You may have heard about the healing properties of essential oils.
Could they have similar effects for our pets?
Which ones are safest for our four legged companions?
Essential oils are known to help with everything from skin irritations to fighting fleas. Lavender is popular for dogs because of its calming effects, and peppermint is thought to stimulate circulation.
Essential oils are often used by veterinarians in ways that you probably didn’t even notice when you were there during your last appointment. One recent survey, reports BARK Magazine, reveals that veterinarians use essential oils in disparate ways. “They were diffusing lavender in waiting and exam rooms, using essential oils for odor control, doing light massage with frankincense, blending lemongrass in sweet almond oil for cruciate or joint injuries.”
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils – the concentrated, aromatic oils extracted from plants through distillation, most often by steam. “To get an idea of how precious these oils are, consider how much of the plant is required to produce them: 220 pounds of lavender yield only seven pounds of lavender essential oils,” says the author of The Holistic Dog .
The author of Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals, Kristen Leigh Bell, explains, “Oils that are produced specifically for the aromatherapy industry are typically made with the same care and attention that goes into a fine bottle of wine.”
Whether you decide to use aromatherapy for your companion animal or just yourself, it’s important you exercise the safe use of essential oils. Pets have a stronger sense of smell than humans and smaller bodies, so the biggest mistake pet owners make is using too much essential oil. One of the best ways to avoid this mistake is by using a high quality aromatherapy diffuser that you can control the amount of oil emitted.
Another important aspect of using safe essential oils around pets is to use only high-quality therapeutic grade essential oils. Other, lesser-quality essential oils are made with additives or are stretched with carrier oils that may trigger pet sensitivities. They also may be a blend of oils that include other botanicals or absolutes that resemble the smell of the botanical but potentially contain solvents that could be unhealthy for you or your pets. So make sure that you do your due diligence and get the best quality essential oils.
Many people worry about the impact of essential oils on their pets. However, as long as you use the correct essential oils and avoid any of the oils that may trigger issues for your pets, they are perfectly safe. Also make sure that you are exercising best practices when introducing essential oils into your home by using a quality diffuser and only therapeutic grade oils in a safe and prudent manner. Finally, go slow and monitor your pets to see how they react. Since every pet is different, an essential oil that can benefit one might trigger a different response in another.
Based on research, remember this about using essential oils with your pets: LESS IS MORE.
Always start with 100% pure essential oils, and then DILUTE these oils before using them on your dogs.
- A rough guideline is to add about 3-6 drops of essential oils to 1 oz. (30 ml) of carrier oil.
- Use a smaller amount of diluted oils on small dogs vs. big dogs – and less amounts of diluted oils on puppies and senior dogs.
- Use a hydrosol, a water-based byproduct obtained during the steam distillation process of an essential oil.
Hydrosols: the safest method
A hydrosol contains water-soluble parts of a plant as well as a very small amount of some essential oil components. Since hydrosols are not highly concentrated like essential oils, they can be used undiluted as-is. Essential oils can also be added to a hydrosol for synergistic effects.
“Hydrosols are a gentle, water-based by product from the steam distillation of plants. … However, keep in mind that not all hydrosols or essential oils are safe for your pets,” adds Heather Wallace, ESMT, CCMT, Bridle & Bone Wellness LLC.
Before using essential oils or aromatherapy at home with your pets, keep these safety tips in mind and be sure to check with your vet if you have any questions or concerns. Dogs and cats are more sensitive to essential oils than we are, so even if you’re familiar with them for yourself, remember that it’s a different story with your pet.
- Essential oils should always be diluted before use, even if just inhaling.
- Most issues that pets have are due to the inhalation of pure, un-diluted essential oils.
- Only use essential oils when needed to address a specific, on-going and active concern … not to “prevent” a health issue.
- Do not add essential oils to your pet’s food or drinking water.
- Avoid using essential oils with puppies and kittens under 10 weeks of age, use hydrosols instead.
- Check with a holistic vet before using any essential oils on pregnant pets. In particular, do not use stimulating oils (e.g. peppermint, rosemary, tea tree) on pregnant pets.
- Do not use oils on epileptic pets or pets that are seizure-prone. Some oils, such as rosemary, may trigger seizures (in humans too).
- Do not use oils in or close to the eyes, in the ears, directly on or close to the nose, on mucous membranes, or in the anal or genital areas.
Below is a short list of essential oils that experts say are safe to use on animals.
- Lavender: Universal oil, can use pure or diluted. Useful in conditioning patients to a safe space. May help allergies, burns, ulcers, insomnia, car ride anxiety and car sickness, to name a few.
- Cardamom: Diuretic, anti-bacterial, normalizes appetite, colic, coughs, heartburn and nausea.
- Chamomile: Anti-inflammatory, non-toxic, gentle and safe to use. Good for skin irritations, allergic reactions, burns.
- Spearmint: Helps to reduce weight. Good for colic, diarrhea, nausea. Helps balance metabolism, stimulates gallbladder.
- Thyme: Pain relief, good for arthritis and rheumatism. Antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral, excellent for infections and other skin issues.
Five Essential Oils You Want To Avoid In Pets
Camphor: Camphor is an aromatic oil derived from the wood of Cinnamomum camphora. It is also synthesized from turpentine. Camphor oil is used for aromatherapy as well as for treating respiratory diseases and joint pain. If applied to a pet’s skin (and unfortunately, it often is), it can cause severe irritation that, you guessed it, leads to licking and subsequent ingestion. And if eaten in great enough quantity, it can result in seizures, liver failure, and death.
Citrus Oils: Citrus oils, obtained from the fresh peels of ripe fruits, are used as flavoring agents. Citrus oil derivatives (D-limonene; linalool) are also used as insect repellents in people. You can find these derivatives in flea shampoos, dips, and sprays designed for dogs and cats as well. Many are marketed as safe alternatives to other flea control products. The problem is: They aren’t. Cats, puppies, and older dogs are especially sensitive to citrus oil products, especially concentrated “dips”, which can cause seizures, coma, and death. As a result, they should be avoided.
Pennyroyal Oil: This oil is used commonly employed as a topical insect repellent and as an oral digestive tonic in humans. In pets, people sometimes use it as a topical flea treatment for their pets. But they usually regret it later, as pennyroyal oil can be nasty stuff if ingested, blowing out the liver and leading to vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding, seizures, and death.
Oil of Wintergreen: Used to treat muscle aches and pains; oil of wintergreen contains a glycoside that releases methylsalicylate, a derivative of aspirin. Some pet owners have been known to apply it over the arthritic joints of their pets. Hopefully you know by now that aspirin can be highly toxic to cats and in dogs, can cause stomach, liver, and/or kidney issues in those dogs already taking a non-steroid or steroid anti-inflammatory medication. As a result, oil of wintergreen should not be used on pets at any time.
Melaleuca Oil (Tea Tree Oil): Melaleuca is an essential oil that comes from the leaves of the Australian tea tree. In people, it is used for treating everything from skin infections to repelling insects. In pets, it’s been used as a topical flea repellent. Unfortunately, the active ingredients, called terpenoids, can be highly toxic, especially to cats. As to be expected, the more concentrated the product used, the worse the effects. It can be very dangerous for your pets. Symptoms have included:
- Muscle tremors
- Difficulty in walking,
- Low body temperature
- Excessive salivation.
My personal experience with tea tree oil with one of our dogs is the main reason I don’t use tea tree oil at all on our pets. Years ago, I was out of town so my husband took care of our sons and dogs. It was bath day for the dogs. He knew that I was using essential oils and knew where I kept them. He had read that if you put tea tree oil in the bath water for your pet, it helps with flea control. He put in 10 drops or more. (Yikes!) You can’t use that theory…. if 2 drops are good, so is 4 drops… wait.. 6 or more is even better, right? NO! Not with essential oils.
Later that day, I was in a meeting when one of my sons called me telling me that our dog, Apollo, couldn’t get up or use his hind legs. Trying to stay calm, I reminded my sons that I am miles away and that dad, whose was home, will have to take care it. So funny, our sons would always come to me first, sometimes walking right by dad to ask or tell me something. (Hahaha)
My husband took the dog to the vet and kept me updated on how Apollo was doing. Apollo had experienced temporary paralysis due to the tea tree oil! Blood work was also done at the vets to make sure there wouldn’t be any further issues. Whew! We were very lucky and grateful that this experience wasn’t fatal for Apollo.
The bottom line
Be sure to consult with your vet before trying any essential oils with your pet. If you’ve tried aromatherapy with your dog or cat and had success, we’d love to hear about it! Please leave your comments below!
~ Rev. Tiffany White Sage Woman
Nature’s Sunshine Products Independent Distributor