Symptoms of tree tea oil poisoning in a dog

Updated April 17, 2017

Tea tree oil is one of the active ingredients in many dog shampoos. There have been accounts by pet owners of tea tree oil poisoning in their dogs, according to This essential oil is listed as a poisonous substance by the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Poison Control, and is especially harmful to small dogs and cats. Veterinary treatment is usually expensive and sometimes unsuccessful. The key to safely using tea tree oil for dogs is in its dilution.

Tea Tree Oil

Also known as Australian tea tree oil, or Melaleuca alternifolia oil, this substance is often used by humans for skin disorders such as acne, athlete's foot and toenail fungus. Other uses include the eradication of scabies and head lice. In dogs, tea tree oil is often incorporated into flea shampoos and other insecticidal products. In these forms, tea tree oil is only a small percentage of the recommended dosage. Tea tree poisoning appears to occur most often when applied to dogs in its undiluted form, directly to the skin. Tea tree oil is absorbed quickly into the skin and disseminated throughout the system because it is fat-soluble.


The first sign of tea tree poisoning in dogs is usually lethargy. Pet owners often report that, in the morning, they find their dogs in the same position they went to sleep. When applied directly to the skin, tea tree oil can result in weakening of the muscles, difficulty of coordinated movement, depression and lowered body temperature, also known as hypothermia. If your dog eats tea tree oil or licks it off its skin, serious gastrointestinal symptoms may occur, including diarrhoea and vomiting. Loss of consciousness and seizures may also result. If you burn tea tree oil, your pet may develop respiratory problems, such as pneumonia from breathing it in.


In its pure form, tea tree oil has a high potential for toxicity in dogs, according to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. It can cause kidney failure, seizures, comas and death. The ASPCA says that 20 per cent of all poisonings in animals are related to substances people use to treat their pets for fleas and other parasites. Since tea tree oil is often used for this purpose, the ASPCA recommends never using a substance not specifically labelled for pet use, and always consulting your veterinarian. Consult the label of a pet-specific product for dosage and method of use.


There is no antidote for tea tree poisoning in dogs, according to a 1998 report published in the Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation. A 2011 article on the ASPCA Animal Poison Control website agrees that supportive care is the only available treatment. Cleansing the dog and keeping it hydrated is essential. If the tea tree oil was ingested, treatment with activated charcoal is also recommended.

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About the Author

A freelance writer for more than 30 years, D.M. Gutierrez has had nonfiction, fiction and poetry published in women's, mystery, academic, children's, disability and teen print publications and websites including "Psychological Reports" and "Highlights for Children." She has an advanced degree in psychology from the University of California at Davis.