Objective: To determine the frequency, types, and severity of clinical signs; geographic distribution; and treatment information associated with toxicosis caused by 100% tea tree oil (TTO) in dogs and cats in the United States and Canada.
Design: Retrospective case series.
Animals: 337 dogs and 106 cats with evidence of exposure to 100% TTO.
Procedures: 10-year incident data were retrieved from the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center database from January 2002 to December 2012. Only evidenced or witnessed incidents assessed as toxicosis or suspected toxicosis were included. Signalment, amount of TTO used, intention of use, and outcome information were evaluated. Severity of illness and correlations with breed, sex, age, and weight were determined.
Results: TTO was intentionally used in 395 of 443 (89%) animals. The amount used ranged from 0.1 to 85 mL. Incidents were reported from 41 states, the District of Columbia, and 4 Canadian provinces. Exposure route was cutaneous in 221 (50%) animals, cutaneous and oral in 133 (30%), and oral in 67 (15%). Clinical signs developed within 2 to 12 hours and lasted up to 72 hours. The most common signs were increased salivation or drooling, signs of CNS depression or lethargy, paresis, ataxia, and tremors. A significant association with severity of illness was found for age and weight, with higher prevalence of major illness in younger and smaller cats.
Conclusions and clinical relevance: Intentional or accidental use of 100% TTO in dogs or cats caused serious signs of CNS depression, paresis, ataxia, or tremors within hours after exposure and lasting up to 3 days. Younger cats and those with lighter body weight were at greater risk of developing major illness.