Is Palo Santo Safe for Cats?

Your cat is one of the best things that happened to you.

When she purrs while rubbing her furry body against your feet, your heart is filled with so much joy.

You cannot wait to get home in the evenings just to spend some time with her.

To return the favor, you will do anything to keep your fur baby safe.

Part of it is making sure that any fragrance, plant, flower, or essential oil used at home is safe for her.

Is Palo Santo among the safe ones?

From easing stress to repelling mosquitoes to reducing pain, there are many uses of Palo Santo.

The wonderfully-smelling tree is so versatile around the home. You can use the actual wood as sticks, powder, or chips, extract the resin, or make use of the essential oil derived from the fruit and the wood.

While all the forms of Palo Santo are safe for human use, they are not all safe for your kitty.

Before we reveal more about the safety of the tree around your kitty, let’s go through some basics…

What is Palo Santo?

Palo Santo literally means “wood of the saints” or “holywood” in Spanish.

The South American inhabitants regard the tree as sacred. They believe it possesses mystical properties like those of myrrh and frankincense.

As such, it is often used in spiritual ceremonies and traditional healing.

The sticks from the wood are lit and burned during ceremonies. The resulting smoke is believed to cleanse spaces and eliminate evil spirits from them.

The botanical term for Palo Santo is Bursela Graveolens. With a fragrant resin, the tree also can be burned in a disc to release its aroma.

People have also used the oil for centuries to clear negative energy; deter termites, mosquitoes, and flies; treat pain (headache, throat pain, and arthritis), and reduce stress.

Finally, the wood can be burned to release pleasantly-smelling smoke into the air.

Is Palo Santo toxic to cats?

The information on the toxicity of Palo Santo is very limited. However, here are some of the reasons why you should avoid using the wood on or around your kitty:

1. Presence of D-limonene

Palo Santo contains D-limonene, a terpene found in the peels of most citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, grapefruits, and mandarins.

D-limonene is very beneficial to human beings as it reduces inflammation and inhibits the growth of microorganisms. That’s why it is a common ingredient in many shampoos, sanitizers, and fragrances.

However, it is unsafe for cats according to Pet Poison Helpline.  If your kitty ingests the tree, the compound will trigger an upset stomach. It can also cause drooling, tremors, lethargy, body weakness, irritation of the mouth and gum, and even death.

This is the same reason cats cannot eat lemons. The same D-limonene (among other compounds) is responsible for causing havoc in their systems.

2. Essential Oil and Cats Don’t Mix

Like most essential oils, exposing your kitty to Palo Santo essential oil—whether topically or via vapors from diffusers—can cause adverse reactions.

To begin with, essential oils are absorbed by the body either orally or through the skin and then metabolized by the liver. Sadly, cats do not have the liver enzyme to metabolize these compounds and get rid of the toxic stuff. 

So, Palo Santo essential oil can prove to be lethal around your kitty.

Secondly, considering that essential oils are concentrated plant extracts, Palo Santo essential oil will obviously contain higher amounts of D-limonene, making it even more unsafe for your kitty.

For your fur baby’s safety, avoid applying Palo Santo oil to the cat directly or diffusing it around him.

3. Intestinal Obstruction

Consumption of Palo Santo can also lead to gastrointestinal blockages.

The wood tends to swell when it comes in contact with moisture. That means it will increase in size when it reaches your furball’s tummy causing blocked intestines.

4. Allergies

For cats with skin allergies, exposure to Palo Santo can stimulate skin allergies as well.

This is true if the cat ingests the tree, rubs her body on its bark, or stays in a room full of its incense.

5. Respiratory Problems

Exposing your cat to smoke from burning of the wood (or any kind of smoke for that matter) can cause a host of respiratory issues.

Inhalation of the smoke can also cause irritation of the mouth and gums.

Having said that, burning a Palo Santo stick every once a while in a ventilated area is probably safe for your kitty.

Symptoms Of Toxicity

If your beloved feline friend inhales the smoke from a burning Palo Santo stick or the aroma from the resin or the essential oil, look out for the following symptoms.

(The actual symptoms depend on the amount ingested or exposed to, your cat’s biological makeup, among other factors).

  • Drooling
  • Difficulty walking or wobbliness (ataxia)
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Respiratory trouble (panting, coughing, fast breathing, and wheezing)

If you notice any of these symptoms, grab your cat and bring them outside or to an area with fresh air.

Watch to see if the symptoms die down. If not, call the vet to come over or rush the kitty to them as fast as possible.

They will expertly get rid of the poisons from the pet’s system by pumping and doing gastric lavage.

Activated charcoal will be administered to get rid of any remaining toxins from the kitty.

If the cat has vomited and passed runny stools for a while, the vet will also administer intravenous fluids (IV fluids) to rehydrate the kitty.

Is Palo Santo like Catnip?

Palo Santo is believed to create positive energy or a psychoactive environment, thanks to its aphrodisiac, analgesic, and diuretic properties. This is why many people burn it during prayers and meditation.

However, it is not clear whether Palo Santo can have similar effects in our felines or whether it can cause hallucinogenic effects in cats like catnip.

While some cat parents believe that cats react to Palo Santo as they do to catnip, what most feline lovers know is that the wood is a play stimulant for cats—most cats will bite it, meow, purr, rub their faces on it, and would generally want to play with it (as shown in the video below):

Parting Thoughts

Palo Santo is no doubt a functional tree. It freshens the home, rids it of evil spirits, improves one’s mood, and reduces pain.

On the contrary, it can prove to be toxic around your kitty.

To be safe, consider doing away with it and replacing it with cat-safe alternatives.