Tea tree oil is derived from the subtropical Melaleuca alternifolia tree found predominantly in Australia. The oil from the tree is popular because it is effective against parasites, bacteria, fungi, and inflammation. It is used topically to treat various infections and skin disorders such as athletes’ foot, dandruff, fungus infections, stings, bites, and allergic reactions. Its potency makes it a very useful essential ointment for different conditions which is why it is included in many skin and body care products like shampoo, conditioners, facial creams, and soaps. 

Many pet parents use tea tree oil to prevent flea and tick infestation on their pet’s fur. Not only is this unlikely to be effective, it is also highly dangerous, as tea tree oil can absorb through the skin and cause severe effects. The product comes in different concentrations, and while some can be mildly concentrated at 2-5%, others can have concentrations as strong as 100%. Tea tree oil poisoning usually results from oral consumption or skin application of large amounts of the mild essential oil or with small amounts of highly concentrated doses. 

Why Is Tea Tree Oil So Poisonous? 

Many tea tree oil formulations are made with aromatic additions that make the odor appealing. Though a dog could find its way to a bottle of oil and ingest it by accident, dogs can also get poisoned by licking their fur or skin after the oil is applied, as well as the oil absorbing through the skin and entering the blood stream. If this happens, mild poisoning symptoms may range from skin rashes to vomiting, but harsher symptoms may include aspiration from pneumonia, neurologic changes and organ damage. 

Clinical Signs of Tea Tree Oil Poisoning 

The negative effects of tea tree oil ingestion depend on how much is consumed and how concentrated the oil is. Clinical signs indicative of poisoning may include: 

  • Muscle Weakness 
  • Incoordination 
  • Vomiting 
  • Hypothermia 
  • Drooling  
  • Collapse 
  • Rashes  
  • Seizures 
  • Pneumonia 

Treatment Of Tea Tree Oil Poisoning 

All types of oil poisoning in pets follow a similar treatment process. Inducing vomiting is not advised as it could cause aspiration and pneumonia. Your veterinarian will ask for the quantity and concentration of tea tree oil ingested and how long it has been consumed to determine the next course of action. IV fluids may be prescribed for hydration and better response to treatment, and anti-emetic drugs will likely be given to prevent aspiration. 

If your dog has ingested tea tree oil and is developing symptoms, Pet Poison Helpline® is always on call at (855) 761-7664 to provide medical guidance on stabilizing your pets.