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Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) Oil Poisoning in three purebred cats.
Bischoff K, Guale F Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation 10, 208 (1998)
Three Angora cats treated with undiluted tea tree oil dermal route. O. got it from a pet catalog sold as flea treatment. Within 5 hours, the first cat was hypothermic and uncoordinated, alert but unable to stand. Later that day, cat 2 was admitted comatose with severe hypothermia and dehydration. Cat 3 was conscious, nervous, trembling, and ataxic. All the cats smelled of tea tree oil. Cat 3 spent one day being treated and cat 1 spent two days being treated in the hospital but then both went home. Cat 2 died on the third day.
The article states: Tea tree oil contains 50-60% terpenes, toxicity is "similar to other essential oils such as eucalyptus oil." Toxicosis in humans has resulted from ingestion of 0.5 to 1 cc tea tree oil per kg of body weight. The 3 cats had about 20 ccs applied to them (each). Says cats may be more sensitive to this toxicosis than dogs, but that the tea tree oil toxicosis has been reported in humans, rats, dogs, and cats. Most patients have clinical signs of central nervous system depression. Dogs and cats with tea tree oil toxicosis will appear weak, obtunded, uncoordinated, ataxic, and usually have muscular tremors. Cats may exhibit signs of liver damage. Toxic components are fat soluble and rapidly absorbed via skin and GI tract. There is no antidote. Treatment involves general detoxification, supportive care, bathing with mild detergents, using activated charcoal if ingested.