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Dogs and tea tree oil

Q: Barney, my retriever mix, has recurrent ear infections. His veterinarian regularly dispenses tea tree oil ear cleaner, but I go through it fast. Would straight tea tree oil work better?

A: Many dog ear cleaners incorporate small amounts of tea tree oil for its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. However, full-strength tea tree oil is toxic to pets, so it must be diluted to a concentration of one percent or less.

Like other essential oils, tea tree oil is absorbed through the skin and metabolized by the liver. These signs of tea tree oil toxicity develop within two to 12 hours and usually resolve within three days.

In its concentrated form, pure tea tree oil can cause in dogs:

  • weakness
  • loss of coordination
  • tremors
  • partial paralysis
  • abnormally low body temperature
  • excessive salivation
  • vomiting

Dogs exposed to it also exhibit elevated liver enzymes. Death is rare.

If the tea tree oil ear cleaner is working well, ask your veterinarian if a larger bottle is available.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at

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