need to get guidance on what to use, how to use it, and what is SAFE to use-AND be aware of the Side Effects. So rather than just sticking your head in the sand and saying GO AWAY YOU ALTERNATIVE QUACKS, I feel that professionals should at least be guiding the pet owners."
I hope this answer provides you with enough professional guidance to make and understand your decision to treat, or not to treat, your pet with tea tree oil.
Gary Le Mon
Natural Wonder Products Corp
P.S. Speaking of "Guiding the pet owners," you'll find a wealth of pet care knowledge, how-to articles and diy projects in our Natural Health Articles for Dogs and Cats