Tea tree oil is a botanical product commonly sold in health food stores. It is an extract of the leaves of the Australian tea tree ( Melaleuca alternifolia ). This tree species do not naturally grow outside of Australia.

The tea tree belongs to the Myrtaceae family, to which eucalyptus and myrtle also belong. Due to its lipophilic (oily) nature, tea tree oil is easily absorbed through the skin. Similar to eucalyptus oil, tea tree oil has a pungent smell.

Medicinal herbs, including this oil, are becoming more common in the care of pets. This is because people are looking for natural health care products for themselves and their pets.

Botanical products should be used properly to avoid side effects.

Tea tree oil, a potent antimicrobial ally

Despite its name, the tea tree is not used to make green or black tea. Instead, it gets its name from the group of sailors who used the tree.

These sailors used the tree to make a nutmeg-scented tea, hence its name. Today, using the tree to make tea is uncommon; It is used rather for its oil.

One hundred years ago, an Australian chemist named Arthur Penfold reported that this oil has 11 to 13 times more antimicrobial activity than phenol.

Its powerful properties have been associated with a long list of compounds. The most prominent is a compound called terpinene-4-ol, which is in high concentrations in the preparation. This compound has a powerful antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiprotozoal activity.

1. Use of oil as an antibacterial

Of all the properties claimed for this oil, its antimicrobial activity is undoubtedly the one that has received the most attention. To date, scientific reports clearly show that oil’s broad-spectrum activity includes antibacterial activities. Not all activity has been well characterized, but the data is promising.

Its antibacterial activity against antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains has been demonstrated. Such is the case of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which has received the most attention so far. It has been shown that this vaporized oil can inhibit bacteria, causing respiratory diseases.

2. Oral health use of tea tree oil in dogs

In recent years there has been an increase in the costs of medical care, serious side effects, and resistance to medications for clinical use. Thus, many pet owners seek alternative medicines to treat periodontal diseases.

As in humans, periodontal diseases in dogs and cats can be treated with four objectives: eliminate accumulated plaque and tartar, fight the bacteria that cause infection, reduce inflammation, and stop bleeding. Tea tree oil has shown efficacy in the first three tasks.

M. alternifolia has bactericidal and bacteriostatic effects against the most prevalent oral pathogens. Additionally, M. alternifolia also showed antioxidant properties, which are beneficial for the patient by reducing the immunoinflammatory responses caused by pathogens.

3. Antifungal use of this oil in dogs

Malassezia pachydermatis yeast is part of the normal skin flora of most warm-blooded organisms.  This species of yeast could be involved in different skin diseases such as seborrheic dermatitis, especially in dogs and cats. It is also commonly involved and can perpetuate inflammatory reactions within the ear canal.

In order to find an alternative therapeutic agent, several groups of experts have examined the activity of Australian tea tree oil. These researchers found that a series of Malassezia pachydermatis is highly susceptible to this oil.

In clinical trials, the treatment of otitis externa in dogs with a 5% tea tree essential oil lotion showed effectiveness comparable to treatment with nystatin, without detecting adverse reactions.

4. Treatment of dermatitis with tea tree oil in dogs

It has been reported that 10% tea tree oil cream is as powerful as an anti-inflammatory treatment. This effect, together with the aforementioned efficacy of combating other microorganisms associated with pruritic skin lesions, makes it a valid choice to treat localized acute and chronic pyoderma.

Safety and toxicity

Applied correctly, and in diluted form in pets, this oil can be very effective in the treatment and prevention of topical bacterial and fungal or yeast infections. Due to its effectiveness, this oil is found in many pet grooming products in different dilute concentrations.

Tea tree oil is an excellent anti-inflammatory, so it helps reduce skin inflammation that can cause itching and irritation. It also has excellent antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties that can help prevent and treat a lot of skin problems.

How to administer this oil to your dog?

You should keep in mind that tea tree oil in dogs can be toxic if ingested. Thus, oral administration is contraindicated, so it should not be ingested.

As for dermal toxicity, the oil can cause irritating and allergic reactions, if concentrated is applied. It is necessary to apply it topically or in appropriate dilutions. Various commercial products contain a diluted amount of this oil.

As with any new product, always seek the advice of your veterinarian before applying to your dog. This oil should not be used in cats, so be careful when applying it if you have cats in the house.